a word about autophotography

Autophotography is a fancy word for a research method in which you release participants to take photos of stuff. Hopefully, meaningful stuff.

Basically, you give people a camera and then ask them to take photos over the course of a week or so of things that are important to them. Usually, you give them a statement to respond to — something like:

  • Please take photos of anything that makes you feel close to God; or
  • Please take photos of things that have spiritual significance for you.

At the end of the time taking photos, the researcher and their collaborators sit down together, look at the photos, and discuss and interpret them together.

Autophotography is helpful in accessing more intimate spaces and stories than you can reach with just words. It is also helpful if you are doing cross-cultural research, as the use of images can express things that the language barrier might otherwise keep hidden.

Pop culture has well and truly embraced the visual as a meaningful way to communicate — we tell and absorb stories on video much more frequently than we write and read books. I think academia could benefit from using images in more creative and meaning-producing ways rather than being limited to the written text as the most (only?) authoritative way to communicate something.

Further reading:

Brück, F and Kainzbauer, A (2009) “The contribution of autophotography for cross-cultural knowledge transfer”, European Journal of Cross-Cultural Competence and Management 1(1):77-96.

Noland, C (2006) Auto-photography as research practice: identity and self-esteem research Journal of Research Practice 2:1-19

Dollinger, S (2001) Religious identity: an autophotographic study International Journal for the Psychology of Religion 11:71-92


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