Photography as research tool: More engaged Kurdish anthropology
Visual anthropologist Kameel Ahmady has published several new articles at KurdishMedia.com. It looks like he is about to publish a whole book there. It started four weeks ago with part one of Media consumption, conformity and resistance: A visual ethnography of youth culture in Iranian Kurdistan, today we can read part five.
In part three, he tells us more about the way he uses photography to interact with his informants and discuss (tricky) gender issues:
Young women are particularly voiceless, and marginalised or excluded altogether from public spaces. Therefore, photography, and particularly the participatory methods which I incorporated with photography, became a way for the young people this research deals with to reflect on public space in a new way which they may not have done before.
It also was an alternate means of them expressing themselves which was less intimidating and more accessible than simply interviews, which they might not relate to. It gave girls especially a chance to participate in and narrate public space from which they feel excluded. The young adults were encouraged to develop their own themes from what they felt was relevant.
These pictures, taken by young people, have then been exhibited at the Town hall:
These images, about themes relating to community and public space, now on display in public space, revealed understandings of local culture – those of the children – which had previously been obscured from the adult dominated public domain. This allowed the viewers to see their surroundings in new ways, and therefore opened up dialogue between different segments of the population.
From the perspective of young people, the ‘ethnographic meanings’ of the photographs contribute to an understanding of youth culture in Mahabad, not only for me as the ethnographer, but for the wider community. Collier and Collier (1986) have referred to this approach as a specific fieldwork method, ‘photo-essays’: “When the photographic essay has been read by the native, it can become a meaningful and authentic part of the anthropologist’s field notes” (1986:108). Such was the experience of helping to organise and observing the exhibition.
For example, one attendee wrote in the Guest Book for the exhibition:
“This was very interesting. It showed me a different way of seeing the town; the streets we cross every day have a different meaning. It is interesting to see the different vision of Mahabad among the young people. For me, poverty is the thing that comes out most, how they view this theme”
And a few days ago, Kameel Ahmady wrote about the problems of representation at the Kurdish Cultural Heritage Project at a museum in London:
The very admirable idea behind this was to give Kurds in London a sense of belonging and a chance to express their identity, and to make people feel they have been given the chance to contribute to the wider multicultural society in practice. Through the course of this project, some of the community members realised that participation of Kurds was through only a small and select group, as the museum chose to work with one particular community centre and exclude the others. Therefore, even though the aims were good and worthwhile ones which for sure every Kurdish person would support, the vast majority were not given the opportunity to do this or in fact had any knowledge of the work at the Museum