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Forget all the tips and techniques— forget the fancy equipment— the most powerful pictures are a matter of emotion and purpose, not technical training. The photo at left, taken with a single-use camera by Detroit mother Ophelia Owens of her two children in a hospital emergency room, evokes more emotion than a hundred pretty sunsets.

Owens was one of 11 mothers participating in a recent Photovoice project about environmental justice in poor areas of Detroit. Photovoice, a project started by former University of Michigan Professor Caroline Wang, gives cameras to members of communities whose voices aren’t normally heard—the people who policy makers’ decisions effect.

The women involved in the project were told to include both the positive and negative aspects of their neighborhoods. More than just evoking emotion, the photos allowed the mothers to look at what was happening around them in a different way. Owens realized that the severe asthma attack the brought her young children to the hospital was likely caused by the smoke from the nearby waste incinerator that poured over her neighborhood.