Anthropology and Photography 2014 (1)

British Museum, Clore Centre, 29-31 May 2014


Relational resolutions: The role of digital images in ethnographic fieldwork

Location Claus Moser
Date and Start Time 30 May, 2014 at 14:00


Julie Botticello (Royal Museums Greenwich)  email
Tom Fisher (Nottingham Trent University)  email
 Mail All Convenors

Short Abstract

This panel seeks to explore digital imaging methods as immediate and dialogical processes in data generation in a fieldwork context, and how digital image-making technologies impact on photographic theory in anthropology.

Long Abstract

Photography has long been used in anthropology as a form of supplementary documentation, an object to enhance other data as a tool for reconnection to pasts or recovery of lost processes and practices. The focal point here, however, is not on the photograph as object or tool, but on the processes involved in generating images in contemporary fieldwork contexts.

The anthropological tenet of participation and observation can often be at odds with photographic methods, as cameras and recording equipment create detachment and distance between the observer and those observed. In the digital realm, however, the immediacy of image creation can supersede and transform these barriers, bridging the subject : object dichotomy. We wish to explore how digital photography can transcend infrastructural difficulties to become methods of involvement, aides to dialogue, and vehicles for deepening participation at the point of image creation.

Contributions for this panel may include:

• How do photographs and films enable a closer engagement with participants and their methods, particularly when attempting to grasp complex sequences of events?

• How does the creation of digital images build bridges for, rather than construct barriers to, mutual engagement, through the creation of immediate, visible and discussable data?

• How is informant's perception of the research/er transformed through the latter's own acts of technological virtuosity, evidenced through the images made with the camera?

The aim is to show that the generation of digital images can create new forms of mutual engagement in ethnographic contexts.

Discussant: Sophie Woodward

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


Between the Archive and the Village: The Lives of Photographs in Time and Space

Author: Tommaso Sbriccoli (University of Siena) email

Short Abstract

This paper explores the constitution, organisation and internal communication of a visual archive made of material collected by two different anthropologists in the same location sixty years apart.

Long Abstract

This paper addresses the constitution, organisation and internal communication of a "double" visual archive. The archive is double because it consists of thousands pictures and slides taken by the British anthropologist A.C. Mayer during the 1950s and images I and the photographer Daniela Neri collected in the same village in Central India some sixty years later.

Through the outline of an artistic photographic project which attempts to bring the two halves of the archive together, I will explore the technological politics of digitization, the communicative possibilities between the two sections of the archive, and the relation between still and new moving images. These discussions draw me into a consideration of the ethical and pragmatic issues emerging from using and distributing vintage and contemporary images in field locations - and to present some innovative approaches to this 'problem' through what I will call a 'talking archive'.

Trajectories: Gathering digital/visual data on the move.

Author: Edgar Gómez (RMIT University) email

Short Abstract

This article presents the working-concept of “Trajectory”. A trajectory is understood not only as a trace of movement on a path but a reflection on the possibilities of visual/digital/mobile data recollection for ethnographic research. Two examples of ethnographic fieldworks are presented

Long Abstract

This article presents an outline of the working-concept: "Trajectory". A trajectory is not understood only as a trace of movement on a path but a reflection on the possibilities of visual/digital/mobile data recollection for ethnographic research. Current approaches to ethnographic fieldwork in urban settings are increasingly using digital technologies to gather visual data. But more importantly, those technologies could also grasp the mobility and fluidity of social life. Using smartphones that combine camera features, GPS systems and different apps to store and organize data, interesting possibilities could be opened.

The concept of Trajectory looks to grasp these elements in a single theoretical standpoint. It is intended to establish a dialogue with the flâneur in De Certeau's and Benjamin's work and with some current approaches to visual/digital ethnography, especially those related to movement and senses (i.e. Sarah Pink's work). At the same time, it looks to account for the material infrastructures where many social interactions take place. The paper will present two ethnographic fieldworks as examples of the use of the concept; one about supermarket trolleys in Barcelona, and one on Urban Screen in multiple settings. Ultimately, the paper intents to be the beginning of a dialogue about the use of the concept Trajectories in ethnographic research.

Post-photograph as a digital object and a visual document: new challenges for anthropology

Author: Victoria Chistyakova (National Research University Higher School of Economics) email

Short Abstract

The paper is focused on possibility of introduction of digital images ("post-photographs") as the visual documents that testify appearing, developing, and functioning of the network communities. Digital image becomes a new perspective for anthropology which aims at studying the new social identities.

Long Abstract

Having restated in a different way the thesis of Lev Manovich regarding digital cinema that looks like a particular branch of painting, - "no longer a kino-eye, but a kino-brush", - one could say about static image culture that photographic realism is displaced from being its prevalent mode to become only one option among many. A lot of images that look more or less photographically are still called "photographs" despite they represent rather not what the lens "sees" but what a screen can display. Which consequences of this process are crucial for anthropology which, apparently, got used to be guided in its research of visual data by traditional optical conventions of what is to be treated as a document?

Speaking of anthropology of the epoch of post-photographs we can say that as a rule not anthropologists make them. In other words, researchers deal with the visual artifacts created not by them (unlike the visual anthropology, for instance, which is engaged itself in production of visual images). Post-photograph serves as a document insofar as it tells something about its author, the context and purposes of its production, and the audience which it is intended for. That would be right in regard to the image of any origin, but at present post-photograph often becomes a crucial factor in the process of development of the communities of a new type. The link of digital image and community moves in the center of our attention and forces us to expand our ideas about visual document.

