Photography As A Device To Gather Sociological Knowledge

2757 words - 12 pages

It is a rather difficult task to precisely define the rules of photography use in visual social research because different approaches might often overlap. As Howard Becker stated (2004: 193), "Anthropologists and sociologists have been using photographs ever since the beginnings of both disciplines, but have never been able to agree on just how these images should be used or to what ends." Defining and identifying various forms of scientist's approach to photography in social research might be as indistinct and vague as boundaries of visual branch of social sciences. Typology of different forms of photography use in social sciences is certainly not uniform. Moreover, many classification attempts are limited to mere enumerations of types of the analytical and the empirical practice. Thus the question is: How can we research through the photography? What are the boundaries of visual research? Does it engage other senses? Focusing on active use of photography as a device to gather social data, I will show what is the potential and what are the limitations of use of this specific medium in contemporary empirical visual research. In this essay, I will firstly outline history of visual research typology to show the particulars of different approaches and to draw a distinction between the active photographic research and other approaches. That might give us a base to show the disappearing boarders between these. Secondly, I will show where do the different approaches overlap. Thirdly, I will focus on current trends in approaches to active visual research. Ultimately, drawing on a case study, I will try to reveal some practical problems that might be rose during practical work in the field.
Looking back into history, Douglas Harper was one of the first, who tried to establish the early framework for visual sciences. He offered a relatively comprehensive typology that became prevailing and determining. Harper (1988) divides the work with photography in two fields according to the origin of them and the purpose for which they are gathered and studied. As the author (1988: 55) states, "the first area involves using photographs in the conventional sense of data gathering." In other words, researchers create them by themselves during their research. Harper (1988: 55) adds that within "the 'visual-methods' people are usually working on a specific research problem and a middle-range theory." In the second case, photographs are already created by a particular studied culture. According to Harper, this involves newspapers or magazines, advertising, or family photo albums. In other words, the difference between these two approaches lies in taking photographs to study the 'visual' on the one hand and analyzing photos taken by the others on the other hand. By this, Harper (1988) laid the foundations for distinction between different approaches in visual sociology that has been adopted by a number of other authors.
Two decades later, one of the last authors who...

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