Professor Ben Carrington invited me to Austin to give a lecture and a workshop on visual sociology at the University of Texas Sociology Department (in March 2014). Such a great experience. Preparing for the lecture made me read properly Susan Sontag, Roland Barthes and John Berger on photography. I also read Prof Les Back‘s great article on Bourdieu’s photography and Prof bell hooks‘ chapter on black family photos. I should have looked again at Prof Stuart Hall’s work on representation, and this interesting interview he did specifically on photography.
Les Back has persuasively argued that sociology is, or should be ‘a listening art’. Rather cursorily, in my lecture I suggested as well as listening, we add smelling, feeling, (obviously we are supposed to be thinking all the time), and looking. Photography should help us start start building what I called ‘sensuous sociology’. Afterwards, in a conversation with Maggie Tate, the sociology grad student who had done so much to prepare for my visit, I recalled the young Karl Marx writing about the sensuousness of human practice.
In the lecture, I mainly used photos I’d taken on a recent holiday in India (all the time thinking about this, and looking for items to photograph to use in the presentation). It’s really an extended slide show, and you can download the slides from here. There’s a lot of text to go with them. I got a bit carried away with Susan Sontag, but she writes so well, and so effectively.
At the workshop the following day, nine graduate students in the sociology/ethnography workshop run by Professor Javier Auyero presented photographs they’d taken according to a brief I’d prepared. Really impressive work was discussed in some detail. And we were highly privileged to have a presentation from UT’s journalism school, Professor Donna de Cesare. Donna is a highly experienced photo-journalist and some of her work (and a link to her recent book) can be seen here.
Donna’s photos, and her commentary, really showed us how we could up our game as visual sociologists. Treating photos seriously as important aspects of communication, rather than simply adding them into our texts as an aside, will help us form a sensual sociology, particularly when the photos capture human feeling, or demonstrate its absence.
Then I went to Albuquerque to visit, and photograph, the locations for Breaking Bad. That’s another story that might appear on this website.
Some of my photographs from the workshop:
Above middle: Ben Carrington on the Caribbean Cricket Club in Leeds, UK.
Bottom: Donna de Cesare on war and violence in Central America.