Geography Photographic and Video Methods in Geography
Tim Hall
  • LAST REVIEWED: 11 January 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 11 January 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199874002-0176


Photographic and video methods (often referred to collectively as visual research methods) have undoubtedly gained increased prominence within many social science disciplines since the 1990s. This has also been true within the literatures of human geography, with a number of geographers having either argued for the significance and contributions of photographic and video methods to the discipline or demonstrated this through their research (see General Overviews). Photography and video are used as part of the research process either by the researcher or, in the cases of collaborative visual research methods, with or by the populations being researched. Photographs and video are also used within interviews. There is also a long tradition of geographers sourcing and critically interpreting visual texts such as photographs, films, artworks, advertising media, and newspapers and magazines as sources of data within their inquiries (see Interpreting Visual Sources). The methods employed by geographers have included collaborative and interview approaches (see Photo-Elicitation and Interviewing with Photographs and Collaborative and Participatory Methods), the construction of realist visual surveys (see Visual Surveys and Repeat Photography), and the construction of more impressionistic post-structural visual texts (see Creative and Critical Methods). This recent interest in visual research methods in human geography builds on a long tradition of photography being central to both academic and nonacademic geographic discourses, in the latter cases including those associated with expeditions, colonialism, or tourism (see Interpreting Visual Sources). However, despite these histories, the critical use of visual research methods has failed to become as central to geographical enquiry as it has to other social sciences, where subdisciplines such as visual sociology and anthropology are supported and promoted through well-established associations such as the International Visual Sociology Association and journals such as Visual Anthropology and Visual Studies. However, the direction of travel within geography is toward the more widespread use of visual research methods, and such methods are becoming more central to human geographers’ methodological and analytical tool kits. These research methods can be deployed in a variety of ways and are particularly suited to the collection of visual evidence of how geographic processes unfold across space and how places change through time. They also allow the active engagement of researchers and their subjects in the production and interpretation of visual representations. These methods encourage reflexive engagement with the research process through the reviewing and selection of photographs and other visual imagery created during the research process, and they justify the use of visual materials within research texts.

Key Theoretical Works

Photography, in addition to emerging as an important technology, has been recognized as a key cultural force within modern society, and it has long been the site of reflection for cultural theorists of various stripes. Although many of the pioneering works of photographic theory have been subject to much criticism since their original publication, their influence on shaping critical perspectives on photography across a number of disciplines is undeniable. Students seeking to engage deeply with the issues discussed here, in the contexts of both photography and video, are encouraged to seek out these original theoretical works and to trace their influence on more recent works that are more obviously directly relevant to their own research and practice.

  • Barthes, Roland. Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography. Translated by Richard Howard. London: Vintage, 1993.

    A deeply personal reflection on the nature of photography, originally published in 1980. Barthes was a philosopher and literary theorist influential across a range of disciplines. Camera Lucida was the culmination of a long interest in photography. Although much criticized since, the book is important for its focus on the viewer and the object of photography, rather than the photographer’s intentions.

  • Berger, John. Understanding a Photograph. Edited by Geoff Dyer. London: Penguin, 2013.

    Berger was a pioneering Marxist art critic who saw visual images as reflective of and active in the reproduction of unequal power relations. Understanding a Photograph collects many of Berger’s essays on photography, some previously unpublished.

  • Berger, John, and Jean Mohr. Another Way of Telling: A Possible Theory of Photography. London: Bloomsbury, 2016.

    Berger’s key work on photography, produced with Jean Mohr, a documentary photographer, and first published in 1982. In probing the essence and meaning of photography, they highlight its ambiguity and the contradictory intentions that photographs embody.

  • Sontag, Susan. On Photography. London: Penguin, 1979.

    One of the most influential discussions of photography ever published. The book talks about the power of photography in terms of aesthetics, memory, and its emotional impacts, and as a form of evidence. The essays, which were originally published separately in the New York Review of Books between 1973 and 1977, span the history of photography and its roles in modern society.

  • Tagg, John. The Burden of Representation: Essays on Photographies and Histories. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 1988.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-1-349-19355-4

    A book that traces the multiple histories of photography, traditionally not brought together in this way, as a technology, as art, as documentary, and as professional and amateur practices. The perspective from which it is written combines art history and critical theory, grounding the discussion of photography within its social contexts. Tagg has continued to write on the history of photography since the publication of this book.

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