Working with images

This week’s challenge involved working with images. There were three possible activities to choose from. I chose option 1:

Option 1: Collect and analyse images. Take a tour of your workplace or your neighbourhood with a camera, create a collage of images that represent a particular concept or theme you are interested in exploring. For example, you might choose ‘rules’ as a theme, and take pictures of things that, directly or indirectly, appear to convey rules about the space you are in; what people are allowed or not allowed to do.

The resulting collection is here

• What is depicted in the image(s)?
I work at home, so a tour of the workplace was fairly straightforward! The images are all examples of texts found in my house. I gave myself 5 minutes to photograph 50 texts using my iPhone.

• What were you trying to discover by creating your image(s)
The majority of my working days and a significant element of the rest of my time is spent reading and writing. I decided to use the image exercise as an opportunity to think about how texts fill my physical space(s). However, once I started to look around my house, I realised that it is saturated with texts. So, I came up with the idea of capturing 50 images of texts in 5 minutes. Following our tutorial this week, I’m also considering embarking on an autoethnography for my research project and this exercise offered an opportunity to begin to treat myself as a research subject.

• What did the process of image creation involve?
I used my phone to take the images and then looked at a number of options for collating them into a collage. Many of the online photo collage editors only allowed me to use 10 or so images, so I used Wix, a website creation tool which I use regularly, and which allowed me to quickly pull together a gallery of 50 images.

• What is not seen, and why?
There is so much that remains unseen in these images: primarily the contexts in which the texts were found. The images were taken in most of the rooms of the house, but I think it is difficult (mostly) to guess at which rooms they were taken in. I was careful, also, to try and avoid compromising my own privacy and security and didn’t photograph documents which included my address, medical history, personal emails or social media profile(s). However, some details which hint at my personal life are in here (the reference to the ‘bloody garage door’ for example.)

• How is meaning being conveyed?
I think the sheer number of images and the short period of time it took to capture them gives a sense of how many texts are in one – fairly small – space. Meaning is conveyed through the plethora of insights they (seem) to offer about ‘my’ character. The result reminds me of a game we used to play when I was an English teacher and I used to pull items out of a bag and ask my pupils to guess what sort of character they belonged to. I am conscious that I omitted much that would be considered to be embarrassing when I took the images. However, when I see them collated together, there is still much to judge me by in this collage:
• I have designer sunglasses (they are 10 years old now, but this particular image doesn’t convey that).
• I read a left-wing magazine and newspaper but buy sparkling water in disposable plastic bottles. I also subscribe to Sky TV.
• I alphabetise my books.
• I own a Joe Wicks cookbook.
• I own two Jamie Oliver cookbooks.
• I have not yet passed Grade 1 piano.
• I own a pair of Uggs (they are really comfy).
• I am considering Farrow & Ball paints.

• With respect to the photographs, how might the image(s) convey something different to your experience of ‘being there’.
These images offer a snapshot of the texts which are in my space. However, they give no sense of the meanings which these texts have in my life, how long I spend or have spent with each text, or what my own responses are to the texts which are captured here. This collage has been created: it’s an artefact. The images have been selected, framed and presented by me, the researcher. However, that process is, in itself, of interest. If I am to embark on an autoethnography, the consideration of what I omit, what I don’t present, what I feel is personal will be as valuable as what I include.

4 Replies to “Working with images”

  1. Hi Helen – this is fascinating and I was able to see that you also, like me, enjoy Scandi Noir – but of course it might not be you, but someone else in your household who enjoys them.

    The big question for me is how subjective has your choice of what to photograph been? I don’t see how you could avoid wanting to project a certain image, however subconscious this might be, and even down to the choice of text in your house as the subject of your photos.

    I have also been interested this week in how many people have done the discourse analysis task. I haven’t got round to looking at those resources yet, but I wondered if you were to collate all the text from these images, would a discourse analysis be possible? Just thinking out loud here and remembering that somewhere in the ethnography resources it was mentioned that ethnography can be combined with other methods.

    Thanks for this post. Your enthusiasm is stimulating, motivating and infectious 🙂

    1. Hi Jenny,

      No, it’s me that’s the Scandi fan (although I haven’t watched everything that was captured in that image).

      And yes: I’m incredibly conscious that all of these images will have been filtered and framed by subjective choices; as I mentioned in the post, I’m considering undertaking an autoethnography and one of the key issues for me is how validity might be achieved in what could be considered to be a solipsistic enterprise. I’m holding onto Letherby’s proposition that theorised subjectivity – an awareness and critique of our own subjectivity and the way that impacts on any research enterprise – can, potentially, move us closer to objectivity!

      With regard to DA, that’s an interesting proposition. I deliberately veered away from focusing on DA as, being a former English teacher, it felt a little too much like a close reading exercise! However, I think this exercise could, usefully, be complemented by discourse analysis.

      And thank you for your kind last sentence! The feeling’s mutual! 🙂

  2. Hi Helen

    I found this a very interesting and very understandable intro to working with images. I think it definitely highlights the issues of what is hidden but also of the information that can be portrayed in images which the creator would not be aware of or would perhaps not want to be made available for public consumption.



    1. Thanks Lisa. I’m going to grapple with this some more in the more critical response I have yet to write about visual methods. I guess all research is a construct, but for some reason visuals like this seem to highlight that more. The selection and framing of material seems more ‘overt’ when we’re dealing with images?

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