Internet and visual methods

On 17/09/2009 by Adolfo

Our panel in the Visual Methods Conference in Leeds was a success. The title is clear enought to give a glimpse ot the topic: Internet and visual methods: Researching the Internet using visual methods &  Using the Internet for visual methods research. We opened the conference in the main room, and all the panelists enjoyed the discussion. It was a compensated group, dealing with the topic we proposed in very different ways, from a more practical approach base on their current research under way, in the case of Anne Beaulieu and Sarah de Ricjke, to more theoretical reflection  of Sarah Pink and a speculative and provocative intervention in the case of Francesco Lapenta.

We presented a discussion trying to reflect on the implications that mediation has for fieldworkers. This allow us to draw parallelism between (you know, I don’t really liked the term) virtual ethnography and visual ethnography. The ‘virtual ethnography’ is in this case only a ‘literary’ resource. By it we mean fieldwork mediated by Internet technologies.

Internet and visual methods
Researching the Internet using visual methods & Using the Internet for visual methods research

The Internet is becoming increasingly visual. Videos, photos and all kind of graphic animations with very different qualities (porn, scientific images, everyday snapshots, videos) circulate and are consumed in different contexts. This phenomenon is especially intense for the Web and strongly related to the proliferation of digital photography. We want to focus the discussion of this panel specifically on visual content and related practices on the Web.

This proliferation of visual content is accompanied by a whole set of new visual practices mediated by web technologies of diverse kinds: large specialized databases, multimedia services, personal and institutional sites (web pages, blogs), etc. The close relationships between Web technologies and digital photography transform the practices of both consumption and production of visual content. With the extension of digital photography, any context is now a potential situation for taking photos that are later or immediately uploaded to the Internet. As a consequence, the very nature of digital objects is transformed: images that were usually private (or shared through face-to-face-material encounters) become public and widely available on the Internet. Furthermore, images become increasingly and structurally layered with meta-data that further shapes their circulation. Contemporary visual culture is therefore marked by complex interactions between digital technologies and networked infrastructures.

Internet and digital photographic technologies are reshaping all the domains of visual research practice: the consumption and the production of visual objects, the subject (and content) of photographic practices,  and the nature of the visual object itself open up a new field of study for visual researchers and raises methodological challenges. This panel aims to discuss some of the possibilities and challenges that the Internet invites for visual researchers.

First, the Internet is in itself a meaningful object of study for visual anthropologists that poses particular methodological challenges for visual researchers: how to contextualize the images? How representative are they? What is the value of the experience of the researcher in gathering this data? How might we articulate the ethical issues when gathering data that is publicly accessible? And, what are the implications of these new issues and practices in relation to the new emphasis on multisensoriality that is becoming increasingly important in visual anthropology?. These are some of the issues that are posed. But the Internet can be considered not only as a object of study but as a research tool for visual researchers. Thus the Internet can be used for gathering visual data that was very difficult to access previously, for instance.

Although some visual researchers have started to make of the Internet their object of study in the last years, there is still a limited dialogue between them and the field of Internet research, in spite of the fertile exchange of techniques, methodological strategies and theoretical approaches that could enrich both fields. We want to open a discussion with this panel between both fields.

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