Seeing Patterns on the Ground: Reflections on Field-based Photography

van Duppen, Jan (2020). Seeing Patterns on the Ground: Reflections on Field-based Photography. Open Arts Journal, Winter(9) pp. 71–90.




This paper reflects on field-based photography practices that are informed by the ‘shooting script’ approach and its potential for social science and design researchers to analyse urban spaces. By discussing an ethnographic study of allotment, community and guerrilla gardeners in London, it examines the shooting script in conjunction with grounded theory as a way of structuring the use of photography in fieldwork and analysis. The paper critiques the methodological underpinnings of the shooting script and reframes it as a performed embodied practice of documentation, interpretation and translation. Following on, it suggests finding ways to include self-reflections in publications. Dispersed throughout the paper, images and captions provide an insight into the research process and they evidence the potential of this visual methodology – when triangulated with participant observation and interviews – for analysing the distinctive patterning on the ground produced by gardeners and drawing out the ambiguities involved in their spatial boundary-making practices. Furthermore, the paper discusses the implications of moving from analogue to digital photography in fieldwork, and how the navigations between virtual and material technologies consulted during analysis co-constitute research outcomes. It continues by arguing that the notion of a ‘script’ might be too rigidly interpreted and proposes instead to nurture openness towards the accidental and contingent in fieldwork and analysis.

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