Sunday, October 30, 2011

#CMC11 Visual Ethnography

I remarked to a friend, just this morning, that I wanted to become a leading researcher in Visual Ethnography; studying vernacular photographs for traditions.  He didn’t respond for a while, then without missing a beat changed the subject. 

I can only surmise what he was thinking, it was a virtual IM discussion, I didn’t ask though either.  I think he was already do too much why do more?  Because I love these photos, slides, and negatives I have collected over the years.  I love the stories they tell, the lives they depict, and the history they silently capture.  It is my challenge to bring all of that to life.

I am not a seasoned researcher.  I have completed my Ph. D. , yet, that does make me an expert in this field. I retrieved our copy of Denzin and Lincoln’s Handbook of Qualitative Research from my husband’s bookshelf.  I know I am going to have to research how to research this archive so I can set into my mind a plan for going forward. 
On page 703 begins the essay by Ian Hodder on The Interpretation of Documents and Material Culture, in that he writes of “how to interpret mute evidence …even though separated from the author, producer, or user…” .  
Photographs are, in my opinion, a part of the material culture that Hodder defines.  He states that, “Material culture, including written texts, poses a challenge for interpretive approaches that often stress the importance of dialogue with and spoken critical comment from participants.  Material culture evidence, on the other hand, may have no living participants who can respond to its interpretation.”   Hodder is answering the questions I have..can I conduct a research of these snapshots, a frozen moment in time in a way that will provide some meaningful insight into the experience of being human? The answer to that is easy, I think so.   Will this research have some premise in being credible, I believe so, but even beyond my observations of studying these photos I welcome your comments and observations, lending even more credibility to this study.

I can provide even more credibility to this study if I can provide you with some context, dates, times, place and event behind these photos.  I can do that for some, but not all.  So how do we comment and observe on those photos that I do not have this type of information?  We can do that only within the context of our own experience, and that is what makes this interesting. 

We do this within the context of cultural studies.  Culture Studies can be defined as: approaches subjects holistically, combining feminist theory, social theory, political theory, history, philosophy, literary theory, media theory, film/video studies, communication studies, political economy, translation studies, museum studies and art history/criticism to study cultural phenomena in various societies. Thus, cultural studies seeks to understand the ways in which meaning is generated, disseminated, and produced through various practices, beliefs, institutions, and political, economic, or social structures within a given culture.  (retrieved from

As you can see I am laying the groundwork for my study.  If I were writing a dissertation I would conduct my study within the context of one of the theories above, perhaps feminist theory or social theory to narrow the scope of my study.  This is a personal mission for me though, by the end of this study I may have reviewed all of these photographs within the context of the theories presented above.  I am almost five years into building this collection, it is difficult to know where this journey will take me in five years, ten years or a lifetime.

As I go along sharing these photos with you I want to present a disclaimer to you.  I have purchased these photos outright via online auctions, these are photos I have taken myself, etc. In these terms I am the copyright owner, I have no means to research the original owner of these photos.  These photos are not used for materials or commercial gain by myself and are used only in research and for educational purposes. 

Normally I try to study or will present photos from the 1800’s – 1950 the first photos below are from a wedding in the 1980’s:


Older wedding pictures:


Family pictures, family traditions.

And don’t you love the fact that they included the family dog front and center?

And the cars often make the family photo too:

Note the hood of the care in the foreground of this photo taken of these four lovely women.

I love this one taken in front of the family vehicles.  Were they leaving and someone said,"Let me get a picture real quick…”  Could be…

When I saw the picture below I wondered who is sitting at the kiddy table?  And for most of you who celebrate big family dinners for Thanksgiving, Christmas or whatever your traditions are you will know what I am talking about.


This picture answers that question (oops I should have flipped the one above)


Every family has one right?  The clown, the goof, and the one who stands out..who is that in the picture below?
A really great picture to study. Check out the drapes, the lamp, and the table cloth on the gate legged table.  Good stuff!

A different sort of family shot.  Brothers? Probably.

