Let’s consider this picture below from our dataset of
a little boy looking upwards in awe at something . What has
he seen? Whose arm is on the right of the image? How does
he feel? Who has taken this image and why? It is also a very
aesthetic image, suggesting something about the sense of wonder
and – perhaps - innocence of childhood. Are we supposed
to read it this way? None of these questions can be answered
by this image alone.
Now, let’s see the image in the context of other photographs
taken before and after .
If we follow the entire sequence of images it is now clearer
what is going on. The arm belongs to a woman, probably the
boy’s mother. They are both engaged in trying to do
something on a tall, tube-like exhibit at what is recognisably
a science centre. The complete sequence gives a chronological
context to the image, allowing us to make sense of it as a
series of actions. There is a narrative: a beginning, middle
and end. The sense of wonder on the boy’s face is now
understood as something rather different than before: he has
been watching and doing something with his mother that at
a certain moment has resulted in him feeling excited and/or
But still we are unsure of what exactly is going on. What
is the nature of the interaction between the boy and his mother?
What is the exhibit designed to do? What have they managed
If we now look at the fieldnote made by the researcher at
the time of taking the photographs, things become a little
Researcher: "I take photos of other people using the
[hydrogen rocket]. I note that the smaller the visitor the
more effort they have to put in. One woman starts to use
the exhibit with one hand, but realises that she is not
generating enough energy. She puts her coat down then grasps
handle with both hands. Her son joins her. She points something
out to him. I move closer to hear what she is saying. She
is telling him to watch the number. After she has fired
the rocket the son asks if he can have a go."
We now know what the exhibit is, that the mother is explaining
something to the child, and we also gain a sense of why the
pictures were taken. The fieldnotes ‘anchor’ the
image and make its empirical significance clearer, i.e. as
the record of a piece of data.