A photograph is evidence of nothing but itself

Authored by: Craig Bremner , Mark Roxburgh

The Routledge Companion to Design Research

Print publication date:  October  2014
Online publication date:  October  2014

Print ISBN: 9780415706070
eBook ISBN: 9781315758466
Adobe ISBN: 9781317636250


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Design, and more specifically design research, in taking what we call the ethnographic turn, has adopted many research techniques from the allied disciplines of anthropology and sociology. In this chapter we present the case that this turn, while attractive to the discovery of the user and their experience, has occurred with little consideration for the fundamentally different enterprises that are ethnography and design. We look specifically at the use of photo-observation and note that its use is generally premised on the notion that the photograph is evidence. We argue that by viewing the photograph as ethnographic evidence we accept it on its own conditions and consequently it conditions us to see the world-as-is. However, design is concerned with what-might-become, and this conditioning is problematic for it results in the endless reproduction of the here-and-now. With specific reference to one of the author’s research projects we will demonstrate that if we regard the photograph as a form of question we recondition it to be a frame through which we can re-engage in the project of what-might-become.

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