University of Missouri project empowers women to make changes by taking pictures, documenting their lives
Feb. 23, 2011
Christian Basi, BasiC@missouri.edu, 573-882-4430
By Brad Fischer
COLUMBIA, Mo. – A picture may be worth a thousand words, but for women living with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), the virus that causes AIDS, a picture can help them deal with the challenges of living with the virus.
A University of Missouri researcher is completing a pilot project during which women living with HIV take photos to document their lives. The photos are used to engage women in critical discussions about their lives, identifying both social, mental, and physical challenges and possible solutions for the women. The photos will be presented at two special events. The first event will be held on March 3-6 in Columbia at the True/False Film Festival. The second event will be held on March 19 in St. Louis at the Regional Arts Commission to commemorate National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day.
“Women with HIV face more challenges than most intervention programs are designed to address,” said Michelle Teti, assistant professor of health psychology in the MU School of Health Professions. “These women need to discuss more issues than merely how to have safe sex. Many live in poverty, with substandard housing and abusive partners. Helping women understand and address these issues is what this project is all about.”
At the beginning of each project, Teti meets with the women as a group, gives each woman a digital camera, and instructs the women to go home and document their lives. Two weeks later, the group reconvenes, and each woman presents a few photos while discussing the meanings of the images. The women spend two additional weeks documenting their lives and reconvene to discuss the photos again, and plan a photo exhibit to share their work and ideas with others. Following the upcoming photo exhibitions, Teti plans to meet with the women to better understand the effect the project has had on their health.
Prior to coming to MU, Teti completed a similar project in Philadelphia. She presented the project’s results at the American Public Health Association Conference last year.
“In Philadelphia, women used the photos to express themselves in different ways,” Teti said. “Some women chose to combat the stereotype of what someone with HIV looks like by taking pictures of themselves looking beautiful and healthy. Another woman chose to take pictures of broken kitchen appliances and substandard living conditions to detail her horrible housing situation and used the pictures to advocate for help.”
Teti said some women do not realize how dire their situations are until they document and discuss them. By realizing their problems, many women are able to resolve some issues. For example, the woman who depicted her difficult housing situation showed them to community members, who helped her find new housing.
Teti is working on the project through a grant from the Center for AIDS Prevention Studies, Training Program for Scientists Conducting Research to Reduce HIV/STI Health Disparities.
NOTE: For more information about the upcoming photo exhibits, please contact Michelle Teti directly at TetiM@missouri.edu