Posted by Raphael Samuel
A picture is worth a thousand words, not sure who said this but it could very well be Sarah Pink. Her book “Doing Visual ethnography” challenges the reader to think of the importance of visual images in the communication of messages. Her insightful discourse on the subject, provides a deeper understanding on a practice we engage with on a daily bases, and makes suggestions on how we can effectively use the many tools of visual ethnography to communicate our messages.
Pink is up front about her objective. She is not desirous of providing her readers with a receipt book for the successful use of visual research. Rather, her purpose is to simply suggest an approach(p.5).This, one can very well appreciate, especially when considering the struggles associated with the history and development of the use of films and photography as a conveys of messages. Also, considering the place of prominence that these now occupy in our world of images.
For someone who has never paid any serious thought to the science behind photography or even the fact that it is a science, there also some other aspects of Pink’s work that can be appreciated. First, her willingness to differ from the mainstream view of how ethnography is defined and thought of. For Pink ethnography is a methodology. An approach by which one can experience, interpret, and represent culture (22). This is an interactive engagement with the process that transcends the collection of data. It reminder of what we are called to do as Christians. Namely, engaging the culture, capturing images of the reality of a fallen culture whose only hope with lies God. This while we reflect or represent the image of Christ.
Second, her transparency and willingness to be vulnerable. At some point in time most, if not all of us, have had curse to question whether or not an image being projected by a picture was true. Or, how much of the observer’s personal biases are being projected into his/her images? The author even shared her own shorting comings on one her research expeditions to a West African country. Here her preconceived biases affected her objectivity and created a negative reaction that almost jeopardized her research. In fact, she agreed that there are circumstances under which objectivity cannot be achieved because of challenges the observer must overcome to be totally in subduing his or her personal biases. A great example of this is, “informed consent”. This a method used by most of reality TV. Guess reality TV is all a hoax.
Finally, the question of ethics. I comment the author for raising this concern. However, this I felt should have been more extensive considerations. She seem to suggest that ethics is a private matter of the individual rather than the adherence to a universal set of standards established by the fraternity of ethnographers. Though it is imperative for an individual to adhere to his or her personal ethics, ethics is not a private matter. It is a reflection of who we are at core as a society. We seem to wait for the next major violation of principles before instituting ethical clear guidelines. This being said, I find the to a helpful tool in demonstrating the many positive ways in which we can use, photograph and video cameras to capture, process, and represent knowledge.