Seeing Pastoralism 7: ‘Photovoice is to make your photos talk’

This is the seventh post in our Seeing Pastoralism series, highlighting material from a new online exhibition that draws on PASTRES research.

This week focuses on learning through the ‘photovoice’ method. PASTRES PhD candidates have been using photovoice in each of their six sites, working with pastoralists to record their own experiences and how they see different aspects of uncertainty life.

With photovoice, different stories are told, different photographs are captured and different reflections emerge. Photovoice reveals real life experiences, offering often marginalised people a voice and the possibility to engage in critical dialogue around their own realities.

Every photovoice project is different. How a group moves through the suggested steps will be influenced by differences in the timeline, budget and, most importantly, photovoice participants’ goals and objectives.

Building strong respectful relationships among all those involved is always the starting point. This involves recruiting a leadership team for the project and choosing one or more facilitators. The next step defines the goals and objectives of the project and the subject matter for the photographs. This step leads to recruiting groups of 8-10 participants.

Groups can be mixed or more focused – such as only women or young people – allowing diverse perspectives to emerge. Two rounds of photograph taking, each taking around a week, are then scheduled.

Photographs are then presented in discussion meetings among participants and others, generating analysis and reflection. Narratives are created for a series of ‘photo stories’, using selected photographs chosen by the participants. Each story illustrates a key theme of importance to them. This helps in opening up debate and broadening out the range of perspectives on the issue.

The last step is taking action. This depends on the goals, but may include engaging with local officials or policymakers. A rich body of information can be shared, connecting visual material to presentations or reports, which can become the basis for action.

Each of our six sites have produced two photovoice stories.

Amdo Tibet

In Amdo Tibet, Palden Tsering had the chance to conduct two rounds of photovoice investigation with pastoralists in Golok and Kokonor, two pastoral regions in Amdo Tibet. Two groups of pastoralists, one group with a total of eight male pastoralists, and another one with a total of six women, were recruited.  ‘Uncertainty and pastoralism’ was the theme for the two groups, and a total of two weeks was allowed for taking the photographs.  Photos and participants’ narratives were collected through WeChat, and a photovoice exhibition was organised in Golok in the summer of 2020.  You can see the result of this investigation with ‘The Lake Expansion’ and ‘The Black Tent’ on our exhibition website.


In Sardinia, where pastoralism is the backbone of society, Giulia Simla conducted photovoice investigations with the pastoralists on the island. The diverse responses reflect the different realities of pastoralism in Sardinia.

Because of restrictions during the Covid-19 pandemic, Giulia had to adapt the photovoice method. She conducted photovoice through Facebook and WhatsApp. Through lengthy discussions, pastoralists often trusted Giulia in choosing the pictures and selecting the narratives. The result is a collaborative reflection, seen in the stories: ‘Food Production as Resistance and Necessity’ and ‘Not everyone can make cheese and sell jams’.


In Northern Kenya, Tahira Shariff facilitated photovoice investigations amongst pastoralists. With competing claims on a shared resource, the fear of resource conflict, displacement and wild animal attack is a reality for pastoral livelihoods. In the rangelands, a fast-spreading tree, introduced to combat desertification, is also causing disruption to grazing. Tahira conducted photovoice investigations in the Isiolo region which produced two stories, one around ‘Yamicha!’ and the other on ‘Mathenge!’.

Kachchh, Gujarat

In India, Natasha Maru worked alongside Rabari pastoralists to produce two photovoice investigations. Centered around sheep and camels, two photovoice stories represent the two circuits of movement of the pastoralists. Photos were taken by participants who identify as young men, meaning that the stories are coloured through their subjective positions. You can see the results of the photovoice investigations into ‘Paths, ponds and pastures of pastoral mobility’ and ‘The search for the right vessel’ by following the links.

Douiret, Tatouine

In Tunisia, Linda Pappagallo worked on photovoice stories with two young entrepreneurial livestock owners, Mohammed and Said, both aged between 30-35. They are from Douiret in the region of Tataouine, in the south of Tunisia. By using disposable cameras, their stories are illustrative of the everyday life of nascent livestock owners who have returned to their place of origin to escape emotional and physical precarity, and whose flocks provide mobility, health, employment and business. Visit the exhibition website to read the ‘Said’ and ’Mohammed’ photovoices.


Masresha Taye used photovoice to capture stories from 18 pastoralists using /the question ‘how do you visualize risk and uncertainty through pictures?’ Through photovoice, the pastoralists were able to communicate their experiences through pictures taken by themselves and their accompanying narratives. Follow the links to look at the stories around ‘Multiplicity of uncertainties’ and ‘Coping with uncertainty’.

Explore the exhibition

To explore the Photovoice stories, and to see other material from the PASTRES research sites, visit the exhibition site Seeing Pastoralism.

Previous posts in this series:

Seeing Pastoralism 1: ‘Everything has changed, even the way we die’

Seeing Pastoralism 2: Dharma on the Left, Conservation on the Right

Seeing Pastoralism 3: I Exist Because You Exist

Seeing Pastoralism 4: Moving through time and space

Seeing Pastoralism 5: Pastoralism, 100 Ways

Seeing Pastoralism 6: Partir Pour Rester

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