Street Photography as an ethnographic method?

When I started my job in Melbourne, I was very keen to pursue an idea I’ve had for long time: Could we think of street photography’s ethos as an ethnographic technique? I didn’t have a clear point to make (still don’t) but I was keen to playfully experiment combining my favorite photographic genre and my usual research method. My starting point was that both, street photography and ethnography, were interested in the ways people behave in everyday life. Both present interesting ethical challenges and, ultimately, both are connected to ways of seeing, imagining and thinking.

I tried a small “pilot project” in Japan that was unsuccessful and never saw the light (no pun intended). Now that I’m moving to Sydney and starting a new job, I thought I should give it another try, after all, I was really excited about the idea and I wanted to invest more time on it. This time, it is happening. I pitched the project outside academia and  FujiFilm Australia came on board. They will be supporting the project and providing the equipment. During 2018 I will carry out a number of discrete “fieldworks” in different cities; thinking, photographing, talking and writing about street photography and ethnography. Building upon some recent scholarly work on photography as a visual method, and a growing interest on street photography, as a cultural form, and as a photographic “syntax”. But more importantly, inspired by “hybrid genres” such as the extraordinary Blind Spot of  Teju Cole, in 2019 I will prepare a book with the experience.

To kickoff this cool project that is intended to be academic but that is also very personal, I put together a number of images in what could be considered a “teaser for the future”, or simply a “shared photographic album”. The printed version is insanely expensive as it’s always the case with self-publishing but I have a pdf version that I’m happy to distribute if anyone is interested.

 

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Refiguring Techniques in Visual Digital Research (New edited book)

Refiguring Techniques cover

This book interrogates how new digital-visual techniques and technologies are being used in emergent configurations of research and intervention. It discusses technological change and technological possibility; theoretical shifts toward processual paradigms; and a respectful ethics of responsibility. The contributors explore how new and evolving digital-visual technologies and techniques have been utilized in the development of research, and reflect on how such theory and practice might advance what is “knowable” in a world of smartphones, drones, and 360-degree cameras. Available here.

Not just a number? NEETs, data and datalogical systems (New Paper)

Led by Helen Thornham, we just published the paper Not just a number? NEETs, data and datalogical systems in Information, Communication & Society. Here is the link to the paper, and here is the abstract:

Abstract

This paper draws on empirical research with NEET populations (16–24-year-olds not in education, employment or training) in the U.K. in order to engage with issues around identification, data and metrics produced through datalogical systems. Our aim is to bridge contemporary discourses around data, digital bureaucracy and datalogical systems with empirical material drawn from a long-term ethnographic project with NEET groups in Leeds, U.K. in order to highlight the way datalogical systems ideologically and politically shape people’s lives. We argue that NEET is a long-standing data category that does work and has resonance within wider datalogical systems. Secondly, that these systems are decision-making and far from benign. They have real impact on people’s lives – not just in a straightforwardly, but in obscure, complex and uneven ways which makes the potential for disruption or intervention increasingly problematic. Finally, these datalogical systems also implicate and are generated by us, even as we seek to critique them.

“Trajectories: digital/visual data on the move” (new paper)

RVST_COVER_31-04.inddA paper that I presented at a conference on Photography and Anthropology in 2014 was (finally) published today. It is somehow disappointing that the publishing process takes so long because I would probably approach the paper differently now. In any case, I think it could be useful to expand the discussion about mobile/visual/digital ethnographies. Here is the link to the text and here is the abstract:

This article presents an outline of the concept ‘Trajectory’. I propose to understand trajectory not only as a trace of movement in a path but also as a working concept to reflect on the possibilities of visual/digital data collection for ethnographic research on the move. Images, I argue, along with some digital affordances such as metadata and GPS, can be a powerful device for ethnographic enquiry and a useful tool for reflexivity if used by making sense of the randomness of everyday mobility. The concept of ‘Trajectory’ seeks to reflect on the relationship between four elements: mobility, visual data, digital methods and reflexivity, focusing on the use of the mobile phone as a tool to engage with these elements while reflecting on them. The concept of trajectories is intended to establish a dialogue with that of the flâneur in de Certeau’s and Benjamin’s work and with some current approaches to visual/digital ethnography, especially those related to movement and senses, art and ethnography and mobilities and locative media.

P.S. It was fun that the editors chose my images for the journal’s cover

“Hackathons, data and discourse: Convolutions of the data (logical)” (new paper)

Led by Helen Thornham we just published a paper (Big Data & Society journal). Here is the link to the open full text and here is the abstract:

This paper draws together empirical findings from our study of hackathons in the UK with literature on big data through three interconnected frameworks: data as discourse, data as datalogical and data as materiality. We suggest not only that hackathons resonate the wider socio-technical and political constructions of (big) data that are currently enacted in policy, education and the corporate sector (to name a few), but also that an investigation of hackathons reveals the extent to which ‘data’ operates as a powerful discursive tool; how the discourses (and politics) of data mask and reveal a series of tropes pertaining to data; that the politics of data are routinely and simultaneously obscured and claimed with serious implications for expertise and knowledge; and that ultimately, and for the vast majority of hackathons we have attended, the discursive and material constructions of data serve to underpin rather than challenge existing power relations and politics.