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More Than Just a Picture: Creating and using visuals in social science research


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Title: More Than Just a Picture: Creating and using visuals in social science research

More Than Just a Picture Creating and using
visuals in social science research
  • Jennifer Cool
  • M.A. Visual Anthropology, 1993
  • Ph.D. Candidate, Anthropology
  • University of Southern California

Talk Outline
  • Workshop Purpose
  • Definitions
  • Representation Across Media
  • Rhetoric
  • Filmmaking
  • Informatics
  • Documentary / Visual Anthropology
  • Putting it all into practice Home Economics
  • Practicum in documentary video

Workshop Purpose
  • The proliferation of digital technologies has
    increased the ease with which graduate students
    use self-made still, moving, and interactive
    images to support their research.
  • Despite this trend, images are often added to
    dissertations, presentations, and publications as
    an afterthought.
  • This workshop will encourage us to think
    critically and creatively when we use visual
    images moving, still, and interactive in our
    research by exploring the use of photography,
    film, and interactive media.

Information Hypermedia
Digital technology
  • Stable, established
  • Mature
  • Relatively centralized
  • Formal
  • One-to-many
  • Top-down publication
  • Unified layers (bits linked to atoms)
  • Writing presented per publication
  • Largely mono-media (text) with separate
    repositories for different media/genres
    (pictures, artifacts)
  • Unstable, emerging
  • Immature
  • Relatively decentralized
  • Informal
  • Many-to-many
  • Distributed publication
  • Discrete layers
  • Write once publish anywhere
  • Highly multimedia intermedia (text, image,
    audio, video, multiple document formats
    multilingual, modular)

By Visuals I Mean
  • Photographs, film/video (sound and image), any
    recording made with a camera as data to be
  • Research media
  • using (audio)visuals to record data
  • Still images, films, videos, PowerPoint
    presentations, any visual media made to convey
    or illustrate the insights and analyses of
    academic research.
  • Rhetorical media
  • using (audio)visuals to make argument

Research Rhetorical Media
  • Can the boundaries be traversed?
  • Absolutely. Two modes are mutually informative.
  • But important to consider each mode separately.
  • Research media fall under methods
  • Generally, these are techniques, forms, and norms
    of data capture established within disciplines
    and sub-fields.
  • Rhetorical media fall under___?

Basic Premise of this Talk
  • No image is understood outside a discourse.
  • Discourse/Context may mask itself (art)
  • Discourse/Context may be explicit (newspaper)
  • The question is, how to craft your images so they
    are consistent with the discourse in which you

Representation Across Media
  • As scholars, you already have mastery in certain
    forms of communication, in particular, reading
    and writing texts.
  • Whatever the medium, thoughtful acts of
    representation begin with these basic questions
  • What do I want to say?
  • Who is my audience?
  • What is the best way to say it?

What do I want to say? (Content)
  • Whats my main message, or thesis?
  • Whats my goal or purpose in making these
    photographs this video, slideshow, webpage, or
    other media presentation?
  • Whats my investment in the subject?
  • With what authority do I speak?

Who is my audience?
  • What knowledge can I assume of my audience?
  • What ideas/information need to be presented
  • What issues or objections might they have to my
  • What are their values, goals, and interests?
  • How do might these relate to my message?

Whats the best way to say it? (Form)
  • Choose medium, genre, format
  • Oral lecture, discussion, informal speech
  • Written essay, book, email, letter
  • Pictoral photos, illustrations, diagrams, graphs
  • Mixed multimedia PowerPoint presentation,
    film, video, website, other new media
  • Match tone formality to audience content.

My Frameworks
  • Rhetoric
  • Filmmaking
  • Informatics
  • Documentary / Visual Anthropology

Drawn from my experience
  • Visual anthropology
  • M.A. Visual Anthropology, USC, 1993
  • Home Economics a documentary of suburbia, M.A.
  • The Experts of Everyday Life "The Experts of
    Everyday Life Cultural Reproduction and Cultural
    Critique in Antelope Valley," M.A. Thesis
  • Film, documentary multimedia, Internet and web
  • Synapse Columbus project Computer Curriculum
  • Cyborganic, Netscape, Disney/ABC Cable Networks
  • Teaching film production, written, oral, and
    graphic communication
  • Assistant Lecturer, Freshman Writing, U.S.C.
  • Lecturer, Cinema Dept., San Francisco State
  • Lecturer, Information Computer Science, U.C.

(No Transcript)
  • Representation is a rhetorical act

Rhetorical in a classical sense

Rhetoricalin a modernist sense
  • Its never just a pipe.
  • The images you make are not prima facie evidence.
    Even the most straight forward illustration
    involves interpretation and construction.

