Visual Ethnography: A Picture and a Thousand Words
Visual Ethnography by Sarah Pink was a very interesting read. I have to admit that the term “ethnography” was not one I had used or heard. Ethnography is simply put is the study and recording of cultures. Pink exhaustively shows how it is presented visually. The idea of this is very intriguing to me, in that is not simply a “recording” such as a video or picture, but a specific way in which to objectively capture the essence of a culture.
Capturing the essence of a culture is very difficult. The issue is not the physical work of capturing it or even the digital or physical product that is the result of the ethnography. Rather the difficulty is the objectivity of the product. We are so conditioned to see things from a biased or conditioned perspective. However, pure ethnography is not finding a particular story from a culture, but letting the story find you. Pink describes this issue and process in chapter 3 with the photographic ethnography of a bullfight. “The key to successful photographic research is an understanding of the social relations and subjective agendas through which they are produced and the discourse through which they are made meaningful.”  The key is not to produce the story, but let it tell itself.
This sensitivity begins with photography and video, but extends to text associated with both photo and video. Pink goes into detail on this significance chapter six. Pink admonishes authors of ethnography to “pay careful attention” to this issue. Words are powerful. So powerful, that they coupled with right photo or video can completely change or sway the meaning. Pink states that the authors of ethnography should also give thought to the reader’s interpretation of the material. Again words are powerful. I think this is a tremendous point made by Pink. As creators of content, we should be aware and strive not to manipulate the subject matter. Rather, let the subject speak for him or herself without our interpretation or spin.
In conclusion I found this subject matter very interesting and helpful. Especially in light of our Doctorate of Ministry concentration in global studies. As a minister of the Gospel I am called to present the full-counsel of God’s Word without my commentary and/or interpretation. As I ethnographically interpret the world around me, I need to do this as well. I need to seek to understand first. Not try to place my “spin” on the subject, but let the subject speak for him or herself. We have all heard “a picture is worth a thousand words.” If this is true and I believe it is. Then a thousand words (or less) could change a picture or a picture could change a thousand words.
Sarah Pink.Doing Visual Ethnography. London: Sage Publications, 2001. p.76.
 IBID, p.136.
3 responses to “Visual Ethnography: A Picture and a Thousand Words”
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It is really hard at times to not read into images that we see. It is so easy to read a whole story line into images that are posted on line. It may not be what it appears to be but then at times the confirmation of the picture is in the caption.
Words are truly powerful. One of the most powerful illustrations of image and words that I have seen was at Catalyst Conference a few years ago when a child that had been sponsored met his sponsor and the simple words were “thank you.” It moved a whole crowd because the story before hand was one of need and despair. When that was met by an ordinary person with a simple decision it elevated the living picture in front of us to an emotionally charged event.
Your last statements are what I believe this whole educational journey is about, to not put our spin on it but to let the subject speak for itself.
Looking forward to Hong Kong
From Pink’s discussion in, Doing Visual Ethnography, I do not believe that she sees pure objectivity as an achievable goal in doing ethnography. Pink states, “Visual ethnography, as I interpret it, does not claim to produce an objective or truthful account of reality, but should aim to offer versions of ethnographers’ experiences of reality that are as loyal as possible to the context, the embodied, sensory and affective experiences, . . . through which the knowledge was produced. This may entail reflexive, collaborative or participatory methods” (Pink, 35).
You said, “As I ethnographically interpret the world around me, I need to do this as well. I need to seek to understand first. Not try to place my “spin” on the subject, but let the subject speak for him or herself.” This was one of the takeaways that I had AFTER getting half way through the book (a little slow).
I nestled in thinking that this was a book on photography and video conceptualizing. Pink pulled the rug slowly out from beneath me.