Essay on visual anthropology

Year 2017
Location Aarhus, Denmark
Collaboration Aarhus University
About epistemology, visual anthropology
Methods interviews with photo and film camera


As part of a course on Visual Anthropology at the University of Aarhus, I conducted brief field work in Godsbanen, a creative development area in Aarhus. While using photography and film I struggled to understand at what point I was doing visual anthropology. How is this different from what an average photographer or filmmaker tries to do in his work? Or a photojournalist? Not only does visual anthropology have to generate knowledge in order to be appreciated as science, the visual also needs to generate a different kind of knowledge than the non-visual. If it was simply science by other (more beautiful) means, then this would not say anything about its complementarity to other disciplines. Therefore I wrote a paper called “Doors to Knowledge”, discussing what distinct kind of knowledge is generated through visual anthropology.

Fieldwork in Godsbanen

For the fieldwork I took the concept of a door as an interview technique. I walked around Godsbanen with a (film)camera, knocked on doors and asked the simple question: “could you tell me what is behind this door?” The door became the protagonist in the story; defining place and policing space. The results of the field work came together in a very short video. This was a way to experience what it means to do research into people’s lives using a (film)camera. I reflected on this in the final paper.

Reflecting on knowledge

The paper consists of four chapters, following the different phases in (visual) research: collecting data, analysing data, justifying findings and sharing findings. It concludes that the difference with written language, is that the camera can capture multiple realities that exist simultaneously in our lives, in our worlds. Just like any language however one has to be literate in order to use visual language. The fieldwork in Godsbanen, exercises, feedback, conversations with others and with myself, have been a way to practise this language. The paper is both a product and a mirror image of that effort. In the  writing process I went back and forth between seeing and thinking and I aimed to create a similar experience for the reader by including different media in the paper.

Disappearing doors