Photographs in Social Research; The Residents of South London Road

Chaplin, Elizabeth (2002). Photographs in Social Research; The Residents of South London Road. Everyday Cultures Working Papers 2; Pavis Centre for Social and Cultural Research, Faculty of Social Sciences, The Open University, Milton Keynes.


The paper displays the tension between two current and common theoretical approaches to the analogue photographic image, by treating the same set of photographs as both ‘made’ and ‘found’; as both record and as interpretation. This is done via a research project in which I photographed the residents of each house in my own street - South London Road - and then asked the residents to provide a caption for their photograph. The images and captions are laid out in this paper and each set is briefly analyzed with reference to my field notes and, where appropriate, to Erving Goffman’s Gender Advertisements (1979), and to Stuart Hall’s Representation: Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices (1997) ‘The Determination of News Photographs’ in S. Cohen & J. Young (eds.) The Manufacture of News. Social Problems, Deviance and the Mass Media (1973/4). The paper has two foci. While I argue that analogue photographic images do record, and that the South London Road photographs provide data about everyday life in our area which words alone would be unable to achieve, I also chart the early careers of these photographs’ meanings. In so doing, I explore both the power of the photographic record and the way that photographic meaning is determined by context. Goffman’s work is briefly analyzed to explore the compatibility or otherwise of these two theoretical approaches.

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