Accepted Paper:

Basic photography as an integrated research tool in ethnographic fieldwork: a forty year case study  


Roy Ellen (University of Kent)

Paper short abstract:

Most ethnographers use photography in the field without claiming to do ‘visual anthropology’. This paper reviews critically the ways in which photographs can be integrated into mainstream and specialist fieldwork by examining their use in the field by one ethnographer over a 40 year period.

Paper long abstract:

This presentation is motivated by the observation that most ethnographers use photography in the field without claiming to do 'visual anthropology', with its various aesthetic and theoretical commitments. Nor are most ethnographers more than basically competent as photographers. Elevating the subject to a technically specialist method is inevitable, but there is a danger that the significance of the everyday support purposes that photography serves will be ignored, diminished, remain un-theorised, and generally not receive the consideration they deserve. By examining critically the use of field photography by one ethnographer over a 40 year period, the paper will review the ways in which routine photography can be integrated into both mainstream and specialist fieldwork.

Specific attention with be paid to the practical issues of changing technology between between 1969 and 2009 and how these were managed at the time, and to some problems of old technologies in a digital age. There will also be discussion of the ways in which photographs are incorporated into field notes, catalogues and organised for subsequent use. It is argued that there are lessons to be learned for fieldwork practice, and for the creation, interpretation and use of photographic archives. Illustrations will be drawn from both general ethnographic work and from specialist applications in the areas of ritual, ethnobiology and material culture.

Panel P28
Photography as a research method