Blog Post

Photographs as a collaborative research tool: PhotoKwento and other photo methods

by | 11 Nov, 2022 | Blog, Collaboratory Podcast, Resources

In the episode ‘Co-created Research: A Conversation with Kaira Zoe Cañete’, Kaira takes us on a deep dive of how she used a photo-based methodology she calls “PhotoKwento” when conducting her PhD research in the Philippines. 

Different fields from health, disaster management, community development and more have developed different uses of photo-based research methodologies over the years. Kaira’s PhotoKwento is one of them. Check out our resources at the end for links to other methods and examples of practice. 

What is it?

“The term kwento is a Filipino [word] which means story. So in the literal sense, a photo kwento is a method that allows study participants to tell their stories with photographs and therefore in the context of research help, co-construct their narratives.

Kaira Zoe Cañete, Co-created Research: A Conversation with Kaira Zoe Cañete

PhotoKwento is a kind of participatory research that sits within photo-based methodologies. Photo-based methodologies can empower research participants to share their experiences using photography to provide literal and figurative insights into their lived experiences. This allows research projects to document and reflect reality as experienced by participants, rather than as observed by researchers. 

How does it work?

Photo-based methodologies can allow research participants to co-construct their narratives. Images used can be self-generated by research participants or provided by researchers as a prompt to get participants discussing their experiences. Both options are valid and can prompt different reactions and responses from participants.

  • Participant-generated photos can be used as research outputs that allow participants to represent their own experiences and emotions without the filter of a researcher’s observations or interpretations.
  • Using existing photos as prompts for discussion can be used as icebreakers to start or deepen discussions between research participants and researchers.

What are the benefits?

Photo-based methodologies can empower research participants to maintain ownership of their own experiences. They allow participants to co-create research observations and outcomes with researchers, potentially equalising the power imbalances that exist in traditional research methodologies between researchers and research participants. 

Sharing power and control of research projects not only gives more autonomy to participants but can also provide unexpected insights and outcomes to researchers too. The process of using Photo-based methods can help shape and influence how the research turns out, and how those participating in it feel about the research and themselves. Working in visual forms can also transcend language barriers and researcher biases inherent in interview and text-based inquiries, making the research process more accessible. These methodologies can foster a mutually beneficial learning process where participants are empowered to use what they have learned about themselves and research methodologies to action change in their lives outside the research project. 

“[After the project] There was an issue there with their resettlement community being next to a dump [and] the stench of the garbage was always like a part of their everyday life. So what [the participant] did was she took photographs of that particular issue and helped craft a petition and attach those photographs. And I think it was inspired by the photo process to inspire these forms of agency for them to advocate for their particular issues. And I think that that was one, one of the benefits as well of participating in the research.”

Kaira Zoe Cañete, Co-created Research: A Conversation with Kaira Zoe Cañete

Limitations and considerations

Like with any methodology there are sticky spaces too. Researchers should consider:

  • Their responsibility to not traumatize, re-traumatize, or take advantage of time, labour, experiences of research participants.
  • How ownership and credit is represented between co-creators, especially when the research outcome exists within a system that may not be set up for shared ownership such as a PhD thesis
  • What outcomes come after your research is complete and how you can bring them back to the community

Final thoughts

Photo-based methodologies give research participants a greater voice within research to represent their lived experiences themselves, rather than by relying solely on a researcher’s observations of their experiences. When used thoughtfully, this co-creative method can foster rich research outcomes and lasting personal relationships. 

But don’t just take our word for it. Have a listen to the Collaboratory Conversations episode “Co-created Research” to hear Kaira Zoe Cañete speak about it in more detail or check out our further resources below. 

Have you ever used Photo-based methodologies in your work or studies before? Did you realise that’s what you were doing? Let us know in the comments or reach out to us at with your experiences.

Further Resources

Alburo‐Cañete, Kaira Zoe. “PhotoKwento: co‐constructing women’s narratives of disaster recovery.” Disasters 45, no. 4 (2021): 887-912. (Open access)

Alburo-Cañete, Kaira Zoe. “Benevolent discipline: governing affect in post-Yolanda disaster reconstruction in the Philippines.” Third World Quarterly 43, no. 3 (2022): 651-672. (Open Access)

Alburo-Cañete, Kaira Zoe, Shonali Ayesha Banerjee, Sochanny Hak, Tanya Jakimow, Chanrith Ngin, Mahardhika Sjamsoe’oed Sadjad, Susanne Schech, Yvonne Underhill-Sem, and Joyce Wu. “(Dis) comfort, judgement and solidarity: affective politics of academic publishing in development studies.” Third World Quarterly 43, no. 3 (2022): 673-683. (Open Access) 

Zoe Alburo-Cañete, Kaira. “Building back better? Rethinking gender and recovery in the time of COVID-19.” Global Social Policy 22, no. 1 (2022): 180-183. (Open Access) 

Breunlin, Rachel, and Maya Haviland. “Singing Out: Aboriginal Ladies’ Stories from the Northwest Kimberley.” (2008). (Open access)

Ells, Harvey. “Talking pictures in working school lunches–Investigating food choice with children and adolescents.” British Food Journal (2001). (Behind a paywall)

The Neighbourhood Story Project, “The Neighbourhood Story Project”, The Neighbourhood Story Project, 2021, (Open access)

Wang, Caroline, and Mary Ann Burris. “Photovoice: Concept, methodology, and use for participatory needs assessment.” Health education & behavior 24, no. 3 (1997): 369-387. (Behind a paywall)