DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

The Image “Works”, Is That Good?

Written by: on November 1, 2018

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[1]. 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?

[1] Pink, Sarah, Doing Visiual Ethngraphy, rev.ed. (London, UK: Sage Publications, 2013) 77.

About the Author


Harry Fritzenschaft

Harry is the Coordinator of Coaching for Multiply Vineyard (the church planting resource arm for Vineyard USA) and part-time pastor of business administration for the Vineyard Church of Houston. He is a certified coach with the International Coaching Federation (ICF) and is pursuing a DMin in Leadership and Global Perspective with a focus on internal coaching networks. Harry has been married to Gloria for almost forty-two years and has two grown children; Michelle, who is married to Brandon and has two sons (Caleb and Judah), and Mark, who is engaged to Cannus. He loves making new friends (living and dead) from different perspectives, watching college football with Mark, and helping global ministry leaders (especially church planters and pastors) accomplish their goals in fulfilling their call. He especially loves learning about and nurturing internal coaching networks.

14 responses to “The Image “Works”, Is That Good?”

  1. Mario Hood says:

    Excellent question(s) you have raised here Harry, I see the critical thinking aspect coming through well. In a board sense I think when one item (as in methodology) becomes the dominant or only way, we lose the impact of the whole. What I mean is, as human beings, we can never separate ourselves from ourselves, and ourselves are made up of a very complex system including senses. Even when doing research we involve our senses, but for so long we have been taught to ignore them because we would be biased in our analysis. In my understanding, this is what Pink is trying to help us get past and learn how to see our involvement and see others as well.

    On a smaller scale (than research), Jesus in preaching/speaking used by word and illustrations (images, emotions, physical objects) to invoke people to engage with his message. I think our task, as you have said, is not to become dependent on images/sensory elements but how can they add to the word (research) that we are doing.

    • Harry Fritzenschaft says:

      Thanks for your thoughtful words and insights. I know we have so much more technology to assist with images and story enhancements. I guess I am speaking out of my own discomfort where in culture and even the church, the image “spin” has become the story. How to bring this into research is a mystery to me, but so are many other things! Blessings, H

  2. mm Mary Mims says:

    Harry, you have done a very thought-provoking post on the aspects of visual ethnography which may be over-used in the church. However, I think there is a balance that is needed in presenting the gospel message, as well as in research and teaching. There are many types of learners and our society tends to focus on the written or spoken word as the primary of methods of teaching. Many people are visual learners and pictures or visual images convey a message that words cannot. I would love a better balance for teaching children and youth with the visual and written/spoken word. We need to use all of the tools we have to reach many.

    • Amen to balance Mary. I agree that we need to be discerning when we use images, especially in a church where we try to “be in the world, but not of it.” One might argue that the church has gone over board on this. Maybe? But I’m in agreement with you. The fact that images evoke powerful, sometimes visceral reactions from individuals, we need to be careful. This doesn’t mean we don’t appreciate art, or that we shouldn’t have any in the church. Again, balance is key.

  3. Harry Fritzenschaft says:

    Thank you for reminding me that not all learners are adults and not all learners are like me and attracted to the spoken word. Yes, we must use all means to teach children, youth, and adults contextually and relevantly. My “old school” concern is that the “cool factor’ of technologically generated imagery not become the message. I so appreciate your thoughtful wisdom. Blessings, H

  4. mm Tammy Dunahoo says:


    I appreciate your honest critique and questions about visual ethnography as solid research. I notice Digby has some of the same thoughts. I am reflecting on both of your posts and wondering if you believe that everyone who reads research actually perceives it the same if it is written on a page? I ask because I have heard people talk about reading the same paper, book or article and come to very different conclusions about the summations. I have even heard questions regarding the research itself. It seems especially in our current culture everything can be questioned and given a unique perspective according to the hearer or observer. Thoughts?

