Sarah Pink’s Doing Visual Ethnography has evoked in me two divergent paths of response: (1) a great sense of caution in utilizing visual ethnography as a sound, perhaps more contemporary (since it is the product of advancing technology) research tool as orthodox as any other and (2) a great sense of connection and being drawn into one’s research. Being the old soul that I am after some forty years of local church ministry mistakes, I am a bit cautious when seemingly new and shiny tools (visual ethnography) are now readily available to enhance a time-tested orthodox practice (published research.) However, I am wrestling against my deep connections with images I have encountered throughout my seminary process (including iconography.)
As an example, Pink discusses her photographs of the amateur woman bullfighter, Cristina Sanchez. She explains how the images and events can be invested with different meanings by different observers. Pink then goes onto offer (based on her contextual research) at least three different interpretations that could be made by observers who have three distinctly biased views towards women bullfighters. She then goes on to posit her explanations as to how these different observers could perceive these images within the context of their respective biases. I am not sure how this proves or disproves a research question unless the research question is people see the same images differently relative to their inherent perceptions. I feel this methodology puts me on unsure footing from a research perspective. I wonder if I do not understand (most probably) how visual ethnography would improve my research methodology.
Having said the above, I have reviewed the Ethnography of our Hong Kong advance. Oh the images, oh how the memories come rushing back! As a journaling methodology, ethnography is unparalleled. While I reviewed digital images; I saw and felt the emotional and cognitive impact of faces, places, and stories. It was interesting to connect the emotional impact to images I previously experienced versus those I did not.
As I recall these connections, here are some things I know based on these images and their connections to me. These images speak to a diverse group of students coming together to learn in the Chinese city of Hong Kong. The diversity of the students, guests, and faculty included both men and women, persons from several countries, various ethnic heritages, and quite a few Protestant denominations represented. The images convey an abundance of opportunities for individuals to meet, greet, and learn more about one another. The joy, laughter, and social challenges of these interactions are displayed. The images also convey the abundance of opportunities to experience the perspectives of residents from within Hong Kong, as well as the sociopolitical realities of Hong Kong culture.
At this point of reflection, I find myself surprisingly drawn more to the people and places of Hong Kong perhaps more than the participants of the advance. I wonder if perhaps the thoughts and connections I feel upon viewing and reading the Facebook image of Nana Lam, and her comments are influencing my current image-driven perspective? I wonder what this says about the locus of one’s emotional and mental state at a given point in time upon subsequent viewings of the same ethnography?
As powerful as these emotional and cognitive connections are evoked in response to viewing these images, I am still left wondering how these would improve my research methodology. Upon reflection, I share the same uncertainties in using ethnographic images in preaching. I have seen some, spend countless hours trying to get just the right bulletin cover image, just the right images for presentation slides, and just the right video clip to improve their preaching presentations. My observation is, often the image overwhelms or distracts away from the main thrust of what it was intended to improve. As I attempt to drill down deeper into my misgivings, I think for me the primary concern is dependence. That is if I must depend upon the image to tell the story, illustrate the point, or make the research question argument; I wonder how compelling or well structured was the original story, point or research question?
 Pink, Sarah, Doing Visiual Ethngraphy, rev.ed. (London, UK: Sage Publications, 2013) 77.