Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

A thousand words deserves a picture

Written by: on October 26, 2017

“As visual media proliferate and as our understanding of visual cultures deepens, visual research has grown. As the field develops, so does a need for textbooks and resources at all levels.”[1] This resource proposed by Victoria Alexander has been fulfilled by Sarah Pink in your book titled, “Doing Visual Ethnography.” In this work, Pink diligently describes the rapidly emerging resource of visual ethnography as not just a means of photo/video taking, but rather also the methods by which a better study of the environments, peoples, cultures, and even geographies can be better studied. As the world around us erupts with videos and photos filling our televisions, websites, and bookshelves, it is through understanding that there is more to benefit from this art-form than just pretty pictures or entertaining videos; in fact, it has become a tool for sociologist as well as others to use for education and understanding.

In this her third edition of “Doing Visual Ethnography”, Pink begins her journey with a history of photo taking on a historical level as a means of helping to show its evolution. Pink explains, “to develop the understanding of visual ethnography practice I apply in my own work I draw, sometimes critically, on a range of disciplines and fields, including: visual anthropology, media anthropology, visual sociology, media and internet studies, visual studies/visual cultural studies and art history and geography.”[2] This bold approach to research demonstrates how many resources can help to shine light in a scholarship pursuit; perhaps even in areas one had not considered previously. Recently in our congregation, one of our deacons showed a video concerning the rampage led by King Sennacharib; in the video, it discussed the elaborate wall carvings the king had ordered to be done in order to tell the story of his conquest. Though this type of archeological artwork is fascinating for the viewer to behold, for the scholar, it can tell a number of stories, should they take the time to study it properly. I believe that this is the approach that Pink is teaching

One of the illustrations Pink stays with throughout is the story of a female bull fighter, Cristina Sanchez.[3] Though the photos of the bullfighter at work are amazing, it is more the story that the author is able to build concerning the bull fighter, the bull fighter as a woman, and even the story of bull fighting itself, should the visual story be told properly.  Through the skillful mastery of visual ethnographer, the photo-taker is transformed from mere photographer, to story-teller, historian, and even activist. The photos or videos can tell the story. Caution was suggested however, in that Pink warned that “sensitivity to how individuals in different contexts or cultures may experience anxiety or stress through their involvement in research.”[4] This mode of thinking holds the photographer/videographer to a higher level of responsibility.

            Pink also addresses the growing methods of visual ethnography on a universal scale in the world today, including many names of reference in the various areas of visual ethnography; a field, that if I am truly honest, never even realized had that much attention prior to the read of this book. However, as Pink described the methods of looking deeper into culture, personalities, and ideas, I remembered looking through magazines like National Geographic and Life as a teen, fascinated by the stories a single photo could tell. “It is not simply a matter of asking how participants provide information in response to images but rather as ethnographers we should seek to understand how people use images to produce and represent experiential and affective ways of knowing that might not so easily be expressed in words.”[5] We have always heard the phrase that “a picture speaks a thousand words,” however, with Pink’s explanation, at times, a picture can speak where words may not.

One perhaps weakness of “Doing Visual Ethnography” could perhaps be the limited view it actually posed toward modern uses via the internet; primarily in regard to websites such as Youtube. Though one of the impacts of Pink’s emphasis is the rapidly growing use of visual ethnography, and though she draws attention to a statistic back in 2009 that vloggers posting on the internet “represent 5% of the videos uploaded to Youtube, yet with Youtube bringing more than 200,000 videos per day, their numbers are not insignificant, numbering in the thousands every day,[6]” Pink seems to pass this area of visual ethnography aside when compared to some of the in depth attention given to other fields of study. However, though this may be seen as a weakness, I believe it is more an interest-based deficit; where Pink does not specialize though; she always includes names of those who do, so that the researcher can still follow their own path.

           In my own reflection on this book, I cannot help but see the potential applications in regard to church ministry. In my own congregation, I have noticed that more and more members seem to be interested in seeing PowerPoint presentations with the lessons. This desire for visual technology can easily be used as a tool for adding power and emphasis to my lessons as I teach about the Bible. I can take the skills suggested by Pink, and learn to not just incorporate, but also use this as a learning opportunity for the teacher as well as the students. I love the story telling aspect of preaching/teaching; sounds, vocal variances, hand gestures, and visual displays are all techniques I use; however, perhaps I have not used the visual displays as beautifully as I could, and thus have been missing out on some powerful sources for impact and instruction. I do not want to just teach the Bible; I want those that are listening to share in the story and to let it become real for them.

Shireen Walton, a D.Phil student in Anthropology at the Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology wrote, “The main issue faced by all digital researchers, it seems, is to think first and foremost about how the traditional practice of ethnography translates to the online context. They have to do this in a manner both faithful and rigorous enough to constitute ethnographic research, whilst being adaptable enough to meet fresh challenges stemming from new zones of (online) engagement: a challenging prospect.[7]” Though ministers may not view themselves as ethnographers, perhaps our role of teaching thousands of years ‘old text should recognize that we have an obligation to the text itself to understand, and then later translate that text to others properly.



