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

Visual WHAT?

Written by: on October 26, 2017

Ethnography? I am embarrassed to say I never heard that word before this Doctoral program, not even once…

It’s kinda sad to have to look up your key word for the week to see what it means. But, look it up I did. Sorry to say, I still don’t fully understand what it really is. However, after trying to think more critically about it, I finally rested on a description that makes sense to me, pieced together from our author, Ms. Pink, “Visual”=using photography, video and web based media, and “ethnography”=ways of knowing and understanding experiences. [1]

Cool! Using visual aides to share experiences so that others may know and understand. I can do that! Inserted above is one of my favorite pictures from our Cape Town advance. Hope it helps you understand further what I experienced with those precious children. Like most of our cohort has already appropriately written, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” A picture is also worth a thousand memories…

However, I have discovered about myself, that to do “ethnography” I have to use a completely different side of my brain, like an artist. I have never been “artistic” but would rather stick to the cold hard facts. Nothing against artists or their brain activity, but  my mind sometimes fogs over when we get to the touchy-feely (artsy fartsy) stuff. Am I allowed to say that here?

Actually, visual ethnography makes a lot of sense, especially in our media driven culture. The more I think about it, the more I like being able to use visual ethnology in my research for my dissertation topic about the effectiveness of Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University in facilitating generosity towards the local church. Consider this photo I found in my recent research: [2]


How does this picture show me WAYS OF KNOWING and UNDERSTANDING EXPERIENCES? First of all, from this picture, my research might gather that Dave Ramsey is a grumpy old codger, intense and in-your-face. Not sure if that is true, so the critical side of my brain begins to ask questions like, “Is this a fair representation of Dave? Does the author of this article have a bone to pick with Mr. Ramsey? Why a pencil drawing instead of a color picture?”  Come to find out, quite a few people think Dave Ramsey is mean. Others think he has truly made a positive difference in their lives. Interestingly, the author did in fact have a disagreement with Dave Ramsey, so he used a pencil drawing instead of an actual picture, perhaps to display a little more negative emotion without the reader even knowing it.

Consequently, I find myself asking myself, “Can a picture lie? I answer myself, “Yep!” Especially depending on your perception. I think many people lie on a daily basis as they create an “online persona” that is far from reality. I have tried to share that fact with my gullible daughter who believes everything she sees and hears on her “friends” Facebook pages.

I found myself being grateful that Dr. Jason allowed us to use this week’s book as a reference, as he encouraged us to read reviews and other print.  I found something very interesting using another book from Sarah Pink titled, “Advances in Visual Methodology” [3] where the question was raised in my mind, “Are there INAPPROPRIATE ways to research and use visual ethnology, especially in the rapidly changing and enormous landscape of the growing power of media?” Consider this next picture: [4]

If this picture encouraged someone to cheat on their spouse, for sure it could be used in inappropriate ways. To a person who has been cheated on before, this picture might be terribly offensive and would probably bring up a crate full of unholy emotions. My wife just looked over my shoulder and interjected, “I won’t say what that picture makes me think.” Ouch, my point exactly!

I feel we need to be cautious in jumping too far into visual media for telling stories and for doing research. Pornography, child exploitation, degradation of women and false advertising are all terribly inappropriate uses of visual storytelling. Clare Woolhouse states in her review of Sarah Pink, “It is a well-rehearsed argument that while photographs can be portrayed as reflections of reality they are, in fact, manipulated, produced socially and staged by those who produced and annotated them, and by the choices and selections made by researchers. [5]

Having said all this, this week’s topic has stretched the other side of my brain and I have enjoyed being introduced to a modern–and I think interesting–tool of academia.

Having said that, I am very much looking forward to creating my own visual ethnography story of Cape Town and sharing it in blog form.  I am even more looking forward to seeing all the visual ethnography of my cohort members!



[1] Pink, Sarah. Doing: Visual Ethnography ; Images, Media and Representation in Research. (London: SAGE, 2003), Kindle Edition, Introduction, p.1.

[2] Phoenix, Salmon. Save Like Dave Ramsey…Just Don’t Invest Like Him. (New York: Time Magazine Online, September 26, 2013).

[3] Pink, Sarah. Advances In Visual Methodology. (London: SAGE, 2012a).

[4] Park, McKenna. Why People Cheat On Their Spouse, According To A Relationship Expert. (Family Share Social Media, Deseret, 2014).

[5] Woolhouse, Clare. Conducting Photo Methodologies With Children. (ResearchGate. Online Review. September 2017).


About the Author

Jay Forseth

Superintendent of the Western Conference of the Evangelical Church. Blessed with 28 years as the husband of my amazing wife who I can't make it without. Now three of four in our family are attending University, but both my children are way smarter than me.

9 responses to “Visual WHAT?”

  1. I have to say, that picture of you high fiving with the kids in Cape Town blessed my heart. Your connection with the kids was beautiful, but that picture tells the story far better than words could try. I loved how you took the principles of the book and put them into practice in your blog. It was very interesting to read and helped to illustrate the points made in the book. I also agree with you that many pictures we see today lie to us if we are not careful. 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 Jay!

    • Jay Forseth says:

      Great thought about the ethics of taking someone’s pic without their consent–I don’t remember as a child that this was ever thought about. Seems like today, we have to get written permission to put someone’s pic up on our church website, and if we don’t, we may face legal issues, as well as ethical ones. I like protecting kids, so I understand the permission route, and I am okay with the ethics of always seeking such permission.

