After Visual Methods


Originally uploaded by Mediacciones Group

Looking back on the conference, we are both really pleased with the keynotes and papers we heard, the many new contacts we made, and with the exposure to the many versions of ‘visual methods’ that the conference afforded. Notably, much work involved ‘giving voice’ strategies (where researchers provide cameras to participants, and use the resulting images to empower or document). During our last visit to Leeds, when we visited an ethnography conference in March, we had heard an impressive presentation of research using similar approaches by Emanuela de Cecco.

We did find that our research was somewhat unusual at this conference in its combination of the visual as both method and object.  Interestingly, other work that focused on visual culture (i.e. Cox and Gomez Cruz) also addressed digital forms. Also came back thinking that one of the issues we need to pursue is how this category of ‘the visual’ is operating in our research.

What is the effect of this distinction between the visual as method and object? What could be gained by bringing them closer? One argument, which underlies our paper, is that more visual methods are likely to yield to better ethnographic work on visual culture. Our own paper from the conference,  on how to study a networked image, is now available here.

And in several research projects we heard about, it also seemed like more awareness of the visual ecology in which research was being done would have meant better use of digital methods and better insights. (What does it mean to give kids disposable cameras for a research project when they are in possession of camphones in their daily lives…) In other words, it would be valuable to consider the place of ‘researcher produced’ or ‘participant generated’ images  in relation to the visual culture of the research setting.



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5 responses to “After Visual Methods

  1. Pingback: “Networked images”. A conversation with Anne Beaulieu and Sarah de Rijcke´s paper « Tesis-Antítesis

    • Thanks for continuing the conversation! Many interesting points for discussion, which resonate well with other stuff we’re writing at the moment. Personally, I also feel most comfortable with creating dialogue between different research strands (be it STS, cultural studies, etc.), and integrating them into something useful for a particular project. I appreciate the way you teased out three bodies of work, and what they can or cannot bring to your project.
      I’d like to pick up on the point you raised about our use of the concept of ‘database’ as goal-oriented and highly structured, a way of framing the concept you don’t find particularly useful for your project. I think, firstly, I would shift the analysis a little by not referring to the database as a concept, because of its very material, social, technological dimensions. This would leave room for (in our case) four very diverse practices in and around these databases of images, in which certain instable, emergent, personal, or emotional factors certainly are played out at many levels. In the Tropenmuseum case, participating in many meetings, and following different work flows – despite the fact that the organization frames the database as a tool for capturing, managing, and accessing collection information – I am not sure I could pin down one particular ‘goal’. In practice, it comes in many guises, and with many different forms of use and non-use, love or hate, depending on who you talk to or follow. The institutional boundaries are not that easily defined either. What about people interacting with the images and info that is harvested from the database into other networked settings? But perhaps there indeed is something particular about use and non-use in this context of a century-old institution, compared to for instance Flickr and Funda (the real estate database we also analyze). A small note: one of the things Bas van Heur, co-author of a chapter we’re writing at the moment, I think rightly pointed out is how Flickr is also shaped and constrained by institutional dimensions such as copyright issues, use of language, the structure of the organization behind Flickr, etc.

  2. Thanks Sarah for keep going with the discussion. It surely is a productive one (at least for me). Again, I insist in the difficulties of the concept of “database” because it seems that the production of a database is itself important in order to understand the knowing practices (database as accumulation, organized and hierarchical set of photographs of OTHER accumulated, organized and hierarchical set of things, museum items, houses and graffiti). That’s completely useful for your work but entirely non useful for mine, at least as an entry point. I don’t mean that there are not accumulation, organization or hierarchies but those are constructed by the interaction (and this reminds me the symbolic interaction) so, there’s no museum, market or object behind them to “support” and “shape” the kind of relationship they have with photographs. It is precisely the photography practice as a mediator, as objects and as meanings, along with the technologies (with their own co-shaping relationship) that create a group.
    One small note (on your small note), thinking about flickr as an institution is very appealing (and definitely useful for an analysis of the “new photographical institutions”. I would definitely write something about it). Nevertheless, think about flickr as an institution will be, I think, a limited view. Flickr (as I guess other institutions like museums themselves) is, among many things, and especially in my fieldwork, a connectivity device (such as facebook, the mobile phone, the bars, or the Catalan festivities). But the most important thing is that it would be a tremendous mistake in my work to think of flickr as a single, close and limited organization since my photographers use flickr but also use all sorts of connectivity devices that, yes, “impact” on flickr. One example? flickr “system” doesn’t have a chat incorporated, so, people use gtalk, facebook and SMS to communicate in real time to the group. Probably the absence of chat constrains the type of communication INSIDE flickr, but this is easily short-circuited by the group using more technologies.
    (we should write something together :))

    • Thanks a lot for your great comments, Edgar, here and on your blog.
      (I’m responding there with comments on your first text.)

      With regards to “database”, I think we probably agree on the need to understand its structuring potential, for example, the ‘relational logic’ that it supports, and the ways it affects the social relations in which we are focusing in our respective projects. I of course agree with the way you are defining your field, and it is not useful to limit it in terms of a platform. But we are not doing that either. Let me clarify how the database comes into our work, because you’re touching on a very interesting point. For two (and maybe three) of our sites, the database is treated as a digital ‘equivalent’ of ‘the collection’ or ‘the works’ (which are what the institution was created to foster, share and perserve). Hence, it is not so surprising that they tend to treat it as an object, as a project to achieve, with a clear beginning and end. This view of the ‘database’ also partly explains, for example, why they see visitor photos as so external to their own concerns with the database. But these are ‘actor categories’ if you’ll pardon the sociological cliche. We focus on practices around the databases, and see the photos from visitors as also being part of the digital visual culture that is of interest. This said, invoking the database, which is so clearly an object for the participants creates a common ground, from which to start building a study.

      To draw a parallel with your own work, it is similar to the way you recognised the value of one’s own journal or one’s own profile. Analytically, you are seeing dynamics across these instances, but in terms of articulating the fieldwork, the personal journal as an individual project is still something you take into account. I would argue that the database has a similar function in our work. Make sense?

  3. Absolutely Anne!, (thanks for the response by the way). I guess we both agree that research projects have different needs (even if they are on the same topic) so I understand the way you use “database”. I still have the problem of not be able to account the mutual shaping between technologies and practices and how to link that with the production of “cultural digital objects” (that, in the same way, produce identities and groups). I guess I’ll have to think more about it (and have more conversations with you smart people in Amsterdam)

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