A vintage wedding photo:


A great shot of a more “modern’ couple:


What I would consider a family travel shot:

From the shots I have from Russia:







Tuesday, October 25, 2011


I was sharing with my friend Michael Wells my love for photography, etc., and what it means for me and he shared this with me.. Great Synergy ..thanks Mic!  Please check out the below link.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Virtual Pioneers #VPCON10

It is indeed an honor to be a part of the Virtual Pioneers group in Second Life. This great group allows me the opportunity to explore history and culture with others.
On January 20th, 2012 Virtual Pioneers will be hosting their second History Conference in Second Life. The details are available on the VirtualPioneerswebsiteand their   facebookpage.
Why all this excitement about virtual worlds and learning history? Well Second Life and other virtual worlds provide an easy to access, cost effective environment in which to role play, explore and experience living history.   If you know of any history sites or activities to recommend in Second Life please let me know either via Twitter or in the comments in my blog.

Below are some sites I am highlighting for this week’s blog about Virtual Pioneers and the upcoming conference:

Stone Henge
Chateau De Versaille in Second Life

Saturday, October 22, 2011

#CMC11 Visual Culture

With somewhat of a researchers background I am motivated to try to define the study of the photographs and other images that I possess.  It seems to me that being able to define such a study in acceptable research terms would give it more credibility.   With that aim in mind I came across the term “visual culture.”

Visual culture is defined in various ways:
According to Nicholas Mirzoeff' is perhaps best understood as a tactic for studying the functions of a world addressed through pictures, images, and visualizations, rather than through texts and words.  Here is a link to an article by Mirzoeff on visual culture.

Another term that came up during my search for meaning is semiotics:  According to Daniel Chandler in his online book on the subject:  Semiotics represents a range of studies in art, literature, anthropology and the mass media rather than an independent academic discipline. Those involved in semiotics include linguists, philosophers, psychologists, sociologists, anthropologists, literary, aesthetic and media theorists, psychoanalysts and educationalists. Beyond the most basic definition, there is considerable variation amongst leading semioticians as to what semiotics involves. It is not only concerned with (intentional) communication but also with our ascription of significance to anything in the world.

I questioned whether this is the appropriate method as it seems that semiotics would be more the study of language and text however it is also defined as follows:   Semiotics provides us with a potentially unifying conceptual framework and a set of methods and terms for use across the full range of signifying practices, which include gesture, posture, dress, writing, speech, photography, film, television and radio. Semiotics may not itself be a discipline but it is at least a focus of enquiry, with a central concern for meaning-making practices which conventional academic disciplines treat as peripheral.  Here is a link to an article  by Irit Krygier, that provides photography with a definiton in todays digital age.

One could argue that I cannot do an adequate study of the photographs I possess unless I understand the intent of the photographer.  What is the context of the photo being taken?  Was it vacation, for a study, for a business reason…this anonymous collection of photographs may not provide worthwhile data in that regard.   These photos are an expression of human life, the way we live, and how we capture on film and what we deem important.  Reviewing hundreds if not thousands of photos of home life, vacations, landscapes, and celebrations provides a rich in-depth study of life in the United States but through travels abroad.

I am currently review several photographs of a travelers experience in Russia.  These photos were probably taken in the 1950’s and are actually slides:






Not sure where these photos were taken:

scan0071 scan0082 scan0098
I can put pictures that other people take and study them in the context of what motivates or inspires me to take pictures:

July 2011 trip 020

I love to take pictures of old farm buildings, abandoned farms and capture these symbols of a fading way of life.

July 2011 trip 307
The above photo was taken in Silverton, CO at the Durango/Silverton Train.

July 2011 trip 445
The above is a photo of ruins in Mesa Verde.  To me this is somewhat symbolic of how we capture other cultures through photography.

July 2011 trip 025
Another abandoned farm picture.

July 2011 trip 042
Sinclair, WY I believe..a semi abandoned town with an interesting history.

July 2011 trip 156

We spent the night in a Hostel in Grand Junction.  I thought I would be uncomfortable in the postage stamp sized room but I immediately fell asleep.  The picture above is of the lobby, lounge space at the hostel.
July 2011 trip 261

On the Durango/Silverton train.

If I were to do a post like this every week for the next five years I doubt that I would get through my collection of photos, one which I continue to add to either via scanning or my own photos.  It is a fascinating study for me.  I am struggling with how to define or frame this study and analysis.  Knowing that will help me a great deal to identify the context in which to place this analysis.