Tag Archives: autoethnography

Researching Visual Ethnography

Added to the direct pressures of benefits reform, I felt a weight of expectation and judgement from the images. Neither set of images said much about me, yet they became deeply personal. Since there was no way to escape the heat of the images, I decided to try and make sense of their power. Collating the images, I analyse them here against a backdrop of visual inquiry theory. I consider the process through which their meanings are made, how they shape and reinforce a collective ‘picture in the mind’ of what it is to be a disabled person. I look beneath the surface to examine their real-world impact. Finally, I explore possibilities for contesting these images and for disabled people’s creation of counter images, in order to tell a different kind of story of what it is to be us.

–Liz Crow, “Scroungers and Superhumans: Images of Disability from the Summer of 2012: A Visual Inquiry” in Journal of Visual Culture (2012).

Note: She does not include images in the article because she believes that the images are already culturally embedded.

I think that I need to really get a sense of what visual ethnography is, who does it, how it is done, and why it is done before I move forward. In turn, this morning I did a journal search for visual journals to see who is publishing about it. Without much thought, I typed in “visual” to the library e-journal search page at UNC, and I found a bunch of potentially relevant journals! I’ve listed them here along with some notes about what I’ve discovered thus far. When I landed on the journal’s home page, I first searched for the term “ethnography.” If it did not generate any results, I then looked at 2-10 of the most recent issues of the journal. Sometimes, I also searched terms like “health” and “disability.”

  • Journal of Visual Communication and Image Representation = very technical, didn’t offer anything for my project.
  • Journal of Visual Communication in Medicine = focused on medical illustration and clinical medical photography, both past and present; publishes notes from the Health and Scientific Communication Organization; Wellcome Trust Library holdings; particularly attentive to issues of technology, such as if clinicians should take medical images on their cell phones
  • Journal of Visual Culture = humanities and social-sciences oriented–definitely useful for my purposes; queries into ethnography, health, and disability were fruitful; however, most articles about visual representations of health and disability did not discuss ethnography; “Disability-Visuality” special issue in 2006
  • Journal of Visual Literacy = design theories?
  • Visual Anthropology = useful!
  • Visual Anthropology Review = useful!
  • Visual Communication Quarterly = useful! (some articles about photojournalism)
  • Visual Culture and Gender = useful! published annually
  • Visual Studies = searches for “health,” “disability,” and “visual ethnography” failed–might have to return at a later time

Helpful Articles:

  1. Aguayo, Angela, and Stacy Jill Calvert. “Theatrical Bodies: Acting Out Comedy and Tragedy in Two Anatomical Displays” (Visual Communication Quarterly 2013).
  2. Benin, David, and Lisa Cartwright. “Shame, Empathy and Looking Practices: Lessons from a Disability Studies Classroom” (Journal of Visual Culture 2006).
  3. Bossen, Howard, et al. “Hot Metal, Cold Reality: Photographers’ Access to
    Steel Mills” (Visual Communication Quarterly 2013).
  4. Cant, Alanna. “One Image, Two Stories: Ethnographic and Touristic Photography and the Practice of Craft in Mexico” (Visual Anthropology 2015).
  5. Crow, Liz. “Scroungers and Superhumans: Images of Disability from the Summer of 2012: A Visual Inquiry” (Journal of Visual Culture 2014) –> “And we need to create images that confront in more direct and provocative ways. We need images that use the process of meaning-making for effect, working with and subverting the existing binaries in order to create images that confront and disturb the viewer’s familiar readings” (177).
  6. Nead, Lynda. “Stilling the Punch: Boxing, Violence and the Photographic Image” (Journal of Visual Culture 2011). –> discusses photographing the body in pain
  7. Fewkes, Jacqueline H. “The Seductive Gaze Through the Gold Filter: 
    Representation, Color Manipulation, and Technology Choices
    in Visual Ethnography” (Visual Anthropology Review 2008). 
  8. Garland-Thomson, Rosemarie. “Ways of Staring” (Journal of Visual Culture 2006).
  9. Gonzalez, Jennifer A. “Rhetoric of the Object: Material Memory and the Artwork of Amalia Mesa-Bains” (Visual Anthropology Review 1993).
  10. Gruber, David. “Theatrical Bodies: Acting Out Comedy and Tragedy in Two Anatomical Displays” (Visual Communication Quarterly 2011).
  11. Johnson, Ginger J. et al. “Drawings, Photos, and Performances: Using Visual Methods with Children” (Visual Anthropology Review 2012). 
  12. Lenette, Caroline. “Visual ethnography and refugee women: Nuanced understandings of lived experiences” (Qualitative Research Journal 2013).
  13. Nelson, Erica, and David Howitt. “When target groups talk back: at the intersection of visual ethnography and adolescent sexual health” (Reproductive Health Matters 2013).
  14. Olszanowski, Magdalena. “Feminist Self-Imaging and Instagram: Tactics of Circumventing Sensorship” (Visual Communication Quarterly 2014).
  15. Pink, Sarah. “Digital–visual–sensory-design anthropology: Ethnography, imagination and intervention” (Arts and Humanities in Higher Education 2014).
  16. Stadhams, Dianna. “Look to Learn: A Role for Visual Ethnography in the Elimination of Poverty” (Visual Anthropology Review 2004).
  17. Thorson, Bruce. “A Visual Voice Seldom Heard, Seldom Noted” (Visual Communication Quarterly 2013).
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Doing Visual Research from a Disability Studies Perspective

