PHOTOGRAPHY METHODOLOGY IN COMMUNITY RESEARCH – JANUARY 2014
This paper reflects on photography as a research methodology, particularly in the context of social research in the community sector. Photography has a long history as a method for research in the social sciences but its uses and popularity have fluctuated throughout time. Over the last two decades, however, it has experienced a resurgence in both academic and applied research contexts.
Photography methodology has long been used to undertake research on community life, especially research into marginalised or disadvantaged groups, or social practices we might know little about. But more recently, documenting the work of community-based projects or programs in creative ways is also generating interest among community practitioners. According to Haviland (2004 : 10) visual methods as a research tool is important in terms of engaging “participants and community members in contributing their expertise and interests and in learning new skills”; providing “information relevant to specific community needs and so increases ownership by the community of the work being conducted in the project”; and it is a “source of ‘interesting’ information and reports about a project which can be used in government and policy.” There are, however, issues that emerge from data generated through photography that equally challenge its promise as a source of research evidence.
This paper aims to provide a brief background to photography methodology – its varying forms, and its weaknesses and strengths. As a point of reflection, the paper also presents a case study of WESTIR research that applied photography methodology in the program evaluation of an NGO disability service provider.