Dabbling in visual anthropology Part II

I am back with more pictures and stories. Of course this one has to include cats, this is the internet after all and there are rules, man.

On the Prowl

“On the Prowl”

After playing with a rental DSLR for two days I broke down and landed a deal on a Canon T5 from a warehouse chain. I just could not image myself switching cameras every week or two or going back to using my Panasonic Lumix. The only use I see for the Lumix is that I could hand it to my research participants for photo voice exercises. First thing at home, after the battery was charged, I played around taking pictures. I turned off the flash and the focus beep as they spooked the cats and started to take pictures with the 18-55mm lens, ISO 3600, F 5.6 1/50. I instantly remembered how difficult it is to shoot animals; they never keep still or do what you expect them to do. This is my seven-year-old cat Loki: he was actually curious and started to hunt the camera. The longer I had the camera out, the less shy he became. I feel this is a very good picture, not as cute as the ones often circulated on the Internet, but instead it captures the barely domesticated almost wild animal that could kill you if it were 500lbs and still had its teeth (he was allergic to his tartar, his mouth was constantly inflamed the poor thing) and front claws (we got him from a shelter, he ran away from the folks that did this to him)

Our Darkness.

“Our Darkness”

I continued to play around with the settings; this time I changed the ISO to 400, F 5, 1/8 exposure, same lens. I totally forgot that I also have a 75-300 mm zoom lens, so I got really close with the 18-55mm set to 55mm. I was surprised that I was able to get such a relatively steady shot of our other cat, seven-year-old Odin. He only held still because my spouse had cuddled with him for a while, otherwise he tends not to cooperate. This is a whopping 18 pounds of cuddle monster with an affinity for drooling all over his humans and he has the softest belly ever.



I took the first image on Thursday morning in the Husky Union Building on campus. When I entered I was immediately mesmerized by the piano music coming from the second floor. I discovered the source and sat down next to the grand piano on the couches and listened for a while. At some point I remembered that I had my camera equipment with me and so I began to take pictures. Fortunately I already had the focusing beep of the camera disabled, as it might have been even more disruptive than the closing of the shutter was to me. I did not want to take direct facial shots, first because I had not asked for permission, and second as I also wanted to see the hands to capture more of the embodiment of the activity. This shot was taken with a 70-300mm telephoto lens at 3200 ISO (it was not very well lit, did not want to use flash) during the most intense part of the music played. One can see the focus in his facial expression as his fingers dance vividly and purposefully over the keyboard. What is not in this shot is the fact that the player had removed his shoes to have a more visceral contact with the foot pedals of the piano. I used to play myself and am wondering if I used to do this or if I left my shoes on. Somehow I cannot remember and sitting there watching him made me long to play again. I stayed until he was done playing and had a brief conversation with him as he left. I got his verbal permission to use the photos for class, he told me that he has been playing for years and that the piece was a personal improvisation piece that never turns out the same each time he plays it.



This photo is a detail shot of a Maori piece with the title kuaha (Gateway), made by Parateno Matchitt, a member of the Whanau a Apanui (tribe) in New Zealand in 1985, gifted to the Burke Museum by the New Zealand Ministry of External Relations and Trade (Catalog Number 1992-73/1). This is one of the largest pieces in the exhibit we photographed, if not the largest[1] and is very impressive to look at. I focused the camera on the center part atop the lintel and the figure standing with legs spread wide open. I used the same telephoto lens as for the previous shot at 800 ISO and F 6.3, which resulted in a nice three dimensional photo and I was able to catch every detail. This was for me the most interesting detail to get a closer look of. From a distance the figure appears to be genderless; the smooth body does not reveal any hints towards the identity of the figure. But if one approaches the gateway and looks up, a very distinct clitoris and vaginal opening reveals itself to the onlooker. Due to the position of the lights this feature remains in the shadows, but I am quite certain this must have some significance to the carver and the cultural context of the piece. As I know nothing of Maori culture I’d rather not speculate. However I must say that I was very intrigued to find this detail of female anatomy so beautifully carved, right here at the UW. I wonder how many people walk past it not even noticing or immediately looking away in shock.

[1] Dimensions are L: 69.5 x 93.5 in, W: 14 x 14 x 14 x 11.5 x 11.7 x 21.2 in, H: 10 x 66.5 x 66 x 62.5 x 63 x 20 x 23.7 in according to the information found online at http://collections.burkemuseum.org/ethnology/display.php?ID=95687



This week we were doing portrait shots in a settling with a lot of things going on in the background. I chose a popular restaurant during lunch on the Ave. When I looked through the results I also noticed some issues related to focusing, in some the camera had focused on someone in the background or the background in general. Lighting was also an issue, I used to flash and it was a rainy day. Some natural light illuminates the right side of the face, but the left is darker. This was one of the shots where the difference was not too intense. I got my friend’s permission to help me with a class project and started taking pictures while we carried on lunch and our conversation. To show my appreciation for their help I also offered to email them the best pictures. I intend to carry on sharing pictures featuring people with them to give something back to them.

What’s the story here? We were having lunch at a Thai/Vietnamese restaurant and my friend is looking over the bubble tea selection to decide what to get. However the title of the photograph also hints at different decisions people make everyday, such as what to wear, how they represent their identity, or how to be comfortable with the choices made not caring what others might think.