As usual, I’m caught up in the language. I’m searching for some resources to help me figure out how to use visuals in ways that are accessible to people who use text-readers and other technologies. If I’m going to use visual research methods for a disability studies-oriented project, I need to carefully account for the affordances and limits of using such methods. (Or at least I need to hold myself accountable for thinking through visual accommodations). Since I’m starting/documenting this research on this blog, I thought I’d start looking into visual accessibility by figuring out how to make the blog itself more accessible.

Like the millennial I am, I started with Google. My first search terms included “image descriptions for vision impaired,” “how to make my blog more accessible,” and “how to make my blog more disability friendly.” My inner rhetorician was on high alert; I don’t like calling people “impaired,” but I thought that the phrase might be a commonly used in advocacy communities and would thus generate more results. From these searches, I found a few useful pages/articles (listed in the order I discovered them):

A). The American Foundation for the Blind has a page specifically dedicated to making your blog accessible to blind readers.  They offer seven “tips” that I’ve copied here:

  1. Choose an Accessible Service
  2. Describe Your Images
  3. Avoid the Dreaded “Click Here” or “More…”!
  4. Put Your Blogroll on the Right-Hand Side
  5. Check the Comment Form—Is It Labeled Properly?
  6. Use Flexible Font Sizes
  7. Don’t Force Links to Open in New Windows

B) “The Transcontinental Disability Choir: How to Make Your Blog Accessible in Five Not-Very-Complicated Steps,” a 2009 Bitch Media article by Anna Pearce offers five similar steps that I’ve paraphrased:

  1. Use transcripts
  2. Describe pictures
  3. Make link text relevant (i.e. not click here or more information)
  4. Don’t over-ride browser defaults, especially for text size
  5. Check out how your blog looks in multiple browsers
  6. Pearce mentions that, as a bonus, you can test your website to see how accessible it is – very helpful!

C)  A WordPress community post by Siobhan McKeown titled “25 Ways to Make Your WordPress Site More Accessible” covered all of these items and a few more, which I’ll list below:

  1. Use headings correctly – use only one H1 per page and use heading sizes in order
  2. Use or add skip links to your theme – a link that allows users to move beyond the page navigation
  3. Use underlined links
  4. Use or add ARIA roles
  5. Use lists for easy reading
  6. Don’t rely on color alone and be mindful of color contrast
  7. Ensure tables are marked up correctly

I am going to attend to future blog posts with these ideas in mind, paying particular attention to the points about images. I’m not sure that my visual autoethnographic study of my swollen body parts will transform the field of rhetoric, composition, and literacy studies (or anything else for that matter), but that won’t be an option until more people can experience their glory. (HA).

Speaking of selfies, I came to a realization while I was taking one of my knees this morning: selfies are incredibly performative. Those of you who are Judith Butler fans are probably well-aware of this an anticipated that performativity and selfies would go hand in hand…but it only occurred to me that I was concerned about my performance–and the appearance of my knees–when I realized I was arranging them to portray their optimal bloated-ness. For me, Lyme Disease has been both an invisible illness and an obvious physical disability. Like many chronic pain sufferers, my pain seems more real if it is somehow marked on my body and is constantly shifting from better to worse, from joint to joint, etc. I sometimes want to mark my pain in other obvious ways when it is not clearly evident on my body because it confuses people around me, including my doctors. How could I be in pain if I look so normal? Why should I be seeing a specialist for pain that is only intermittent? In any case, despite my concerns from earlier today, I hope these Lyme selfies can be useful even if they don’t always show visual evidence of my pain. I think they highlight a key rhetorical problem: pain isn’t always clear, experienced in a linear fashion, or unambiguously attributed to one cause…but it can be helpful to claim that to get more aggressive/effective treatment.


Lyme Selfie, Day 2: Closeup of my knees resting on top of a pillow.

Lyme Selfie, Day 2: Closeup of my knees resting on top of a pillow.

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