By James Whelan
A process guide to be used in training workshops, planning sessions and team building.
- Facilitate self-awareness
- Deepen engagement and relationships
- Stimulate connections between intellectual reflection and personal experience
- Stimulate creativity in personal expression
How it’s done
- Obtain or create a collection of images. It’s best to have about 50% more images than there are participants to allow choice.
- If appropriate, select images that speak to the theme that is being explored. Be mindful, though, that each person’s associations are unique and we can’t anticipate the creative subconscious connections people make.
- Decide how you to introduce the exercise. You might chose to speak in general terms about the themes that are being explored, to lead a guided meditation or simply jump straight in.
- The exercise can be facilitated with a large or small group.
- Spread the images on the floor in the middle of the group (seated in a circle works well). Invite participants to allow their eyes to scan the images. Explain that they are to select one image that speaks to them about the issues or themes that are being explored. Encourage silence while people do this. Don’t rush the process.
- Once everyone has an image, invite people to speak when they’re ready. While people are speaking, others are to practice active listening and not to interrupt or respond. If necessary, let people know how long they can speak for. Explain that not everyone has to speak.
- Go around the circle, or randomly as people feel moved to speak.
- After everyone has had the opportunity to speak, thank everyone for sharing. If it seems appropriate, follow up with a group discussion about some of the ideas, associations and feelings that came up.
Photolanguage is a means of communication designed to facilitate personal expression and interaction in small groups. The method is an innovative process using photographs which have been specially chosen for their aesthetic qualities, their capacity to stimulate the imagination, the memory and the emotions, and their ability to challenge the viewer to thoughtful reflection.Besides facilitating verbal articulation, the photos, of themselves, speak to the viewer. Each one is asked to become aware of the associations that spring up, the resonances that are awakened by the photograph, and thus to know himself or herself better by trying to put this inner life into words and to communicate it to the group.
Photos can be described as symbolic become a key to enable the person’s past experience and sub‐conscious to find a conscious expression.
Each participant is invited to look at the photographs, not with the purpose of analyzing them, but with the perspective of spontaneously, affectively, subjectively, globally reacting to them. The point here is not to dissect pictures but be moved inwardly by them.
…Facilitators of a group using photolanguage need to experienced in group dynamics and to have an understanding of the photolanguage process. Experience has shown that photolanguage has a quite remarkable power to facilitate communication and intensify the dynamic operating in the group. The use of photolanguage calls for a particular sensitivity on the part of the facilitator. Facilitators need to be unobtrusive, non‐manipulative and sensitive to the needs of individuals in the group. The interpretation of any photograph belongs only to the participant who has chosen it. It is not for either the facilitator or group members to project their own individual interpretations onto a photo chosen by another. The listening quality of the facilitator provides the essential character of a group using Photolanguage.
Clare Belisle (1986) Photolanguage Australia, Catholic Education Office, Sydney, Australia.
Purchase card sets
- The original Photolanguage card sets appear to be out of print. A good alternative is Picture This
- Ann G. Bessell (2007) ‘Photolanguage: How a Picture Can Inspire a Thousand Words’, American Journal of Evaluation, Vol. 28, No. 4, pp. 558-‐569.
- Photolanguage: Communicating through images
- Robert U. Akeret (2000) Photolanguage: How Photos Reveal the Fascinating Stories of Our Lives and Relationships, W.W.Norton & Co, New York.