Monthly Archives: June 2015

Dabbling in visual anthropology Part 1

Going to grad school sure keeps one busy! One of the tools I added to my toolkit during the last year were visual methods, especially photography as another form of data collection. Pictures, I know this is an often repeated phrase, can tell stories in a different way. The sensitive nature of my overall research with the German trans* male community might make visual data collection interesting, shall we say.

Here are some stories pictures can tell (Disclaimer: all the photographs are taken and owned by me)

Speed

“Speed”

This is the first picture taken that day; I was still trying to figure out my point-and-shoot Panasonic Lumix. Setting was fully automatic, so I captured a very blurry image of the students leaving class or arriving. Only one person stands still – the individual using a powered wheel chair. The contrast of those walking totally unfocussed staring in their phones and the differently abled student in focus paying close attention to the commotion just strikes me as interesting. This photograph is completely unedited.

Taking a picture such as this one might be an interesting way to keep the anonymity of the people in the picture. It also shows the dynamic of movement in a single frame. What it looses in sharpness it gains in with the stories it tells: the story of the person in the wheelchair on the side, waiting for a chance to get where they need to go. Or the story of so many in the age of smart phones where we don’t pay attention to our surroundings because we are too busy catching up with our emails, Facebook, or text messages. It also tells the story of a building that has seen many people coming and going, each of them a blur from the perspective of the over one-hundred years old Denny Hall with its bare white walls awaiting a make over.

Full Moon

‘Full Moon Obscured’

This was challenging as I do not have a tripod. So I propped my camera on top of a car with a couple of thick books to keep it steady. The Panasonic Lumix I have does not allow me to play around with the settings that much, but it has predefined “Scene Modes”. I choose the “Starry Sky” mode with a 15 second open shutter, this setting was recommended for taking pictures of a dark night sky with some bright objects. This is my favorite, I call it ‘Full Moon Obscured’. It is still blurry as the clouds were moving past the moon fast. But I like the contrast between the darker clouds, the brighter spot where the moon is and also the difference of the brightly brown roof of a building intersecting the picture in the lower right corner. Somehow it feels like I captured the ever-changing night sky over a building that has the aura of permanence, yet it was not there a couple of years ago and will be gone while the moon will stay in the sky.

Night

I took this photo with a Canon EOS Rebel 2 Ti, 18 – 55 mm lens, on a tripod. 400 ISO, F 29, and 15 seconds exposure time. Just after I initiated the shot a car began to drive down the parking lot and then turned into an open spot. I really like the way the headlights snake down on the left side of the photo. But I am not inspired to name this picture, it was an experiment.

Lesson learned: taking pictures in low light conditions does not work with basic equipment. You get what you pay for…

Intersections

“Intersection(s)”

This picture was taken with a Canon T2i rented from the UW during our class excursion to the Ave. Originally I was taking photos of signs prohibiting sitting on the sidewalk, defunct phone booths, garbage and abandoned sleeping gear probably belonging to the resident unsheltered population. Then I noticed that I approached this area like someone who is familiar with it and changed my strategy. This is the photo I finally choose: a shot of the intersection of University Ave and NE 45th St. It is very busy with traffic and pedestrians. But it is more than just a place where two streets intersect. Businesses advertise to attract UW students as customers, banks, bars, tattoo parlors, barber shops, book stores, fast food places, coffee shops, restaurants, beauty salons, psychic readers, second-hand stores and others intersect with the people living on the street, trying to take advantage of the affluence of the students such as the street musician under the detour sign. Buses, cars, skate boarders, bicyclists and pedestrians intersect with each other avoiding a collision. My identity as a photographer intersects with my identity as a student, a woman, a local, the temptation of the store displays and the smells of food.

Reflection

“Reflection”

This photo was taken towards the end of the shoot on the Ave. I was walking past a barbershop on 42nd Street and was originally drawn to take a closer look at t pair of dusty glasses propped up on a brick (bottom left in the window). Those glasses, some coffee cups and old books seemed very odd for a barbershop. I wonder what they mean – does the owner display items left behind by customers? Did people themselves put things there and subsequently forgot about them? The glasses are covered in a layer of dust, so they must have been there for quite some times. I stepped back to get a shot of the entire window to look inside, but instead a got a reflection of the street behind me and myself. So here I am, reflected in the window reflecting on the deeper meaning of things left behind.

Stay tuned for more to come

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