Although we often hear that data speak for
themselves, their voices can be soft and sly.
Frederick Mosteller, Stephen E. Fienberg, and
Robert E.K. Rourke, Beginning Statistics with
Data Analysis, 1983, p. 234.
Rhetorical in a postmodernist sense
  • Viewers make meaning
  • Reception, cultural construction
  • The treason of images
  • A picture may be worth ten thousand words, but
  • You, the producer, dont get to choose any of
    those words
  • They may not even be in your language
  • Power/Knowledge
  • All acts of representation are partial, situated,
    interested, and occasioned
  • Creating, using, and reading visuals in social
    science requires attention to these contexts

  • Two parables, an aphorism, and three aspects

Kuleshov Effect
Cocktail Party Effect
  • The ability in perception to select one desired
    sound from a background of ambient noise. E.g.,
    at a party, where many voices speak
    simultaneously, we can 'focus' our ears on one
    conversation and filter out voices and sounds
    which are equally strong.
  • A microphone cannot filter noise from signal
    thus and, placed at the party, records a babble
    of sounds.
  • Perception is interpretation.

Youve got to have a reason
Rule 1 Never make a cut without a positive
reason. Edward Dmytryk, On Film Editing
  • Apply Dmytryks aphorism to every
  • Cut
  • Frame
  • Shot
  • Choice of media (film stock, video, etc.)
  • Contrast with
  • Laying down music and cutting to the beat.
  • Deciding you must cut to a new image every x
  • Shooting footage without a clear purpose,
    shooting everything in master shots, just
    getting coverage.

Intersecting Aspects
  • Technical
  • Subject is in frame, in focus, and well
  • Camera, sound, and editing as crafts that support
    narrative and aesthetic aspects.
  • Narrative
  • Film time is not clock time. It is story time,
    time is condensed, expanded, elided.
  • Narrative time is configured. Time governed by
  • Plot drawing a sense of whole out of a
  • Characters agents who both act and suffer
  • Classic Three act structure beginning, middle,
    and end
  • Aesthetic
  • Technical craftsmanship does not detract from
  • Form and content work together
  • Be especially aware and reflexive of the
    aesthetic to which you appeal.

  • Tufte Scientific principles of Information

Edward Tufte
  • Professor emeritus of statistics, graphic design,
    and political economy at Yale University
  • Expert in informational design graphics

Information Graphics Greatest Hits
Tufte clear and precise seeing, thinking, saying
  • if displays of data are to be truthful and
    revealing, then the logic of the display design
    must reflect the logic of analysis.
  • Visual representations of evidence should be
    governed by principles of reasoning about
    quantitative evidence. For information displays,
    design reasoning must correspond to scientific
    reasoning. Clear and precise seeing becomes as
    one with clear and precise thinking.
  • Edward Tufte, Visual Explanations, 1997, p. 53.

Tufte Scientific Principles
  • Displays should be documentary, comparative,
    causal and explanatory, quantified, multivariate,
  • Document sources and characteristics of the data.
  • Insistently enforce appropriate comparisons.
  • Demonstrate mechanisms of cause and effect.
  • Express those mechanisms quantitatively.
  • Recognize the inherently multivariate nature of
    analytic problems.
  • Inspect and evaluate alternative explanations.

Documentary Visual Anthropology
  • The documentary tradition
  • Ethnographic film
  • Image ethics and epistemologies

The documentary tradition
  • Some of the first films were ethnographic
  • City symphony films (early 20th century)
  • Portable Sync Sound 16mm (1960s), technology gets
    smaller, more automatic
  • Cinéma verité, direct cinema

Ethnographic film
  • Positivism scientific films
  • Observational cinema
  • Anthropologys Crisis of Representation
  • Reflexivity, beyond observational cinema
  • Ethics
  • Rights of the subject
  • Questions of audience, royalties, etc.
  • Politics and epistemologies of representation
  • The New Ethnography and New Wave in
    Ethnographic film.