    • Harry Fritzenschaft says:

      Thanks so much for your great questions! With the caveat that I am a neophyte researcher, I am not concerned if people come away from my research with different perspectives and different conclusions. I do however want them to know what I proposed, how I went about proving or disproving my working theories, and finally what in fact was my conclusion and application. I would not want my research so muddied with imagery and unclear graphics that while they appreciated the entertainment value of the imagery, they did not see how it connected with the balance of my research. In my humble perspective, effective research imagery works like a well installed museum exhibit where imagery along with text provide a synergistic whole rather than an exhibit (I hesitate to use the term “art” for fear of offending someone) that is simply whatever the observer feels or wants the image to be to them. Thanks again for your great questions, H

  5. Thank you Harry for bringing the question of the efficacy of images for research and communication because I find myself also struggling with the same. As several of the cohort have observed here, each methodology compliments the others and its a matter of the judgement of the researcher on which methodology suits their context. I really appreciate your perspective on visual images.

    • Harry Fritzenschaft says:

      Thanks so much for your kind and insightful words. I think you have hit upon the crux of the dilemma, “its a matter of the judgement of the researcher on which methodology suits their context.” The researcher must choose the best methodology that suits their context. Well said, Sir! Blessings, H

  6. mm Jenn Burnett says:

    Harry, I am so with you on how looking through our Hong Kong photos stirs up emotion! Particularly when I see photos of you and Gloria! (Because this weekend I would really love to have you both to dinner and feel the warmth of your presence!) I’m also finding it an interesting journey to use those photos to learn more than I could in the moment. To linger on an image, or to analyze expressions and moments a little more closely. I think that may be some of the value visual ethnography brings to research. We can linger in places we may otherwise not be able to linger. I do find however that I benefit from a good narrative around a photo. When it comes to sermons, a single image that helps me remember a good story or teaching offers a lasting impression. When I was a youth, I had a teacher bring in a jar of his own, fresh vomit to talk about sin. While it wasn’t a photo, it was certainly an image and a message I will never forget! Are there a view key illustrations that have personally impacted you over the years? How do they differ from the ones you have found distracting? Miss you my friend! I’m thankful for images that help you stay closer.

    • Harry Fritzenschaft says:

      Dearest Jenn,
      Your youth teacher’s illustration of sin will never leave my mind’s eye!

      Perhaps you have hit upon the responsibility for imagery by researchers, that is “impact.” What is my motive for the impact I am wanting to evoke in response to my imagery methodology (that I have chosen to enhance my research)? Thanks again for your great questions and insights. Glo and I miss you so and wish God’s richest blessings on you and yours! H

  7. John Muhanji says:

    Thanks harry for reminding us about Hiong Kong and especially when you connect the photos from there with this tiopic. The memories of the town. Are overwhelming and hence bringing the subject in question a live. Connecting ethnographic with Hong Kong photos was the best thing to connect with. That is when you realize how photos speaks volume in silence. The Quakers who worship in silence speakers voliumnerr as they visiuyalises God’s picture. Thanks harry.

  8. mm Sean Dean says:

    Because I work in tech you’d probably think I’m all for whatever the new fancy thing is, but I’m not. I’ve seen enough new shiny toys come around to be at least a little skeptical with each new one. I’m fairly practical (or at least I like to think of myself that way), so I tend to see new things as tools rather than as toys. VE is a tool to me and like all tools it has a time and a place. If I’m doing some woodworking and need to notch out some wood I could use a flat head screwdriver or I could use a chisel. The screwdriver will work, but it is not the right tool and as such the results will be worse than I’d like. I think too often we get into the idea that we need to use the new thing because it’s the new thing and not because it’s the right thing. I love the use of A/V in sermons when it’s the right thing, but if it’s not then it’s a waste of time. I wonder if a lot of your skepticism of VE comes from seeing too many people use the wrong tool at the right time or even the right tool at the wrong time. I think having VE in our toolbox is a good thing, but it’s not the only thing and we need to keep that balance.

  9. Harry Fritzenschaft says:

    You have provided the best response to my concerns. Using the right tool at the right time is a construct I can relate to and recall going forward in deliberating best methodological practices. Reminds me of the Proverb concerning saying the right word at the right time. I respect your tech background so much as I struggle with technology-driven “tools.” Your credibility has helped me so much and I so appreciate your practical insights. Really, thank you so much for sharing and greatly helping me with this topic, H

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