Photographer/Researcher: Notes from the Field of Faith
Keywords:Religion, belief, photography, research methods, urban environment
AbstractThis paper focuses on the unique methodology employed in the photographic project ‘“Under Gods”: Stories from Soho Road’. It looks at the photographer as a researcher who sees and draws upon the evolving relationship between themselves, their subjects and the urban environment - in this case the city of Birmingham, UK. This leads to a discussion of the process of fieldwork recently undertaken in Paris, which uses a written phenomenological methodology in contrast to image- and sequence-based commentary mobilized in the Birmingham research. Drawing on everyday ‘field’ experience, this paper describes the logistics of visual and theoretical research design in complex urban settings, elaborating in particular upon the process of engaging intimately with individuals and communities on the sensitive and ambiguous subjects of faith and religion. The comparative research analyses the environments and experiences of diasporic urban faith communities living within close proximity in small geographical areas in Paris and Birmingham. This paper considers the notions of knowledge and knowledge exchange in terms of both fieldwork experiences and their resulting outputs. In so doing, it demonstrates that while more expressive research methods may encounter obstacles of subjective bias they also have the potential to offer audiences and researchers deeper insights into both the subject matter and the complex process of engaged visual and sensory research. This suggests the need to rethink certain categories of anthropological knowledge in light of understandings that may be accessible through more embodied research methods and expressive data.