Alexander, V. (1996-2014). Retrieved October 26, 2017, from Sociological Research Online: http://socresonline.org.uk/7/2/pink.html

Pink, S. (2017). Doing Visual Ethnography. Los Angeles: Sage Publications.

Walton, S. (2013, November 28). Digital Visual Anthropology. Retrieved October 26, 2017, from Ethnography Matters: http://www.ethnographymatters.net/blog/tag/sarah-pink/




[1] Alexander, V. (1996-2014). Retrieved October 26, 2017, from Sociological Research Online: http://socresonline.org.uk/7/2/pink.html

[2] Pink, S. (2017). Doing Visual Ethnography. Los Angeles: Sage Publications.

[3] Ibid, p 54.

[4] Ibid, p 63.

[5] Ibid, p 92.

[6] Ibid, p 137.

[7] Walton, S. (2013, November 28). Digital Visual Anthropology. Retrieved October 26, 2017, from Ethnography Matters: http://www.ethnographymatters.net/blog/tag/sarah-pink/


About the Author

Shawn Hart

7 responses to “A thousand words deserves a picture”

  1. Shawn, the visual ethnography of your various study phases is awesome. I love your creativity and I felt like you did a great job of summarizing the concept of visual ethnography. I also agree with your critique of the book regarding the significance of online videos posted in the thousands per day. I think our culture and the younger generations are extremely visual and used to seeing the world through the lens everyone carries in their pocket every day. This will need to be considered in reaching them. Also, I’m curious about your thoughts on the ethics of photographing people without their knowledge or consent and how that fits with the ethnography process? Great post as always Shawn!

    • Shawn Hart says:

      I absolutely agree Jake. I guess I was looking to see in a third edition a more positive view of modern visual ethnology. Though I see what Pink was trying to present, it almost seemed outdated at a few points…almost like an old preacher teaching to a teenage class. She failed to connect the two at some points.

  2. M Webb says:


    So, I guess selfies are the new form of visual ethnography, right? I can tell by your pictures you have already forgotten Bayard, but did a good job remembering Adler and Rowntree. It seems that Pink’s work validates what you have already been doing for a long time, taking pictures that tell stories. She may have formalized it into the research world, but I fear from reading her principles that she leveraged many post-modern themes and has created a very slippery slope for the Christian world-view. What do you think?

    I like the way you pulled in the YouTube factor. Yes, excellent critical thinking and good job showing how information technology is multiplying at a rate and scope that Pink did not, maybe could not have accounted for when she wrote her book. However, as we have seen in our own Elite-8 journey, you either catch up or get run over.

    I’m sorry to be the research question watchperson, but did I miss you connecting it in your post? I know if you got feedback from Dr. J he makes it a point for us to narrow our focus and always relate what we are doing with our research question. Excellent job surveying outside authors for critical engagement to Pink.

    Stand firm,

    M. Webb

  3. Shawn Hart says:

    To be honest Mike, though I thought I’d have some fun adding pictures to the post, I do not see a potential use of visual ethnology in regards to my own dissertation; the topic just does not warrant it so far. I can see the various benefits to ministry, education, and even sermons, but in regards to the actual dissertation I am working on, the concepts presented by Pink were actually never really giving me insight in that manner.

    Thanks for the feedback; always appreciated.

  4. Dan Kreiss says:


    Thanks for your post. The images of you in particular made me smile. However, I am curious about your interpretation of the VE book and its application to your church context. My understanding of the book encouraged VE to be used primarily to research and understand and only secondarily to communicate. While I applaud your desire to use visuals to connect with your audience I am not completely certain that this was what Pink was getting at with this text. It’s highly probable that I misread your post in that regard but I think the issues are far more complex than simply using images to communicate. Any thoughts?

    • Shawn Hart says:

      I suppose that all of Pink’s discussion eventually led to distribution of that information…or so it seemed to me. Ultimately, though there still has to be insight gained from gathering, our real goal is almost always in the distribution of that information. Anything I study or research is eventually going to end up in a bible class or sermon. I analyzed Pink’s concepts and held them next to my own study goals and from there established the benefit…or in some cases…the lack of benefit of them. We were told to communicate the personal nature of the reading, and for me, that always means trying to glean information that will either make me a better minister, father, husband, etc. or it means that there is a chance to help someone else grow through it. From the reading, there was such an emphasis placed on gathering information, but I could not stop thinking about passing that information on once it was gathered.

  5. Trisha Welstad says:

    Shawn, I was cracking up when I looked at your post title and then again at your pictures. Thanks for the humor with such a dense book.

    I too felt the need to consider myself as one who passes the information I am taking in forward, whether in teaching or researching to grow personally and then share it somehow. I do think this field of anthropology has a lot to offer theologians in the way of understanding and application as well. Did you find any of the aspects of the ethics content from Pink as enlightening or helpful as a pastor?

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