Photos as a means of resistance


“I took a picture of this table because I wanted to show you how they asked me to sign a document saying that I agreed with the resettlement when they have not fulfilled their promises.  This is the table they wanted me to sit at and sign in the middle of the celebration.” This is what the leader of the first resettled village told me when I gave him the printed pictures that he had taken.

As a research tool, I distributed three rounds of disposable cameras so that resettling people and residents of the host village could document their experience.  With the first round of cameras, they took photos of their homeland.  The photos included trees and plants, water sources, livestock, and other important resources. with the printed photos in hand, I conducted interviews to understand what each picture meant to them. I then used the photos in focus group discussions to understand the resettling people's relationship to natural resources, and their priorities for post-resettlement.  More details on this can be found in chapter 9 of my thesis

I handed out the second round of cameras just before the physical resettlement so that they could document the move.  At the same time, my research permit was rescinded because the park felt that my work threatened their project and I could not personally witness the resettlement.  The cameras became my eyes when I was not present.

With the second round of cameras, Nanguene residents understood that the cameras protected them, and that the photos could provide evidence of how they were being treated. When I could rejoin the village in the new location I heard in great detail, through the photos, the ins and outs of the negotiations, abuses of power, manipulation, corruption, and the mistakes made by park staff and construction workers when they were resettled, as perceived by the resettling residents. 

With the third round of photos, 18 months after resettlement, the residents described their process of adaptation to the new village— what they missed from their old home, what they liked about the new one and most of all the learning involved in gaining access to the natural resources they needed to survive.     

Families loved to show their albums of photos to people who were interested in hearing about what their life was like before resettlement. Photovoice is a creative and insightful research method that reveals the way people think about their environment in a way that the researcher may never have thought about. But, more importantly, cameras and photos can become a tool for resistance and social change. 

A selection of the photos taken by resettled residents were made into a book that described the experience of resettlement.  The book can be viewed and downloaded here


Jessica Milgroom