An Online Photovoice Study Designed by Researchers from Art and Social Work to Better Understand the Experience of Chronic Pain by Women of Color


  • Jane Prophet University of Michigan, Stamps School of Art and Design, Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA
  • Rahbel Rahman Fordham University, Graduate School of Social Service, New York, New York, USA
  • Afton L. Hassett Department of Anesthesiology, University of Michigan Medical School, Ann Arbor, Michigan USA



In 1980s British feminist artist-photographer Jo Spence used phototherapy to challenge normative and medicalized constructions of the female cancer patient by documenting her illness and was then employed as a consultant by hospitals who, through her work, recognized the need to change physicians’ practices and attitudes, which objectified patients. Photovoice, a Community Based Participatory Design method where participants take photographs and combine them with short text narratives, is similar to Spence’s artistic method. It has been used widely in health and social work settings. Healthcare professionals are aware of the power of images as catalysts for meaning making in medical encounters with people in pain; as part of multidisciplinary analysis, because images can enhance a person’s sense of agency in relation to their pain, especially in clinical contexts. Photographs can also establish a common ground for discussing meaning, therefore Photovoice can make the hidden experience of pain visible through collaborative photo-texts. These are subsequently shared with other patients and healthcare workers to aid them in specialist consultations.  However, few studies have addressed gender and race-related health disparities in treating chronic pain. This paper draws on the authors’ study with twenty women of color who created photo-text works about their experiences living with and being treated for chronic pain. In this novel online Photovoice study, participants engaged with asynchronous videos created by an artist-professor about the meanings viewers make of a photograph, including how perspective, angle, and lighting can affect the viewer’s emotional response to photographs. Participants then deployed Photovoice through six synchronous sessions led by a social work professor with extensive experience designing and facilitating Photovoice studies. The resulting image-text works by study participants address health inequity and argue for health equity as a hallmark of social justice in healthcare by focusing on exposing and reducing healthcare disparities.

Author Biographies

Jane Prophet, University of Michigan, Stamps School of Art and Design, Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA

Jane Prophet, PhD, is a visual artist and Professor at Stamps School of Art and Design, University of Michigan. Her practice-based research and writing emerge through collaborations with life scientists such as neuroscientists, stem cell researchers, mathematicians, and heart surgeons. She works across media and disciplines to produce objects and installations, frequently combining traditional and computational media. She leads an NEA-funded Research Lab with designers and public health experts called Commissioning Public Art Through Community Engagement Arts to Improve Health and Social/​Emotional Well-Being by Reducing Youth Firearm Injury.

Rahbel Rahman, Fordham University, Graduate School of Social Service, New York, New York, USA

Rahbel Rahman is an Assistant Professor at the Graduate School of Social Service (GSS) at Fordham University. Dr Rahman has extensive experience leading the design, implementation, analysis, evaluation, and dissemination of community-based participatory research projects. Her projects focus on improving the quality of patient care through the professional development of social and health care providers. Specifically, they include the study of inter-professional collaborations between social and health providers; attributes of patient-centered care; and studying training needs, core competencies, and well-being among community-based providers.

Afton L. Hassett, Department of Anesthesiology, University of Michigan Medical School, Ann Arbor, Michigan USA

Afton L. Hassett, PsyD, is an Associate Professor and the Director of Pain and Opioid Research in the Department of Anesthesiology at the University of Michigan. As a clinical psychologist and principal investigator at the Chronic Pain and Fatigue Research Center, she conducts interdisciplinary research exploring the role of cognitive, affective, and behavioral factors in chronic pain populations. She has published more than 100 peer-reviewed articles and is a leader in the field of resilience and pain. She is the principal investigator on more than $12 million of federally funded research (NINR R01 NR017096, NIAMS U19 AR076734, and NIAMS BACPAC BEST [site PI]). She is also the author of Chronic Pain Reset:30 Days of Activities, Practices, and Skills to Help You Thrive, an innovative pain self-management book for people with chronic pain.


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How to Cite

Prophet, J., Rahman, R., & L. Hassett, A. (2023). An Online Photovoice Study Designed by Researchers from Art and Social Work to Better Understand the Experience of Chronic Pain by Women of Color. AM Journal of Art and Media Studies, (32), 69–89.