Visual images are ubiquitous which, inevitably, is part of their appeal and their
difficulty. As is the case with all sensory experience, the process of sight
becomes naturalized for us, and it is easy to forget that how we interpret what
we see is historically and culturally specific (Banks 2001). Similarly, the representations
of what we see are influenced by our historical and cultural perspectives.
In the forms of photographs, video, film, and new electronic media,
these representations increasingly and apparently, often unproblematically,
play a central role in the work of researchers, not just from anthropology, but
also from a range of disciplines. As part of a broader ethnographic methodology,
photography, film, and video have now been embraced by anthropology,
sociologists, cultural studies, media studies, geographers, and other social scientists.
The visual images are present in the form of cultural texts or they represent
aspects of ethnographic knowledge and methodological tools. They can
exist as the basis for the sites of social interaction amongst the informants or
between the researcher and the researched. They can take the form of pre-existing
images, such as television programs or contemporary or archival photographs
and films (Banks 2001). It is hardly surprising, then, that visual
images have become so important to the ethnographic endeavor. Yet, as Mac-
Dougall laments above, relatively little has been written about how best to analyze
and interpret the visual images, not only in anthropology, but indeed, in
all of the social sciences.