Photography as Performance, Ethnographic Research

Paper Type:  Research paper
Pages:  7
Wordcount:  1807 Words
Date:  2022-03-09

In its literal definition, photography is merely drawing with light, terms derived from two Greek words, photo and graph. Therefore, as a process, the term photography means recording an image on a light-sensitive film. Depending on the viewer, a photograph can never be defined as a message but rather a raw material for various interpretations. An image can be used to generate more data, but in most cases, it merely triggers memories held by the viewers. It is right to assume, therefore, that photography plays diverse roles in the life of the photographer and the viewer. For example, some viewers look at photography as a record for data and events while others look at it as a source of unbiased visual views and the reproduction of reality by the photographer. The intention of various viewers of an image varies since the actual meaning of any picture is on the image itself. Photos are pieces of art containing paintings that embody personal perspective and concerns of a viewer or a photographer. These concerns can range from the exploration of formal aesthetic issues to the expression of the photographer's inner emotions. This research will seek to understand the internal reality between the creators of art and the image itself, culture power, and social relations will be examined to help understand the personal reflection of an image.

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Loosely put, the term autoethnography means research that connects culture to personal Ellis (274). The author continues, as a qualitative research method, autoethnography applies data about self and establishing an understanding and the link between others and self within a similar context. The technique is widely accepted because it permits a researcher to apply the nontraditional research means of their stories in narrative research. As narrative research, autoethnography, tell stories through numerous forms representing livid experiences through a multilayered structure of investigations. An advantage that autoethnography research has over the traditional ethnography is its capability to establish the values of connected life experience of the people involved. In other word, autoethnography is capable of forming a place that represents the life experience of a researcher. Attention to autoethnography is vital because it shifts our focus towards the revelation of the voice of the insider instead of the dictates of the seeker of truth. Separately, Scarles (37) concludes that autoethnography research is crucial because this form of analysis is subjective, i.e., the study becomes an extension of the life of the researcher meaning that the knowledge of the researcher should not be viewed as linear or analytical and that answers to every question should be absolute.

The history of photography in autoethnography research dates back to the late 19th and mid-20th Centuries. A camera is a vital component of ethnographic research for a long time among ethnographers. For instance, Boylorn (27) points out that during colonization, an objective recording commonly used was photography and acted as the only method of credible scientific documentation of physical and cultural differences. The first account of autoethnographic use of photography was developed by British anthropology known as Alfred Cort Haddon. By the end of 20th Century, the use of photography was to meet the requirements of scientific realists' method. The method faced criticism then for its reflexive position that endured and became the backbone of most visual research applied presently.

In a unconnected finding, Ellis (280) investigates the 'ethnographic news' of photography. The author posits that not a single picture or practice will automatically become autoethnographic by its nature. Accordingly, therefore, autoethnographic in photography steams from the image discourse and content. A good example is the claim made by the author that an autographic photograph is an image from which one could view and gain useful meaning of visual presentation through interpretation. The writer further expounds on how a viewer could subjectively determine how and when if a photograph is autoethnographic by saying that it is not the subject matter that determines autoethnographic but rather the classification of the knowledge from the image. Adding to this observation is Edwards (145), who says that the definition of autoethnography from an image depends on the context in which a viewer looks at the picture that depends on any socially constructed category. In other words, the writer believes that depending on the viewer, photography may serve various personal and ethnographic applications. Some audiences, for instance, may view an image through a contradictory meaning.

Supporting the claim made above is Scarles (37), who says that there are no agreed standards or criteria that can automatically determine and ethnographic photographs. The writer rightly observes that any photo may have an ethnographic intent, meaning and significance depending on reason or time. In other words, the author says that the meaning attached to a photograph are temporary and subjective, i.e., depends on the individual viewing the image. One image may have different meanings, sometimes contradictory, in various phases of ethnographic research since the audience is diverse. The author, therefore, pieces of advice ethnographers to understand the viewer, their location and broadly cultural discourse for interpretation of the meanings of photographs. For instance, a picture taken for ethnographic research is given different meanings depending on the subject of the images, i.e., the local people, the audience and even the researchers.

