Photo-Elicitation Interviews with Vulnerable Populations: Practical and Ethical Considerations

Heith Copes, Whitney Tchoula, Fiona Brookman, Jared Ragland

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Photo-elicitation is a qualitative interview technique where researchers solicit responses, reactions, and insights from participants by using photographs or other images as stimuli. Images can be researcher-generated or participant-generated and each has particular benefits and challenges. Though not new, the use of images within criminology is an underused technique. In this paper we advocate the use of photo-elicitation techniques suggesting that they offer a powerful addition to standard data collection and presentation techniques. In making our case, we draw on our experiences from an 18-month long photo-ethnography of people living in rural Alabama who use methamphetamine. The ethnography consisted of formal interviews and informal observations with 52 participants and photography of 29 of them. While we draw on our overall experiences from the project we focus specifically on the photographs generated by, and taken of, one key participant—Alice. We demonstrate the benefits and challenges of using photo elicitation interviews with vulnerable individuals such as Alice, by considering themes such as representation, empowerment and emotionality. Additionally, we highlight the practical and ethical issues that confront researchers who incorporate the visual into their research.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-20
JournalDeviant Behavior
Early online date10 Jan 2018
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 10 Jan 2018


  • visual methods
  • visual criminology
  • photo elicitation
  • drug use
  • ethnography


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