Collier, J., & Collier, M. (1986). Visual anthropology: Photography as a research method (Revised and expanded Edition). Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press.


As the Colliers are seen as key representatives of photography as research method I could not overlook this book. Although it dates from 1986 it is still very readable and applicable today. The Colliers worked within the cultural or social anthropological perspective with a special interest in the visual, using photographs to systematically collect data of people’s social behaviour. Collier captured an enormous amount of photographs during the fieldwork and because of the extended representation of aspects concerning everyday social life he addressed it as ‘cultural inventory’ (p. 45). Such an inventory does not only show a wide range of artifacts, but can also demonstrate their relationship to each other such as imperceptible values, behaviour and personality. Major topics in this book in relation to my research include: Interviewing with Photographs (Sec. 8), Principles of Visual Research (Sec. 14), Analysis of Still and Moving Images (Sec. 15 and 16) and Finding Patterns and Meaning (Sec. 17).

Regarding interviewing with photographs we see that Collier as researcher has a role as photographer and interviewer. To my opinion the role of the researcher becomes too pronounced in this way or risks going native. With his examples Collier emphasizes that photographs give the interview unprecedented dynamism and that it is important to repeat the interview a second or even a third time. Photographs generate a spontaneous conversation and generally provide rich information about people, relationships, processes, locations and artifacts. Collier catches spontaneity in a structured interview and raises the question whether or not in such a case spontaneity is genuine or rather, provoked. Collier is convincing about the power of the photograph which can provide quick intensive knowledge of the group studied. Quick and intensive is also the challenge I have chosen, as the organisation under study is not in a position to facilitate my research for a period of time, which traditional anthropological research demands. When discussing the principles of visual research Collier presents some practical tips which are broken down into three categories: Where do we begin? What do we do? And how do we conclude? Collier stated that a researcher should just start somewhere and from there expand the number of relations to collect the desired information. When taking photographs systematically the need arises to review the photograph in terms of what can be seen and researched. The photograph can only be analyzed if it is complete and sequentially organized. Cultural phenomena ought to be studied in their context and if it is not we speak of identification. This is often the case when a photographer only takes snapshots. Collier presents a basic model for analyses that consists of four stages: starting with intensively observing the data as a whole and then making an inventory in the context of the research. Thereafter structured analyses need to be performed. In the last stage conclusions are to be formulated. All in all this is a very readable book that definitely contributed to my thinking about photography as a research method within an organizational setting. I realize that I have to balance/discuss the time spent in the organization. Besides also the necessity of taking more than one photograph of the same subject is no option whereas my participants are completely free to photograph whatever they like. I called this my snapshot-problem, meaning that I have to deal with a possible identification – signification difficulty.