Lessons Learned

Adult Sponsors

One of our best decisions was enlisting adult sponsors as they were essential in recruiting appropriate youth (youth who might have something to say, who could be trusted with an expensive camera and who could devote two full days to the project), maintaining commitment to the project over time and assisting with day-to-day logistics. The photography teacher we hired to lead the two workshops was experienced in both the technical aspects of photography but also in helping young people look for scenes that represented their thoughts and ideas.

Timing

One mistake we made included timing. We were determined to conduct the project during the school year so that if they wished, students could take photos of school life. Because of various scheduling difficulties, however, the project was pushed to the very end of the calendar year, right before graduation, which led to time crunches for young people that we hadn’t anticipated. Some participants were unable to attend the editing workshops so finding a less demanding time of year for our participants would have been helpful.

Though short workshop lengths helped us recruit participants and make the process efficient, we could have benefitted from more time. Two five-hour workshops would have enabled us to avoid some confusion that occurred because of our inability to fully clarify complicated concepts and logistical challenges.

Writing Captions

In order to insure that as many pictures as possible are thoughtfully considered and to help students create captions during the second workshop, we wish we would have required photographers to write a brief journal entry for each picture with rationale about how it got chosen and a description of how it shows a supportive or unsupportive part of the photographer’s life. (We did add this component in a later PhotoVoice project and found that, when youth followed through with it, it was helpful in forming captions.)

Reinforcing Guiding Questions

Finally, though learning the skills of using a camera and editing pictures on cutting-edge computer equipment proved to be a fairly easy challenge for our participants, mastering the skills of finding visual subjects to represent the answers to questions about “what supports you” and “what drags you down” in the community was harder. Though we certainly had some success facilitating learning tasks that accomplished that goal through the activities described in the Photo Curriculum, there remained some confusion about the connection between the pictures taken, their answers to the guiding questions, and their ability to provide captions that described their meaning. Some of that confusion, we believe, was inherent in the process and probably cannot be avoided, given the somewhat abstract nature of the assignment and the developmental stage of youth participants. But some was due to our failure to continually focus the groups’ thoughts on the questions at hand.