When I first introduced myself to Instagram (IG), I began clumsily. As someone who began with film and a darkroom, I found it to be clunky and structured. In time, however, God began to utilize my clumsiness for the Kingdom and kindom. The short story is that I was bedridden for six months. As I laid in the dark bored of watching tv and movies, I turned to my phone (because that was better, I thought).
I was empowered by an Instagram photography group (@jjcommunity) and started a regional group in Los Angeles (@jj_losangeles). I posted weekly challenges and featured people every day. When it got to be too much, I asked for help. Several years later, when I moved to Portland, OR, I expanded the group to @jj_westcoast and then eventually passed it on.
Here’s where the visual ethnography became community and vice versa: I began to facilitate meetups (instameets) once a month, posting a place, date and time and people would show up (who knew?), we’d walk around, shoot (pictures, that is), enjoy community, share knowledge with each other and have fun. What started in a place of darkness, God used with great love and I was forever changed as a visual ethnographer.
At the end of one instameet, I noticed a young teenager hanging around who had been a part of our group.
“Do you need a ride?” I asked.
“No. I’m waiting for my parents to pick me up.”
“Oh. What time do you think they’ll be here?”
“Uhhhh … they’re on their way. They should be here soon,” he said nervously looking at his phone.
I hung out. We began to talk and eventually, he said, “I play tennis all the time with my twin, but I don’t really have any friends. I like to come to these instameets because I love photography, but I don’t have anyone to hang out with that also likes to shoot.” He was 15 then. When he was 17, he became a moderator for the group.
I kept trudging along, continually asking God what I was supposed to do with this and these people. To be honest, here is what my conversations with God would sound like, “What the heck?! What am I doing?! Seriously, God. I don’t know what I’m doing.”
“…‘good video and film records for research are ultimately the product of observation that is organised and consistent. The equipment, except in specialized circumstances, cannot replace the observer’” (19). And then one midweek day while running to shoot waves at The Wedge in Newport Beach with a photographer friend, I had a similar encounter, which completely changed my posture to this group. I posted up a notice, not really expecting too many people if any. As my friend and I wedged into the rocks, trying to stay dry, shooting away, I got a text from a young man.
“Are you still at the spot?”
“Yes,” I replied.
“I got off work early so I’m going to head there.”
A half-hour passed, “are you by chance wearing a red shirt?”
“Yes, I am.”
“I’m right behind you.”
And then I heard God whisper, “put your camera down and sit and chat.”
I maneuvered out of the rocks and sat next to him.
“I don’t have a camera. I just have a phone,” he said nervously.
“Is it a smartphone?”
“Then you have a camera.”
“What do you like to shoot?” I asked.
“I’m not sure. I just don’t have any friends and I thought this would be a safe place for me. I noticed you do these things regularly.”
“I do! So next time, just come. We have lots of fun and you can learn a lot by just hanging out because some of these guys are professionals.”
We chatted some more. He shot a few frames.
At the next instameet, he showed up, made friends and began meeting up with some of them.
What is ethnography? It “… involves the ethnographer participating, overtly or covertly, in people’s daily lives for an extended period of time, watching what happens, listening to what is said, asking questions – in fact, collecting whatever data are available to throw light on the issues that are the focus of the research” (34).
Although visual ethnography is a methodology (blah blah blah), it can be a way to show love.
Forgive me if you read all of this and are wondering what happened or worse, seemingly patting myself on the back. I hated the book. WAY too much theory and not enough application. This was my way of making good of the reading. This post, however, has me in a bit of a directional quandary, so I appreciate your prayers.
Pink, Sarah. Doing Visual Ethnography. SAGE Publications. Kindle Edition.