From documentation to dialogue: Resolving complex processes of making through digital imaging

Author: Julie Botticello (Royal Museums Greenwich) email

Short Abstract

This paper considers the capturing of embodied knowledge and the human-machine interface in industrial lace making. It argues that digital images document the researcher’s own of burgeoning understanding of process and facilitate the accurate transmission of knowledge.

Long Abstract

Embodied knowledge and its capture are often reliant on multimedia forms of recording. This paper shows how the making of digital images becomes more than documentation, in which image creation acts as mediator in information transfer. It is based on ethnographic research undertaken at the last remaining Leaver's Lace factory in England, where a handful of workers retain tactic knowledge and processual techniques essential to producing this traditional form of machine made lace. While some written and diagrammatic documentation exists in the industry, none of these adequately convey the interconnected nature of the process, which is both mechanical and manual; nor are these easily able to be grasped by those from outside the industry. In the research methodology, photography was initially employed as a means of capturing and recording process. However, due to the complexity of the processes and the intricacy of the human-machine connection, the creation of images became vehicles for communication and dialogue, for the informants to ensure that the researcher was "seeing" and understanding correctly what the lace makers were doing. Thus, while the camera remained in the hand of the researcher, its point of focus was facilitated and directed by informant-teachers, thus rendering the act of taking photos a tool for instruction and verification of understanding. With the informants guiding the way, the photographs and their chronological sequence chart the learning curve and dawn of understanding of the researcher as much as they document the processes of machine lace making.

Capturing the Intangible: how images of the tangible transform cultural heritage practices

Author: Lourdes Arizpe (National University of Mexico) email

Short Abstract

Photographs often disappoint anthropologists who take them because they cannot capture the intensity of bonding, tacit understandings and hierarchy of values and things transmitted during performance. Yet they may give practitioners a new knowledge to re-energize their cultural heritage events.

Long Abstract

The paper will discuss many of the experiences which have been collected in the Archive on Cultural Heritage of the Center for Multidisciplinary Research in local indigenous and mestizo villages in Mexico. Digital photography became important as the Archive evolved. Local young men and women were trained in photography and given digital cameras alongside the anthropologists. Yet the most salient result of giving back photographs and videos to practitioners has been the impact they have had in the perception and discussion of intentionality and impression-management. Digital imaging is particularly useful in setting off discussions on these events among all actors, including stakeholders and anthropologists.

From pest to pets - Commoditization of rescued animals by Korean animal shelters

Author: Julien Dugnoille (University of Exeter) email

Short Abstract

Based on a thirteen-month ethnographic fieldwork at three animal shelters in Seoul, this paper explores how using digital images allows South Korea's animal welfare community to commoditize stray cats and dogs, usually perceived as a nuisance and/or food source, by turning them into potential pets.

Long Abstract

In 1988, the South Korean government decided to hide every dog meat restaurant in Seoul in order to avoid potential diplomatic incidents during the Olympics. This marked a turning point in South Koreans' attitudes towards the consumption of dogs within their own society, oscillating, from then on, between guilt and national pride. Since then, in addition to this international coercion, the Korean dog meat market has also been pressurised by a growing number of national organisations. Indeed, since the 1950's, Korea has been undergoing frantic social transitions and while cats and dogs were still consumed as food, animals have also increasingly become parts of Korean households, thus making them both meat and pets among Korean society. As violent procedures for killing cats and dogs are often regarded as ancestral cultural practices in Korea, in the last twenty years, Korean animal welfare organisations have emerged to rescue thousands of animals every year, fight the government's inaction towards animal abuse and develop pet culture among urban South Korean populations.

Based on a thirteen-month ethnographic fieldwork at three animal shelters in Seoul, this paper explores how the use of digital images in particular has allowed me to contribute to the South Korean animal welfare community's commoditization of stray cats and dogs, thereby helping them turn social 'pest' into pets.

Selfishness or Selfie-ism: how digital images can create the ethnographical moment for intimate communication

Author: Salma Siddique email

Short Abstract

I will explore the therapeutic and experiential aspects of using digital images to self-disclose and enclose the self.The rise of the selfie is the gift that keeps giving–by sharing personal data through the mobile digital image the viewer can process, analyse and disseminate sensitive data

Long Abstract

The paper is informed by my work as an anthropologist and as a psychotherapist volunteering with a charity working with marginalised communities.The ethnographical moment can be revealed or possibly concealed through the act of capturing the event which becomes the encounter of the interpersonal relationship between the self and the other to identify both the subject and the viewer of the body in space (Pinney and Paterson, 2003) .

The social phenomenon of the selfie is defined as "a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website". It can create an ethnographical moment (Fabian, 2005) which is both therapeutic and a reflexive biography for the (re)creation of new self-identities (Giddens, 1991) to find congruity in the story we tell ourselves and the stories we tell others about ourselves The way the subject engages, constructs and communicates becomes the ethnographical self as a resource (Collins, 2013). Research in the use of photography within the psychotherapy frame has been used to promote social skills, development of esteem building, the ordering of behaviours and emotions. I have used the selfie as a resource to encourage mutual discussion of the client's sense of self and to be equal partners in the psychotherapy session. It can help produce a coherency in their narrative. We will explore what it means to mediate work between the real self to that of the curated self in the virtual world.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.