p.p1 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; text-align: justify; font: 11.0px Helvetica; -webkit-text-stroke: #000000} p.p2 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; text-align: justify; font: 11.0px Helvetica; -webkit-text-stroke: #000000; min-height: 13.0px} p.p3 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; line-height: 14.0px; font: 12.0px ‘Helvetica Neue’; -webkit-text-stroke: #000000} p.p4 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; line-height: 14.0px; font: 12.0px ‘Helvetica Neue’; -webkit-text-stroke: #000000; min-height: 14.0px} span.s1 {font-kerning: none} span.Apple-tab-span {white-space:pre}

Ethnography is a methodology for the study of human culture and is a research strategy often used by cultural anthropologists and visual sociologists. Visual ethnography, as a form of ethnography, is a method where visual mediums, predominantly photography and video, become central to the ethnographic research. (FIND REFERENCE THAT IS NOT HARPER)

We Will Write a Custom Essay Specifically
For You For Only $13.90/page!

order now

Photographs have been used in anthropology and ethnography for a significantly long time (HARPER, 2013). With the inception of photography, images were considered to ‘catalogue’ and present the world as we see it. Photographs were only considered an objective, support mechanism in representing reality. In the early 20th century, with the advances of technology, a new cultural ethnographer emerged – one that consistently started to use photography in their field work and made visuals central to their research. An important example is the study of Balinese culture of Margaret Mead and Gregory Batison. This is perhaps the biggest photography based ethnographic study of  its time. The study consisted of 25 000 photographs on film. While, this might seem insignificant from our current digital photography perspective, it has unimaginable magnitude in terms of analogue photography of its time. Despite this, the photographs were presented, as a complete and objective representation, merely there to balance the “inherent bias of words” (HARPER, 2012 p. 12). When it came to the use of photographs like in the case of Mead and Batison’s study of balinese people, photographs alone were not considered enough to constitute a complete and scientific argument. We are used to linking meanings together with words rather then deriving meaning from images. (HARPER, 2012 p. 14)

Hence, it would probably be correct to assume that when the visual became significant and subjective in our culture, during the latter part of the 20th century, visual ethnography, sociology and anthropology started to create an interest in become disciplines in their own right (HARPER, 2012). These visual disciplines are now thought in universities around the world, have subject specific journals and associations that offer a platform for critical discussion.

With the emerging of film in the early 20th century, visual anthropology as ethnographic film became the most widely used form of the field (Ruby, 2005). Many visual ethnographers had a preference for video as a visual medium for documenting and studying culture due to it’s ability to render gestures and rituals as they are performed (HARPER, 2013). There are multiple ethnographic film festivals and initiatives that promote ethnographic movies. 

Despite this interest in ethnographic film, photography has had, and now should probably more than ever (due to camera phones and the amount of photographs generated through social media) have its significant place within these visual disciplines. It provides a number of visual methodologies which are entirely based on the interpretation and production of still images.  (EXPAND ON GILLIAN ROSE HERE and the cultural turn etc) Photography in the emerging traditions of these visual disciplines has been initially concerned with two main aspects: the use of still photographs as a methodological tool in qualitative research, and the use of photographs as a means of presenting ethnographic research. (SCHWARTZ, 1989).

Photography in this field has developed significant disciplinary crossovers, with slight nuances depending on the point of entry into the production of the photographs. A similar image could be considered an artistic photograph, a social documentary photograph, or one that represents ethnographic or visual research. The interpretation and purpose of one and the same photograph could also be used in different ways to serve different purposes. Like in the example of Sarah Pink’s photograph of a female bull fighter – the same photographs won a photography award, was used as an advertisement for female bullfighting and was part of an extensive visual ethnographic study. The purpose and meaning of photographs are somewhat defined and changed depending on the context they are positioned in (PINK, 2013). This opens up the possibility for interdisciplinary approaches to visual ethnography incorporating not only anthropologists and ethnographers but visual artists, cultural studies scholars and consumer researchers, to name a few. Visual research has both academic and applied uses and other disciplines, are increasingly using visual methods and are developing approaches that are both discipline-specific and borrow from existing examples in visual anthropology. A possibility for interdisciplinary collaborations has been created which is redefining visual anthropology as a whole. (PINK, 2003)

In film ethnography, for example, a 1995 review of films selected by the Society for Visual Anthropology for screening at the American Anthropological Association meetings, over half of the films have no anthropologist listed as being involved in the production (Blakeley and Williams 1995, through RUBY 2005). This demonstrates that being an academic anthropologist, or in fact any training in anthropology, is not required to produce a film that will be accepted by many visual anthropologists as being ethnographic. This however outline problems… 

Despite visual anthropology establishing itself as a disciplines in its own right, ethnography and in particular the visual in ethnography has been significantly criticised, because of its initial predominantly realist approach to observation and interpretation (PINK, 2003). Many early ethnographers subscribed to the theory of Max Weber, where objectivity is described as moral indifference, cognitive distance and emotional disengagement. However, with the rise of postmodern critical theory, discussions were opened that looked at subjectivity and truth as a whole, including the social sciences, technology and visual medium and its multiple forms of representation (SEIDMAN, 1994). Ethnography being no exception – the role of the ethnographer/researcher was examined, his or her background and cultural conditioning and how these affect the outcomes of the ethnographic research. In addition to this, visual ethnography was especially criticised as it also incorporated the discussion of the ambiguous nature of visual images and therefore the validity of the visual research methods was questioned.

