A new thesis on Visual Ethnography is using Jacob Langvad Nilsson as one of the case studies. Sarah McMahon, a senior at Indiana University is currently pursuing a double degree in Neuroscience and Ethnographic Photography.
The thesis titled “Ethnographic Photography” serves as a great introduction to the discipline for aspiring sociologists and anthropologists and touches on various use cases for Ethnographic Photography.
Using Jacob Langvad Nilsson’s work as case study, Sarah McMahon narrowed in on a subset called Visual Ethnography, which basically studies cultures through the use of audiovisual technology in order to come to a conclusion or produce a detailed analysis. Visual ethnography uses either videos or photographs in order to analyze and maintain an accurate description of the culture being studied.
Jacob Langvad Nilsson uses Visual Ethnography in a business context to help companies get a closer relationship to their customers. Business ethnography has proved extremely valuable for international brands breaking into new territories in emerging markets.
Visual ethnographers in this sense do similar work to people who create documentaries, as they must immerse themselves in their subject in order to gain a more detailed insight into the customs, beliefs, behaviors, and even perspective of the society that they are trying to study. This means that their analysis is usually presented in a narrative format, though taking great pains to ensure that the output remains descriptive, informative, and ethical.
In a way, visual ethnography is an exercise in restraint and balance, as the ethnographer’s immersion into the culture she is studying, along with the heavier dependence on pictures, data, and text collated firsthand, makes the entire study at risk of straining the boundaries between objectivity and subjectivity.
Anybody who is in the process of an ethnographer’s works should maintain a critical mindset and be constantly aware that the images and texts on record appear as the ethnographer represents them, which means the perspective may be limited and subject to the ethnographer’s bias.
However, it cannot be denied that what is presented has inherent value in the way they provide a much-needed glance at a culture from the perspective of someone who has taken the time to immerse oneself in their society.
At the end of the day, the key difference between ethnography and visual ethnography is that besides context, visual ethnography relies heavily on the visual narrative.
It is easily the visual aspect, particularly videos and photographs that serve as the key driving forces of visual ethnography, as it helps researchers capture information as it happens, in real time, and present it to people in a way that will let them understand the people, actions, and ideas behind a culture.
The American Anthropological Society currently defines four distinct types of anthropology. First is biological or physical, next is linguistic, followed by archaeological, and socio/cultural.
Cultural anthropology basically delves into a society’s culture and practices. It studies the way in which individuals live, organize, and self-realize. The data is then compared against the same data from another society, where the similarities and differences are analyzed and studied with regard to gender, race, class, and nationality.