Doing Visual Ethnography – Sarah Pink.

As I was on the theme of representation, I managed to come across this book. I was unsure of ‘visual ethnography’ however after learning it refers to exploring different cultures through forms of photography and video, I thought it may be useful to look into this book for my project. Although sufferers of SAD aren’t a ‘culture’, I felt there were similar tendencies of how I am looking to this group of people to create a visual response.

Ethnography – the scientific description of peoples and cultures with their customs, habits, and mutual differences. (Oxforddictionaries.com, 2015)

As Pink expresses her opinion of ethnography as a form of methodology, Pink explains “it does not claim to produce an objective or truthful account of reality, but should aim to offer versions of ethnographer’s experiences of reality that are as loyal as possible to the context, negotiations and intersubjectivities through which the knowledge was produced.” (Pink, 2007: 22) I liked this point because it highlights the importance of sourcing the information correctly, respecting where and whom this information has come from and how it is used. Not only that, but it acknowledges that the photographer isn’t exactly trying to copy that reality, there aren’t any promises made that it is going to be an exact account – however it appreciates the importance of the photographer’s honesty.

Following this, Pink highlights “…it should engage with issues of representation that question the right of the researcher to represent other people, recognise the impossibility of ‘knowing other minds’ (Fernandez 1995:25) and acknowledge that the sense we make of informants’ words and actions is ‘an expression of our own consciousness’ (Cohen and Rapport 1995: 12).” (Pink, 2007: 22) This again refers to the photographer’s honesty and the importance of taking the information and using it appropriately, not making untrue representations or exaggerations. Although myself as a photographer will not know the symptoms or emotions of someone suffering with SAD, ‘not knowing their mind’, I will be trying my best to be able to understand as an outsider looking in, without imposing my own thoughts and feelings on the representation of my findings. Although these elements can be seen as negatives, I think if the photographer is able to acknowledge these it will actually enhance their visual response.

After my research into representation, this quote stood out to me. “Any experience, action, artifact, image or idea is never definitively just one thing but may be redefined differently in different situations, by different individuals and in terms of different discourses.” (Pink, 2007: 23) It shows that dependant on our ‘language’, our understanding through the system of signs, each individual is able to make their own interpretation of something. There is no strict answer as to what something can be, in my project, an image. The way an image is represented will influence the responses it gets, but as people have their own opinions and perceptions, it means there will always be different responses.

“Ethnographers ought to be self-conscious about how they represent themselves to informants and they ought to consider how their identities are constructed and understood by the people with whom they work.” (Pink, 2007: 24). It is important for me to consider this point, as an ‘outsider’ speaking to suffers of SAD, it’s crucial for me to contemplate how I will approach them, how I will present myself and to be respectful. I want to be able to make them feel comfortable and not push their limits or cause any upset, and simply respect their wishes if they do not want to answer particular questions or talk at all. Whilst I appreciate this could cause some difficulty for my project, if I can’t get anyone to talk to it may hold me back however as my role as a photographer it is more important to respect their feelings.

“In many contemporary research projects ethnographers are finding that their informants’ everyday relationships have an on-line component, this might mean not simply the exchange of e-mail but also of digital photograph, the construction of websites or using on-line forums.”(Pink, 2007: 31). It was intreguing to see Pink sharing this point as I decided at the beginning of my project I wanted to use the online platforms to find people to talk to about their experiences with SAD. As social media has become so predominant in our lives today, people have turned to use it as a medium for sharing their stories about their battles with illness, both physical and mental. I have even known one of my own friend’s to do this, and the response and network she has built up with people is incredible. I am hoping that if they are willing to share information online, such as through Instagram or Twitter, then they will be open to share things with me particularly with my intentions of hoping to challenge the stigma of mental health.

I was a little unsure as to how helpful this book would be to my research, however it was still useful to consider the couple of relevant points that I found. Mostly, it brought to my attention how to be respectful of representation and how you are able to do so as a photographer when you do not have ‘your own’ knowledge of the subject in hand. Although I was already conscious of being tactful, it’s made me aware of the importance of knowing your subject well, therefore I will be trying to speak to as many people as possible to help build up a solid base knowledge whilst also getting a great range of opinions, emotions and quotes to use with my photographs. It might also be interesting for me to show some of these participants some of the photos I have taken, to get their opinions and also see what they can draw from them. They may also like the choice, of choosing a photograph which they feel best represents their experience. However these are just initial thoughts and I need to think them through thoroughly before deciding whether to pursue them.

Oxforddictionaries.com, (2015) Ethnography – Definition Of Ethnography In English From The Oxford Dictionary [online] available from <http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/ethnography&gt; [16 January 2015]

Pink, S. (2007). Doing Visual Ethnography. 2nd ed. London: Sage.

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~ by victoriasimkissphotography on January 16, 2015.

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