We live in a Visual Age, the age of Instagram, Facebook, Flickr, smartphone selfies.
More images have been taken in the last 12 months than in the whole of history to date. 350 million photos are uploaded to Facebook on average every day (243,055 new photos every minute).
Images are now arguably the dominant cultural medium.
But research is still very much in the Linguistic Age; we are rather word-bound. When we do use visuals it is often in a rather lazy way, grabbing stills from Google to support what we say. I would bet that, in the average research project, most of our time and attention is devoted to words and very little to images.
What if we turned this around? What if a research project paid as much attention to pictures as to words? What if we took a photographic approach to research?
For the ESOMAR Congress in Dublin I worked with Dr Nick Coates and Akzo Nobel (of Dulux fame) on an experimental project to explore the potential business value of photography-as-research.
Colour is particularly important to Akzo Nobel, for obvious reasons. We focused on one customer segment who are confident in creative matters, but are often overlooked on the basis that 'they don't need help' from the likes of AN.
We had two main questions:
– What does colour mean to them: how do they use it, how does it affect them?
– Does having a photographer’s approach and mindset help in research?
INNOVATIVE METHOD: THE 'SEEING INTERVIEW'
We designed a new, hybrid approach we called the Seeing Interview, a combination of ethnography (observing, in situ) and an interview (spoken conversation). We were looking and listening, following what we saw and what we heard. We rejected the discussion guide in favour of a fluid, person-led, fragmentary approach. We created the narrative around the images.
'Cubist' approach: embracing subjectivity and creative interpretation
There is an established connection between research and photojournalism. So we wanted to embrace this but also to explore other photographic styles to create multiple perspectives and to understand our subject-matter from every angle – a kind of 'Cubist' approach. We embraced subjectivity, by trying to engage our own style and subjectivity as photographers, as well as that of our participants.
Meet our participants
Cathy: single mum, lives with her irrepressible 10-year old son.
Heidi: business consultant by day. Candle obsessive at night.
Sarah: event organiser on maternity leave, pop art and Elle Deco fan.
Karen: jewellery importer, all flowing dresses and 1960s values.
What did we find out?
More in part 2.