Photolanguage: Philippines


This article originally appeared in Issue# 27

How Group Media Works

Photolanguage is a technique that utilizes evocative and symbolic pictures for self-expression, communications and group development.

The term was coined in France in the mid-1960s by the religious audio-visual thinkers Pierre Babin, Will, and Claire Belisle and their colleagues at the Centre Recherche et Communication/Audio Visuel Expression de lajoi (CREC-AVEX) in Lyons, France. They developed a method and published several sets of Photolanguage which, in turn, inspired other collections around the world.

The challenge of creating a photolanguage for the Philippines was tackled by Jesuit Father Ibarra (oNimil) Gonzalez, who worked with a team from Sonolux Asia to take the photographs and test them with various groups. Out of 2000 photos, he retained 225 which proved most useful because of their suggestive power, their capacity of projection, their aesthetic and symbolic value.

The result, Photolauguage Philippines is a series of four photo collections (Self, Relationship, Celebration of Life and To Build a World) plus a facilitator's manual that provides a methodology and process for effective use. Three types of users were identified by the author:

  • Catechists who want the Gospel message translated in today's human realities
  • Social workers who want to document human realities and understand their dynamics
  • Artists who see reality in a more sensitive way than others and who want to participate in recreating these human realities according to the noble urgings of their own souls breathed into them by their creator.

When the pictures and the manual are used for a photo-language session, the hoped for result is a group of people with renewed self-awareness and a new sense of dignity, people who can initiate change and help themselves transform their own world.

Read an interview with the author of Photolanguage: Philippines.

A Sample Exercise

You are a facilitator or animator or group leader, whatever term you like to use. Spread the pictures on the floor. What do you want? You want to know your participants? Who they really are? What makes them tick? Their problems? Give them the following instructions:

"Here are 50 pictures spread on the floor. I want you to select one and only one picture that represents you moot. All of you, the inside and the outside. Study the pictures well; the lines, shapes, forts, the symbols, the meaning evoked by the pictures. And select that one picture that is you, here and now. We will go around the pictures in silence...

"Now, decide on a picture which represents you most. Don't worry if two of you select the same picture. Just remember where your picture is. The pictures not selected, put them away, so you won't be distracted by them. Sit down in a circle, so that everyone sees you and you see everyone. And we will now share your picture."

These are the usual beginnings of a photolanguage session. Now watch and listen, observe how every one reveals themselves to the group. You have begun the process of evangelization and development.

On Asian Culture...

In spite of the fact that Asians are exonomically underdeveloped, we, as a people are culturally developed and rich. Asians are generally considered sensitive. They are perceptive in reading faces, body gestures, voice and the whole range of non-verbal messages. Asians are also oriented visually and are keen observers. This skill, as Asian quality, can be capitalized on and used as s tool for human development.

The LOCUS of interaction in photolanguage is the small group. This involves person-to-person communication for change. Photolanguage sessions are also the methodologies of group dynamics and social interactions. With the use of pictures, our often sensitive and explosive Asian non-verbal communications can be standardized.

Breaking Dependency on the West

Another area of underdevelopment is our hang-up on "white-man's superiority." Our educational system and educational materials are very dependent on the West. Even our visual orientations carry western taste. Our concept of beauty is very aucasian, and our fads and fashions are western. Our image of a good life is "American." We are suffering from a lack of indigenized educational materials, inexpensive if possible, even for rural areas.

Levels of Analysis

Here is the process for an in-depth analysis of one picture that results from a group process of selecting and narrowing choices in response to a Task Question, like 'For you, how would you picture the present situation of the Church in Asia?" There are three levels of analysis:

  • Descriptive analysis
    Who is in the picture?
    What are they doing?
    What are their actions/reactions to what is happening?
    What do they have in common? Why are they there? (Should they be there? for what? What occasions require this type of action?)
    For whom are they doing this?
    What benefits can be gotten from such actions?
    Should it be this way? How did this happen?


  • Relational Analysis
    What are the relationships of the elements or answers found in the first level analysis? Negative, positive, dependent, independent relationships?
    Are the elements (answers) discovered within the picture or outside the picture?
    Are the elements identifiable? Are there dominant, determinant elements, cause and effect elements?
    Are there identifiable "root" causes?
    Are there patterns of relationships? Combinations? Structures clear?
    Give a summary of the discussion.


  • Symbolic Analysis
    How does the above analysis match with my warehouse of personal experiences?
    What are new or old experiences to me? Why? How come?
    What is my response to the picture analysis?
    What is the degree of certainty or truth of my response?
    What is the level of my response: non-verbal, verbal, action response, individual, group?

A summary of the proceedings from the 1st to the 3rd level of analysis is kept. The group at this stage has created its own dynamism or in terms of our objective, has started "the process of development."