Image based research/Visual ethnography is when you focus on the actual pictures more then anything.
It's nature is artifact analysis/ethnographic research, since your observing someone, and you are analyzing the pictures that you took most of all, trying to find one that fits that situation. The context best suited for it is when you are trying to do research on someone and you want to find a good way to visually capture what they do.
Description of the Method
"By using this list of components, a researcher is again coerced to ask certain questions about organization, structure and variation in a systematic way. The Participant component focuses on anyone who participates in any activity for which the central organizing concern is snapshot communication. The main objective is to identify people who take, appear in, and/or look at snapshots." - Chalfen, Image based Research
The main thing you do is watch the subject do something, take pictures of them while they are doing it, and then try to find a picture(s) based of it that highlights what they talked about/what there job is.
The interviews are still important, and when looking at pictures you should keep them in mind, since they should try to encompass what was said, but they are not the focus.
Actually Doing the method
First, get a plan of attack down, know where you're going and who you are going to be interviewing. The people you interview should be related to your topic, so recruit through those parameters. Next, you have to make sure you are ready for it. Prepare some questions in advance, but while doing it do not be afraid to add a few new ones in. You will also need a notebook for notes, a camera(it image based research after all), a recorder and possibly a video camera. Its also very important to make sure all of said things have batteries, so they do not go dead while doing it.
As you are actually doing it, interview them beforehand. This tends to make things less awkward then just immediately going into taking pictures of a person you don't know. After that, just watch them work, and take as many pictures as you can, especially when the subject is doing actions. While they are working, if its not distracting, you can ask them questions about what they are doing and why. After you have enough pictures or the person is done, you can interview them again, talking about what they did as well as the pictures you took.
Afterwards, look at all the pictures you took and find ones that really fit the situation you learned out. after you have those, look to see what things you can get from the picture that you did not get from the interview or watching the person to begin with. It is also a good idea to show the picture to the person you looked at/interviewed, to get there thoughts on the image you took.
Positives and negatives
- Many things can be better portrayed via images
- Is a different way to look at ethnography
- Over analyzing a picture can get you to notice things you did not see before.
- Could have a lot of pictures to look through, have to decide on the best ones.
- Without interviews attached to it, you lose a lot when just looking at pictures, which is why we always did a interview with it.
- You could walk away with only bad pictures.
Tips and Tricks
- Interview them before, after, and during if you can. Before is to get them comfortable, during if it doesn't distract them, and after so you can talk about what you saw and the pictures you have.
- Take as many pictures as you can, its way better to have to sort through a lot of photos then realize all the ones you have are pretty bad and unusable.
- If you are doing a research on a business, make sure the manager is cool with you doing this. Either that or try to stay away from the manager.
- Have backups in case on person falls through.
- Show the image to the person you observed/interviewed to see how they feel about it.
Project we used it for
This project was the one where we went out to find people and check out see there everyday lives at work. For this, we tried to find a large variety of jobs around Bloomington, to so we can get a few different perspectives on how things work. This project was one of the smoothest running projects I think I have done, so that was nice. The only problem was at the beginning of looking for subjects, we kept getting rejected by people, worried about us taking pictures while they work. This was probably due to protecting there business, but it was annoying trying to find people to agree to it.
But eventually we just kept hitting it off with everyone, getting the variety we wanted. We had a smoothie girl, a IT guy, a manger of clothing store, a waiter at a bar, and a hairdresser, not in that order. It was fun and interesting, and everyone else seemed fine with helping out, some even redid a pose for us after we got a kind of bad shot the first time. We also ran into problems with the camera we had, it ran out of batteries, but our phones worked fine as back up.
I really don't see much of a difference between this method and ethnography methods such as field observations and contextual inquiries. While yes it is more focused on the photos, I feel like its just an extension ofother ethnography methods, and less of a method in itself. Seems like you could just do field observations, focus more on the visual side of it, and you have this. But that just may be me.
Doing the actual assignment was kind of fun though.