A photo of artwork on the side of a building in Louisville’s Parkland neighborhood depicts a phoenix rising from flames with the words “we will rise together” written above the art, a representation of hope and new birth.
This is one of more than 80 photographs taken by members of the West Louisville and St. Louis communities as part of a Photovoice project designed to provide an opportunity for expression and discussion about community concerns. The University of Louisville School of Public Health and Information Sciences’ (SPHIS) Office of Public Health Practice led the project, and about half the pictures are on display in a new exhibit, “Yet We Live, Strive and Succeed,” at the Kentucky Center for African-American Heritage, a collaborator on the project.
“Communities struggle to address issues because we collectively lack the patience and humility to listen and to acknowledge that people have lived experiences that are different than ours,” said Monica Wendel, DrPH, MA, SPHIS associate dean of public health practice. “This exhibit creates space for people who aren’t usually heard to tell their stories, talk about their experiences – and if we invest our time in listening, we can learn things that help us know how to create meaningful change in our community.”
The UofL SPHIS Office of Public Health Practice invited various community groups to take photographs representing aspects of justice, safety, hope, and racial equity. Office staff then asked the participants to discuss the meaning of the photos, and propose action associated with identified problems.
Trinidad Jackson, MS, MPH, SPHIS senior researcher, wanted to launch the local Photovoice project after collecting images and stories from his hometown of St. Louis, Mo., during the week of the Ferguson protests triggered by the grand jury decision to not indict police officer Darren Wilson for crimes in the killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown.
“The images in this exhibit characterize real-life situations that impact all of us in some way, but some of us cannot easily escape the real consequences attached to certain social phenomena such as having dark skin or living in a certain zip code,” Jackson said. “Data generated from places like police departments and hospital emergency departments often project damaging narratives of populations that have, for centuries, been inequitably impacted by Eurocentric systems that facilitate community destruction.”
Jackson says he hopes the exhibit will provide a means for the local community to create its own narrative about historical and contemporary positives and negatives to present “a more comprehensive context — one that includes the community’s truth and power.”
“‘Yet We Live, Strive, and Succeed’ is a brilliant exhibit of photography from community members sharing their lived experiences,” said Aukram Burton, executive director, Kentucky Center for African American Heritage. “It is my hope that this exhibition will facilitate productive conversations and dialogue that will lead to new ideas and partnerships in solving community issues like excessive force by police and the unacceptable level of gun violence.”
Originally developed by Caroline Wang, DrPH, at the University of Michigan School of Public Health, the goal of Photovoice is to use photographs as a tool to reflect on community strengths and weaknesses, serve as a platform to discuss important community issues and act as a catalyst to reach policymakers.
UofL’s Office of Public Health Practice Photovoice project exemplifies one of multiple community-based participatory research efforts facilitated by the office. Their research team plans to analyze data from the Photovoice project and other community forums to provide actionable information to local leaders and mobilize local residents for community improvement. On Sept. 18, the office plans to invite the community to learn about their findings and engage participants in developing solutions to identified problems.
The Kentucky Center for African-American Heritage is providing the space and IDEAS xLab is curating the exhibit. “Yet We Live, Strive and Succeed,” is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and runs through Sept. 23. Admission is free. More information is available online.