  2. M Webb says:


    Great visual image showing us a personal moment with those kids outside the Flower Man shop. JoAnne and I watched you from the bus with pleasure while reflecting on our own “least of these” opportunities with orphans and vulnerable children when we served in Botswana and Zambia.

    Yeah! (Is that scholarly?) You connected your research question and problem with Dave Ramsey into your Pink review and post. In addition, you successfully integrated next week’s “Critical Thinking” questions with Pink’s visual ethnography. Well done! Finally, you show superior discernment in the way you dig into and analyze Pink’s work through outside book reviews. Good job applying Dr. J’s feedback, I heard his recommendations for improvement the same way as you applied it in this post.

    Stand firm,

    M. Webb

  3. Jennifer Williamson says:

    Hey Jay, I am not an artistic person either. I’m not even a visual person. In fact, I am visually unobservant. I’m the type of person who exclaims to her husband, “Hey! You shaved your beard! Looks nice!” Only to have my husband say, “Did you just notice that? I shaved it off three days ago!” I’ve been training myself to be more observant. (The book Visual Intelligence, by Amy Herman has been really helpful!) Visual ethnography scares me because I’m not even sure which images or which types of images are pertinant to my research, which ironically, has to do with cultural adaptation, a subject rooted in ethnography!

    Thinking of your project, I wonder what kinds of visual ethnography you are considering. If you are going to research how FPU impacts generosity towards the local church, I think it would be fascinating to see (for example) a photo of a person’s car captioned with the percentage of their income that they give to the church. What kinds of images are you considering using?

    • Jay Forseth says:


      Up until this point I only thought of using charts and graphs. This has stretched me to think of other media. I like your suggestion! Thanks for thinking of it. Actually, I had considered including Dave Ramsey’s “Debt Free” scream in my research (if folks would recognize it)…

  4. Shawn Hart says:

    Hey Jay, who is the tall guy slapping all the little children in the head in your first photo? Just kidding. I truly loved watching you interact with those children that day, and in support of Pink’s methodology of visual ethnography, I believe that even without words, that picture tells a great story; not just about our experience, but especially about Jay’s heart.

    I have portrayed a more negative questioning through my post this week, but I am going to hit you with a different kind of question. How did you feel about your post after you connected that photo to it? Did it direct your words, or did you successfully change direction to Dave Ramsey and move beyond the first photo? I ask for this reason: even though I too appreciated what I learned this week concerning a new methodology, I also kept seeing warning signs in the a failed approach as a result of it. In regard to my own reading of your post, I was so caught up in my own memories of that day that you played with those kids that I found myself having to re-read what you wrote about Dave Ramsey. So had the photo helped me or hindered me in the translation?

    • Jay Forseth says:

      Great questions Shawn. I think the pictures actually gave me more to write about. It “spurred” on my writing. In fact, if I would have included more pictures, my post would have exceeded the limit.

      Your second question of the photo helping or hindering you can only be answered by you. I hope it only helped you…

  5. Jason Turbeville says:

    Hey Jay,

    I too am not a very artistic person, something I had to work very hard on in youth ministry. With that in mind, I love creativity and arts in the ministry. Some of the most intense times of learning have come through visual arts. I agree this is a hard but fun and worth the walk.

  6. Chris Pritchett says:

    Hey Jay, thanks for your thoughtful and vulnerable post. I did not know what visual ethnography was either, but like Kyle, in some ways, I do it all the time. Every week I preach (I use an abbreviated manuscript and try to not rely on it too much) text and use maybe a handful of images to give visual dimension to the experience. Today for example, as I was talking about Moses meeting with God on Mt. Sinai, I had an image taken by some photographer, of a sunrise on the summit of Mt. Sinai. I’ve personally hiked Sinai to watch the sun rise, so I was able to identify it. So, as I talked about the glory of God (Soli Deo Gloria) today on the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, from a consuming fire, to the tabernacle, to the goodness of God passing by Moses in a cleft in a rock, to the Word made flesh who tabernacled among us, to the Father glorifying the Son on the cross, there were several images that I used that were intended not to necessarily support the text, but to make it bigger. You didn’t know you were going to get my sermon on this reply! haha. So, like you, I’m interested in the practical usage of this. I tend to be more on the artsy fartsy side, I guess, but I’d love to talk with you about art in Hong Kong because I’ve grown so much in my faith through art in the last 4 years since taking on this church which has a large art ministry. But thinking about whether and how pictures lie, I think the example you used was an example of how a picture can be used for ill purposes, but I’m not totally convinced that that would make the picture itself a lie. There are, however, plenty of examples of this. The media does it everyday when they portray a person to appear in such a way as to reflect the article. That can be like a subtle lie. Imaging affects how we think, and if the author wants us to see “x” politician as scuzzy, they might darken the image, find a picture with a cigarette in his mouth, get some dark circles around his eyes, and now the picture is lying to us and we don’t even realize it. It’s very powerful how images affect our consciousness. Finally, your research topic fascinates me! I taught this as a class for my former church and it was a hit. It was great for my wife and me, and for many others starting out or trying to get a handle on things. We also had a lot of wealthy people with complex portfolios in our church, and I think the course fell flat with them. The idea of cash envelopes seemed a bit juvenile to these folks. I wonder if you’ve been able to address that. Also, cool sketch of Dave Ramsey. Great post Jay!

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