To further understand the topic, it is crucial to assess the role of an ethnographer who doubles up as a photographer and deduces differences. In cases where an ethnographer takes pictures, either professionally or as an amateur, they do so with preconceived photography theories in mind and also the context of any given cultural or social relations. Holm (127) puts this context clearly by saying that any person using a camera or looks at a photograph will automatically be subscribing, even though unknowingly, to some of the theories of representation. Autoethnographic photography assuming a reflexive approach means that the researcher is informed of some arguments that inform the practice of their own reproduction, the relationship with the photographic subject and the theories that inform the ethnographer's method of photography. The author, therefore, pieces of advice ethnographers to pay close attention to the intentionality and subjectivity of an individual photographer. Besides the mentioned, it is also essential to consider cultural context, social relations and political, economic and historical context to which the photography refers.

Over the past few decades, social scientists have adopted the use of visual image collection as a part of supporting various researches. Initially, the concept was only shared among anthropologists through a model known as ethnographic research. Traditionally, the use of images in the study was barely for visual illustration, but that is not the case currently where photographs are used for analysis and commentary reasons. Some social scientists, Van House (135) says, do not recognize images in autoethnography because the photos are a complement of verbal communication in research. Disagreeing with the observation is O'Byrne (1388) who rightly point out that the use of photography in research is to spur questioning during the interview. The photograph can either be taken by the study or the sample group member. The purpose of photography during such research are two, and an obvious one is encouraging firsthand account by the participants on what goes on in their lives and also to unlock the past events which might have been forgotten. The author helps researchers to let participant take the photos since they will capture the unbiased side of the story, unlike a social scientist who might capture areas that interest him or her.

As evident in the points mentioned above, individuals develop tendencies to view images as a social activity that they adapt so that they fit the conventional social norms and culture. In other words, the photographs act as a combination of visual elicitation and autoethnographic encounter visual autoethnography mobilizes spaces of understanding; transcending limitations of verbal discourse and opening spaces for mutual appreciation and reflection. A reflection on photography can alter the perception of a viewer and their integrity when assessing and investigating expression over different modes (Duncan 28). Through a profound, aggregate reflection on a photo, the viewers make part of the reality and encounter with the image recognizable in a progressive way. It is through such observation that one ends up building his or own personality. From the explanations of the reflexivity theory, it was evident that through viewership of an image, the viewers comprehend their reality with the outside world (Anderson 374). The reflexive procedure can provoke us to challenge our understandings further, change our portrayals of self as well as other people through content. The availability of visual data in both academic, discussion and daily lives, among others paint a picture of varied interpretations. We tie up images with daily activities and create history, meaning and truth from them. Ethnographic researchers borrow heavily from the concept to infer truth on their various fields.

To fully comprehend photography in ethnographic research, one needs first to establish the relationship of the actual doing of photography and the person involved. The point here can be reached by asking a personal question like the reaction of people when they take, appear in or look at a picture of their own. People's opinions when looking at their private photographs vary depending on the nature of the photograph. Closely related to this observation is the concept proposed by French scholar Bourdieu in 2004 known as habitus in which he connects livid experience and the regularities in the society (Wall 146). The author says that decision about the content of an image is a reflection of aesthetic, reproduced class, exchange reflex and display. For example, the author argues that family photography acts as a reinforcement of the unity that has been in existence for most people. Photography is such a case that serves as a reinforcement of family as a group. Apart from family, other noteworthy occasions include tourism in which case the writer purports that acts as a means archetype function.

Other studies investigate photography as a practice emphasising on families and social reproduction. According to the author, previous studies examine photography in the context of family ideologies, social class, gender roles, consumer culture, power and leisure identity. For example, the motive for tourism photography is different from family photography by all standards. Even though there are evident differences between the two, family photography is an overlap of tourism photography since the growth of personal photography closely relates in terms of time and meaning. Few ways of understanding the close correlations between family and tourism photography is an assessment of an individual's consumer behaviours, everyday life and their households.

A separate observation by Wall (146) looks at the known ethical concerns in ethnographic research. The writer points out that any research projects applying the autoethnographic approach must consider some ethical implications. Some of the identified moral interest in this type of research are covert research, informed consent, harm to informant, confidentiality and exploitation, among others...

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Photography as Performance, Ethnographic Research. (2022, Mar 09). Retrieved from

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