Photographs started to be considered subjective despite their ongoing reputation of representing reality. The imagination and intention of their makers, their social conditioning, the vantage point, significantly alter the meaning of the photographs. Of equal ambiguous nature is the way the viewer interprets the photographs based on their previous, knowledge, cultural conditioning and understanding. The contingencies through which meanings are constructed from both the perspective of the maker and viewer have been central concerns for these disciplines (PINK, 2013).

Due to this criticism, disciplines like documentary photography and ethnography had taken a defensive position in the 1960s and were on a decline, while the popularity of cultural studies increased (HARPER, 2012 p.47). However, as a result of this a contemporary side to visual ethnography emerged. Ethnographers started taking a reflexive approach, to their field work and incorporating it into the ethnographic research. The reflexive approach to research is the awareness that subjectivity is a central element to the interpretation and the  production of the research process (PINK, 2013). While, perhaps not under the same name, this was not an entirely new concept, it could be seen in the work of Branislav Malinowski’s anthropological fieldwork and later in the work of Jean Briggs’ work ‘Never in Anger: Portrait of an Eskimo Family”, where the experience and feelings of the researcher is reflected within the research (SEIDMAN, 1994). 

More and more contemporary ethnographers started adopting the reflexive approach, which rejects the idea that ethnography can or should be objective or scientific. (HARPER, 2012 p. 51) Frequently now it is expected that before a research project is presented, it would be preceded with a kind of autobiographical account of the researcher and how his social conditioning has affected their findings (ROSE, 2001). This, from my perspective, adds another layer to the experience of the work. It provides information about both the group of people being studied and the way meaning was constructed by the indirect reflection of the culture that the researcher comes from. 

However, because visual ethnography can’t provide a full objective picture, does not mean that  it should be disregarded as a whole. This inability to provide a complete and objective picture of the research, should not completely undermine what it does provide. What also needs to be acknowledged is the ongoing effort that scholars, academics and practitioners are putting into redefining, understanding and interrogating the ethics of these disciplines is what also drives them forward. I think Douglas Harper’s analogy in his book Visual Sociology, which he refers to originally in relationship to Mead’s Balinese study, sums up this sentiment very nicely.

I’ve come to think of projects like Balinese Character as a serious of windows on a large building, and through those windows are unfolding aspects of culture. But there are many spaces on the wall between the windows that the viewer must fill in. The view is always incomplete.  (HARPER, 2012 p.14)

It seems to also ring true when it comes to contemporary visual ethnographic practises. If I were to expand on the analogy, contemporary visual ethnography attempt to reflect on the gaze of the observer by providing information and knowledge about the building, and in particular the window that is being used for observation from across the street. 

Photography based Ethnography 
Visual methods through photography have become particularly interesting in the 21st century due to the predominantly visual culture we live in. Images permeate our lives through advertising, social media and they are their accessible through our camera phones. Most recent studies engaging with visual research methods have used photographs of one kind or another. (ROSE, 2014)

Contemporary visual researchers who come from different disciplines seem to have common interests and concerns to do with reflexivity, collaboration; ethics; and the relationship between the content, social context and materiality of images. (PINK, 2003)

talk about why photography is an interesting medium due to its immediacy and democratic use….
talk about the overlap of disciplines and the use of ethnographic methods (visual sociology, visual anthropology, visual communications etc) how visual ethnography can inform visual practitioners and that positioning something ethnographic is based on the way the images are positioned and not so much their content. 

look at different theoretical approaches to visual ethnography and it’s uses. reflexivity in qualitative research… rather then realist approaches…. that don’t carry much weight anymore… and the importance of it… triangulation? sarah pink p.181 Interdisciplinary agendas in visual research
the process of observation and mead…. 182 s. pink

Ethnographer as photographer
This moappro

Collaborative ethnographic methods
Participatory ethnographic methods
Participatory visual research methods have been developed as part of an attempt to decrease the power differential between the researcher and the researched.

Ethical considerations

The value of postmodern knowledge lies in making us aware of and tolerant toward social differences, ambiguity and conflict. p. 5 The Postmodern Turn: New Perspectives on Social Theory

However, there are specific research strategies that are based on photography and are more effective through the medium of photography. For the purpose of this essay I will focus on some of these photography based ethnographic methods.

This aids the relatively recent emerging cross over between visual ethnography and other disciplines such as visual communications and the visual arts.

Visual literacy in a culture of immediate photographs: evaluating the impact of visual methods and participatory photography on the reengagement of NEETs 

Analysing and interpreting images
visual methods gillian rose
sarah pink doing visual ethnography chapter 7 


I'm Erica!

Would you like to get a custom essay? How about receiving a customized one?

Check it out