The visual vernacular: embracing photographs in research

Anna MacLeod
Jennifer Cleland
Soort article
Original Research
Health professions research,
Visual data,
Verscheen in

The increasing use of digital images for communication and interaction in everyday life can give a new lease of life to photographs in research. In contexts where smartphones are ubiquitous and many people are “digital natives”, asking participants to share and engage with photographs aligns with their everyday activities and norms more than textual or analogue approaches to data collection. Thus, it is time to consider fully the opportunities afforded by digital images and photographs for research purposes. This paper joins a long-standing conversation in the social science literature to move beyond the “linguistic imperialism” of text and embrace visual methodologies. Our aim is to explain the photograph as qualitative data and introduce different ways of using still images/photographs for qualitative research purposes in health professions education (HPE) research: photo-documentation, photo-elicitation and photovoice, as well as use of existing images. We discuss the strengths of photographs in research, particularly in participatory research inquiry. We consider ethical and philosophical challenges associated with photography research, specifically issues of power, informed consent, confidentiality, dignity, ambiguity and censorship. We outline approaches to analysing photographs. We propose some applications and opportunities for photographs in HPE, before concluding that using photographs opens up new vistas of research possibilities.


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