Grounding Visual Sociology Research in Shooting Scripts
Charles S. Suchar
Shooting scripts can be a useful means by which to integrate visual representations of social realities into academic analysis. In visual field projects, shooting scripts can unite theory-based research with documentary photography. This strategy is used by photojournalists and sociologists alike when studying the ethnographic or cultural characteristics of a particular community. Charles Suchar, the author, used shooting scripts to investigate three years of gentrification and cultural changes in Lincoln Park, Chicago.
The documentary potential of photography can be best explained using the interrogatory principle. This is an interactive process where questions are formed and then either answered or expanded upon through the use of photographs. The two methods that can be used when expanding on a subject include photo-elicitation and shooting scripts. Photo-elicitation is a method of using photographs to guide interviews pertaining to the social or cultural realities of an individual’s life. The shooting script method lists topics for research that can be studying through photographic analysis. The interrogatory principle is most commonly used in field studies in Visual Sociology.
This branch of Sociology requires the application of a particular method known as photographic seeing. Photographic seeing involves the ability to distinguish patterns, features, and details from photographic data. These patterns materialize themselves through material culture, characteristics of a particular community, and behavior of particular individuals in this community. Documentary photography functions as a systematic means to draw insight into a sociological analysis. Shooting scripts work as a guide for sociological seeing by visually grounding abstractive and conceptual information. Shooting scripts are never constant, however. In order to function effectively, they need to be constructed and revised on a daily basis. This revision allows for the field worker to perform a more sensitive analysis of their field work and recognize barely perceptible patterns.
Specifically, shooting scripts are used in documentary projects to develop a series of questions for analysis. This method was most famously used by photojournalists and documentary photographers in the Farm Security Administration staff of the 1930s and 1940s. The particular methodology behind the use of shooting scripts by the FSA was developed by economist, Roy E. Strykers. Shooting scripts are an ideal means by which to integrate grounded theory field methods and photographic data collection due to their complementary nature.
The initial shooting script is formulated after the field worker develops a general understanding of the subject matter through background research. This new knowledge allows for the framing of general questions, direction for further inquiry, and the discovery of answers through photographic means. In the example given by Suchar, the initial shooting script in his study of the gentrification of Lincoln Park was to take inventory of the local commercial establishments based on questions such as:
What variety of stores or businesses are to be found in different market strips, located in different areas of the community?
What do they sell or what services do they provide?
Who are the customers or clients who are served by these establishments? Are they locals or people from outside the neighborhood?
Who works, owns, or manages these establishments?
Over three months of this particular study, the records that Suchar kept included logs, descriptive narratives, and open coding for each narrative. These descriptive narratives were essential to generate a conceptual understanding of the information that was collected through the documentary photographs. Once this conceptual understanding was developed, it was then refined by forming connections between events, statements, and observations in the data. Open coding of these narratives allowed for comparisons to be made between a variety of categories. These categories included social class, gender type, and racial characteristics of the workers and clientele in each commercial establishment. Once this had been completed, new categories and theoretical understandings were generated that brought the researcher closer to the answers that he was seeking.
The next step in shooting scripts research methodology is axial or focused coding. This branch of coding prompts the field worker to reorganize the data by selecting a new core category, validating the relationships between existing categories, and refining or developing these categories further. This step encourages analytical and descriptive interpretations of visual data that are used to lead the researcher to abstract theoretical understandings. An example of these procedures used in Suchar’s work included the insights that he developed pertaining to the style of gentrification in Lincoln Park. He concluded that the most noticeable changes in this community were material cultural changes, renovations to property, and the addition of urban romantic artwork. These changes revealed the shift of deeper values held by the alternative social class. The photographic research of gentrification revealed evidence of a Victorian sense of style in the painting, metal work, and iconography on recently renovated properties. The values of the these Urban Romantics were reflected in material changes to the community. This material culture placed particular emphasis on the use of iconography to make a statement concerning their value sets and core ideology.
“The iconography of gentrification develops as a language to communicate to others that a certain style and taste have been assumed by the property owner or leasee. It becomes part of the presentation of self, part of the communication of class culture and neighborhood identification. Woven together are personal and social needs that reflect the transformation of values and resident characteristics (48).”
The conclusions that Suchar reached would not have been possible, however, without interviews with residents in this community. The interviewees helped the researcher to adapt the correct interpretation of the relationship that the residents have to their environment. Suchar interviewed fifty residents and families within the community. He used photo-elicitation interview techniques to guide these individuals into revealing more about what they perceive to be their cultural and social realities. Their relationship to their environment was defined by attributes such as the “material presentation of self” and “socially self-conscious.” Ultimately, this step in the research process was an invaluable method used to gain a thorough understanding of the social characteristics of residents in Lincoln Park. These characteristics included their underlying beliefs, community identification, and general resident behaviors.
The integration of methodologies used in this field research study allowed for results with a high degree of practical, philosophical, and theoretical unity. The use of shooting scripts and a grounded theory approach improved the economy of work, acuity of vision, and conceptual focus of this project. The documentary process adapted interrogatory and interactive qualities that allowed for deeper insights when seeking answers in the field. It was deducted by Suchar that the combination of shooting scripts with the grounded theory approach ”... allows documentary photography to be integrated both theoretically and practically with other forms of qualitative methodology and fieldwork training and practice (53).”