Maianthenum dilatatum

“Maianthemum dilatatum”

I did not take nearly as many pictures as I usually do this last week. On a recent stroll to a local park I took some pictures of the plants and I picked this one for my second photo as it shows so nicely the curled petals of Maianthemum dilatatum, commonly known as false lily of the valley. I chose this over a similar shot where I had everything in focus as I feel that the blurry background in this case provides a better contrast to the delicate plant. This park is close to where I live and also to the community college where I earned my transfer degree. A section of it was actually transformed into an ethnobotanical garden by the Edmonds Community College LEAF (Learn and Serve Environmental Anthropology Field) school in cooperation with the Snohomish Tribe[1] during Summer quarter 2010. I was a member of LEAF school the year prior and learned a lot about the native plants in the Pacific Northwest. Places like Gold Park show me that we can all make a difference, especially as efforts to care for the project continue with regularly occurring work parties to remove blackberry bushes and other non-native invasive species.

[1] http://www.ci.lynnwood.wa.us/PlayLynnwood/Parks/Gold-Park.htm

Spring in the Quad

“Spring in the Quad”

This is one of the 24 pictures we were challenged to take during the hands-on part of the class. Taking photos in that way very much reminded me of the times when I was using film in a camera, which is for me about eleven years ago. I noticed how digital photography and the capacity to take and save hundreds of images on an SD card shifted the way I think about the pictures I take. When I only had a certain amount before having to change rolls I was a lot more conscious to get the settings right as every picture was developed and I did not want to waste money on fuzzy shots and such. And yet, of course I did. But I had a hard time going to the drugstore to pick up the photos only to find out I had cut off heads, the camera shook, or the photo was not as interesting as I hoped it would be. And I also remember the conundrum of fear that the film might get damaged at airport security, which I believe never actually happened. This exercise taught me that being mindful of every single shot is a useful tool in itself; it helped me to slow down, look more closely at my surroundings with my own eyes first before looking through the viewfinder. This is the story of this picture, which I shot from a low angle, kneeling and keeping both the Rhododendrons as well as the background in focus.

Fire Bird

“Fire Bird”

 Over the Rainbow                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             “Over the Rainbow”

Both of these were taken at the 30th Annual Powwow at Edmonds Community College in Lynnwood, WA on Sunday May 3, 2015. Before I began to photograph I walked around the space for a while with my camera visibly displayed and noticed others with cameras and a lot of cell phones used to take pictures. Still I asked one of the organizers, Dr. Thomas Murphy, which guidelines I should follow. This was a public event in a public space, but I did not want to presume anything. He assured me as long as I don’t take pictures during prayers and would ask individuals who were not dancing for permission I would be good. I decided to err on the side of caution and took only pictures of the crowd or the dances. I had a hard time picking my absolute favorite shot, so I chose one of the adult women dancers, “Over the Rainbow”, and one from the traditional men’s headman special contests, “Fire Bird”. I have to admit that I do not know anything about the symbolisms of the dance costumes in the context of Native Americans and chose those titles intuitively based on my interpretation of the colors and shapes. In my pictures I wanted to capture the movement of the dancers who seemed to fly over the dance floor with power and grace, full of joy and pride, celebrating the diversity of Pacific Northwest Native peoples.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

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)



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.


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…



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.



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

Leave a comment

Filed under anthropology

Isaac @ Le Faux – What Makes A Man A Man

We went to this show in Seattle yesterday evening and this particular performance positively blew me away. I am really glad someone else took this video and shared it on YouTube, even though the picture and sound quality is not the best, so I can share this here on my blog. Of course it resonated with me, what makes us who we are? Our actions, our exterior appearance, other cultural and social markers are all subjective to change. Does that make us more or less of what we are and who is to decide?

Leave a comment

Filed under gender

Justice for all?


The violent death of yet another person with a transgender history is outrageous. In this day and age no woman should not be afraid to walk the streets, especially when they are in company. Yet it happens more often than we are made aware of by the media. The rampant masculine heteronormative supremacy evident in the violent death of Islan Nettles seems to get away with murder… Again and again.

I am not a legal expert, so the intricacies of the way this case is framing the crime committed as a misdemeanor elude me. The structural violence Islan is still subjected to posthumously is upsetting , to say the least. Yes, the case is not closed “The suspect, Paris Wilson, 20, could still be charged with homicide, according to an assistant Manhattan district attorney, but more evidence would be required.” He had her blood on his clothes, witnesses identified him as the attacker. And then someone else claims responsibility, maybe in an attempt to confuse the authorities to get the perpetrator off the hook?

Leave a comment

Filed under anthropology, gender

Respectful journalism is possible


I stumbled on this via Facebook, nowadays one of my primary sources of information besides the NYT and class readings.

What is going on with journalists asking for before and after pictures, old names and surgical procedures? I know the answers, but seriously people, there is so much more to a person’s story than physical details. Be inquisitive and respectful at the same time, how about that for a change. Food for thought

Leave a comment

Filed under gender

School Suspends Teen Boy for Carrying Purse. Why?

I already shared this on Facebook, but this is a good way to start my own blog. What in the world is going on with those school administrators?

Dr. Rebecca Hains

For several weeks, an eighth-grade boy outside of Kansas City has been expressing his individuality by carrying a floral-print Vera Bradley purse. But yesterday, his assistant principal demanded he remove it. The boy refused, and he was immediately suspended from school.

This raises a question: Why is it a problem for a boy to carry a purse instead of a backpack if he wants to? By breaking gender stereotypes, he’s not hurting anyone. Instead, he’s showing the world that he has good self-esteem and self-confidence—that he is secure his identity.

Unfortunately, his school administrators’ actions show that they want to force a 13-year-old kid into stereotypical masculinity. Apparently, they value gender conformity over creativity and individuality.

View original post 290 more words

Leave a comment

Filed under anthropology, gender