About a year or two ago, I found my old camera from college. I remember when I got the camera as a gift for graduation. It was small, maroon, and fit my lifestyle. After all, my sidekick phone didn’t have a camera on it. I was getting ready to go to South Africa for six weeks after graduation and I needed a way to document all my experiences. That camera stayed with me for many years after that, always in my purse and at the ready to document what important thing might come next. Then, I got an iPhone. Before I even recognized it was happening, I had no need for that camera any longer. It got shoved in a drawer to be pulled out every once in a while.
The last time it was pulled out, I realized that camera still had significance, but it wasn’t for me. It was for my then 4-year-old. He had a strong desire to capture the world as he saw it. Since my life was now on my phone, I gave him that small, maroon camera, which was now perfectly fit to his lifestyle.
Over the time he’s had it, he has documented so many things that have incredible significance to him, and the way he makes meaning has been changed. Sarah Pink alludes to this power: “Ethnographic research is likewise intertwined with visual technologies, images, metaphors, and ways of seeing…Images are indeed part of how we experience, learn and know as well as how we communicate and represent knowledge.”
In order to more understand with more depth the idea of visual ethnography, I decided to pull out my son’s camera and unpack the images, as best as I could, to interpret what matters to him. I am, in essence, experiencing, interpreting, and representing my son Eli’s experiences, his culture, and his material and sensory environments, and using them to gather data to present a version of his reality that is embedded in one of the ways he accumulates knowledge.
I call the series below, “Life with a new baby”. A lot of what I saw on his camera were pictures of his younger brother, when he was about 6-8 months old. As you can see, there are pictures of his brother, as well as his house, all from his own perspective. It was interesting to focus on the things that he deemed to be important at that time. I saw a lot of close ups of his brother, Boaz, as well as a lot of Boaz’s items
The next theme I noticed in a lot of Eli’s photos centered around the idea of space and place. My son really took note of the things that he sees on a regular basis. There were a lot of different angles of our house, streets we walk, places we visit (hello, Target!) and perspectives from his view out the window. As I was looking through these, I’ve realized over the last few days just how introverted my son is, so to look through these made me realize how he values safe spaces and routine.
Lastly, much of his work centers on people. Mostly our family. He did have a few photos of friends, which I will not post here, but family is clearly an important part of his life. I noted even a few photos of us facetiming with family. I’m intrigued by how much of our life has changed based on technology and how he sees those things. In one photo for instance, he took a picture of a picture, which I remember him saying at the time, was so that he could “have it forever”. I’ve noticed too, over the last few months, Eli has specifically asked us to take pictures of himself and people on his own camera. He wants to remember things for his own sake, not just to know that we have.
This has been an interesting study on my son. Pink reminds us that “The key to successful photographic research is in understanding the social relations and subjective agendas through which they are produced and the discourses through which they are made meaningful.” I feel like I have understood a little more about his relationships and agendas through the 702 photos and videos I have seen on his camera. I can’t wait for more.
 Sarah Pink, Doing Visual Ethnography (London: Sage Publications, 2013), 1
 Ibid., 33
 Ibid., 34
 Ibid., 102