Visual images – moving and still – are integral to Geography as ways of viewing, knowing and telling about the world. The development of photography, in the 17th century, accompanied artwork as a means of optically recording society and nature. The power of this new visual form was believed to lie in its ability to record material reality; that which was physically present at the moment of exposure, thus capturing a ‘true’ likeness long after the scene ceased to exist. Most often we treat photography in this way, particularly when we seek to record our holidays, family and friends, or special celebrations (or this view of Puycelsi from my bathroom window, last year). When using photography in scientific practice we must look deeper (Cloke et al.2004).
This week, the third years have been exploring what is meant by ‘situated knowledge’ and recognising the ways in which scientific practice is embedded within particular social and historical conditions. Photography is very much a situated practice. Not only does the photographer select what you see, but the historical, technological, social and cultural circumstances of the image’s circulation and viewing, will also influence its meaning. As situated viewers (male, female, young, old, urban-dwellers, country-folk…), you and I are active in the construction of photographic meaning and, when we incorporate this in geography, of knowledge production.Pink (2001:76) argues that “the key to successful photographic research is an understanding of the social relations and subjective agendas through which they are produced and the discourses through which they are made meaningful”.
By approaching photographs as representations of the subjective standpoints of the image producer and viewer, photographs have much to add to our ways of knowing the world.During the situated knowledge tutorials, the third years considered some of the methodological and practical implications for undertaking research, and how to avoid perpetuating hierarchical power relations between themselves and their research participants. In an Area paper, Kindon (2003), from a feminist perspective, proposes the use of visual methods to understand research subjects in a way that avoids a masculinist, adultist and colonialist gaze. Using participatory video, Kindon argues that researchers are able to look ‘alongside’, rather than ‘at’, research subjects, and therefore reposition themselves in the production of knowledge. To what extent do you agree?
Cloke, P., Cook, I., Crang, P., Goodwin, M., Painter, J. & Philo, C. (Eds.) (2004) Practising Human Geography, London, Sage.
Kindon, S. (2003) Participatory video in geographic research: a feminist practice of looking? Area. 35,2. pp.142-153
Pink, S. (2001) Doing Visual Ethnography: images, media and representation in research, London, Sage