New Ethnography
  • Dialogism, dialogic relationship between
    ethnographer and informant(s)
  • Ethnographies of the particular (present
    ethnographer and subjects as specific individuals
    in specific social contexts
  • Reflexivity
  • Subjects speak for themselves
  • Conscious focus on narrative structure (e.g.
    Geertzs fictions, anthropological
    representations are made not found)

Putting it all into practice
  • Home Economics

Home Economics as response to Crisis of
  • Choice of subject
  • the domestic and everyday, rather than the exotic
  • Subjects addressed, not described
  • No voiceover narration, no explanatory titles
  • Filmmakers questions included
  • Real time takes, no cut away shots in
    interviews, whole replies included, not sound
  • Authorship acknowledged
  • Reflexivity (inclusion of filmmaker in the frame)
  • Slow down I want to get the billboards
  • Clear narrative arc (constructed nature of
  • Montage (portraits and landscapes)

Home Economics Picture/Camera
  • Filmmaker in the frame, but off to the side, not
    at the center
  • Framing of whole bodies in the environment
  • Set camera up, off to the side, so anthropologist
    and informant can talk face to face.
  • Keep the equipment in the background
  • Create casual atmosphere, kitchen conversations
  • Juxtaposition of interview (portraits) and
    montage of the build environment (landscapes)
  • Hand-held shots of home interiors, emphasize
    domestic, everyday life.

Home EconomicsSound
  • Inclusion of long takes presents subjects as
    expert witnesses
  • Music played in model home sequences is the
    actual music played in the models.
  • Hard cuts on audio in these shots.
  • Music played in scene of low-income housing was
    actual sound from the footage.
  • Hard cuts on audio in these shots.

Home Economicsethics politics of representation
  • Key informants saw final cut of film before they
    were asked to sign release forms
  • Goes against what they teach at the Cinema
    School. Its risky and can backfire, but also
    builds trust.
  • Permission to film models and construction site
    came from the housing developer
  • Workers not asked to sign a release
  • Guerrilla filmmaking
  • Billboards shot without permissions
  • Low income housing in long shot, reflects social
    distance between filmmaker and these subjects

Home Economics as a work in the Anthropological
  • Examines the ideals and norms of homeownership
  • Explores specific cultural meanings of home
  • What the native thinks hes up to (Geertz)
  • Seeks to show the logic and validity of a
    particular way of life

Home Economics as Cultural Critique
  • Homeownership in contemporary American society is
    often achieved at the expense of the very values
    a home is said to represent.
  • Informants as expert witnesses who testimony show
    both the values and meanings of homeownership and
    the ways those values are undermined by
    commuting, work, and other structural forces of
    the society.

Home EconomicsAschs Ethics of Ethnographic
  • Applied (in some way)
  • Know your subjects
  • Reflexivity (backgrounded)
  • Shoot whole events
  • Support film with documentation
  • Seek feedback from subjects
  • Seek feedback from sample audiences
  • Distribute film properly
  • Publish guide/monograph to distribute with film
  • Not Applied
  • Reflexivity (foregrounded)
  • Make an uncut version for scholarly research
  • Make royalty agreement with people filmed
  • Shoot whole events (focus was on discourse, not
  • On-going commitment to indigenous population

  • Documentary Motion Pictures

  • Crew or one-man band?
  • Practice. Video tape is cheap.
  • Choose a cinematic subject
  • Audience, genre, format, medium
  • The more you know about the final destination,
    the better you can shoot for it.
  • Camera (and other equipment) size and footprint
    in relation to filmed event and logistics in the
    field, or on location.

  • Focus, exposure, and composition
  • These all need to be intuitive
  • Auto-focus set and hold
  • Play with focus, exposure, composition.
  • Fold out LCD screens are great for composition,
    but no use for exposure or focus.
  • Frame your subject tightly enough so its clear
    where the viewer should look. Crop out moise.
  • Use a tripod whenever possible
  • Camera movement can be hard to intercut.
  • Other benefits? (Face to face communication)
  • If shooting handheld, bone-to-bone contact or
    shoulder brace?
  • Good sound (professional mic)
  • Always shoot for real.

  • Let takes run long, heads and tails
  • Log and label all footage on the spot
  • Let moving objects exit frame before you cut
  • Practice as though tape were cheap, shoot as if
    it were very expensive.
  • Hang around and shoot a lot of film.
  • Invisibility via ubiquitous presence (of camera)
  • Dont try to sneak shots!
  • Do put tape over red camera rolling lights

  • Creating film time and space
  • What one thing are you trying to say?
  • Images denser and more concrete than text.
  • Story and character
  • Build your story in sound and image (rather than
    voiceover and inter-titles).
  • The clearer your aims in shooting, the easier
    this is to do in the editing room.

Examples for Discussion
Miles Coolidge
  • Safetyville
  • America by Numbers
  • Garage Photos
  • Associate Professor, Studio Art, U.C. Irvine

Michael Wesch
  • YouTube video by Anthropology Professor
  • http//
  • Wired Rave Award
  • http//
  • Entirely word-driven
  • Cut to music