Exploring everyday life with participatory visual methods – photo-interviewing
The last two decades have seen a rise in usage of visual research methods, which have been employed in diverse fields such as anthropology, sociology, organizational studies and public health. Visual methods comprise a variety of practices. Participatory visual methods feature the active involvement of research participants and grant authority to the researched rather than the researcher.
The objective of this presentation is to discuss benefits and limitations of photo-interviewing in a health care setting with the purpose of exploring everyday life. Researcher-initiated and participant-generated photographs as the subject of interviews represent a new approach to data collection in health research. Photo-interviewing was tested as a qualitative research technique in an empirical study within a group of elderly people diagnosed with hand osteoarthritis. The participatory visual methodology was employed to explore first-person perspectives and to broaden our understanding of patients’ experiences of challenges in everyday life.
The generation of data proceeded in three steps starting with individual in-depth interview with 31 participants. The initial interviews were guided by an interview-guide created and tested by the researcher in two prior pilot interviews. Using purposive sampling study participants were recruited through rheumatologists and via an invite in a member magazine. In the second step, 12 participants from the original group were each provided with a digital compact camera. They were encouraged to take photographs of activities and events in their daily life. The activities and events should be illustrative of what it is like living with hand osteoarthritis – possibilities as well as limitations. Subsequently, in step 3, the researcher carried out an interview facilitated by the participant-generated photographs.
The employed visual methodology proved to be both manageable, and to support a person-centered approach. It could even out the unequal power relation between researcher and the in the interview situation. Participant-generated photographs proved to be well suited for shedding light on subjective embodied experiences and for engaging participants in common reflections on everyday life. Exploring everyday life can sometimes be challenging with conventional research methods, as this kind of knowledge is often considered mundane or trivial, and therefore remains tacit knowledge during the interview. The follow-up interviews opened for new perspectives on topics from the previous in-depth interviews or introduced entirely new subjects in the follow-up photo-interview. Photographs were integrated in the interview transcripts and analysis was performed following the Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) guideline (Smith & Osborn, 2003).
Thus, there are a number of advantages to employing a visual approach within health research. But there are also limitations. Participatory visual methods entail some critical ethical issues, which require special attention. This calls for a high level of personal judgment from the researcher.