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39. Photo methods

 
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Penny Tinkler uses historical and contemporary photos in her research into everyday life.

Photo methods are techniques for producing and working with photos to explore and understand self and society. Penny Tinkler has developed various ways of doing this to shed light on the past and present.

Photo methods are integral to her research on how and why women started smoking in the early twentieth century. Working with early photos of women smokers, Tinkler broke from established ways of viewing these as evidence that some women smoked. She focused instead on what could be learned from why the photos were made and how they were presented and used by women. This new approach shed light on the creation of modern feminine identities and the relationship between smoking, class, gender and respectability.

Insights into how people understand themselves and interpret the social world around them can be gained from using photo methods. Photo-elicitation is particularly useful and involves looking at and discussing photos with a research participant. These can be personal photos, commercial ones or pictures made by the researcher or participant for the research project. Photo-elicitation is used to stimulate people to think and to talk about their experiences, identities, views, feelings and memories.

The relationship between memory and photos is central to Tinkler’s innovative work on using and analysing photo-elicitation. For example, talking to women who were teenagers in the 1950s and 1960s, Tinkler used interviewees’ girlhood photo collections to prompt reflections on the past. Rather than focus only on what the women said about their photos, she also analysed how the women engaged physically and emotionally with their albums. This produced fresh insights into teenage identities, processes of growing up and changing constructions of gender and age.

Further Reading

Penny Tinkler (2013) Using Photographs in Social and Historical Research, Sage.

Penny Tinkler (2006) Smoke Signals: Women, smoking and visual culture, Bloomsbury.

 

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