Academic journal article Electronic Journal of Business Research Methods

Uncovering Hidden Meanings, Values and Insights through Photos

Academic journal article Electronic Journal of Business Research Methods

Uncovering Hidden Meanings, Values and Insights through Photos

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

This paper explores the use of photographs (photos) in business research methods and highlights how they have enriched the research process in each instance. Photographs have been used as a means of data capture for many years. Their use in recording observable phenomenon in anthropology is well documented and the benefits derived from their use means they also provide a valuable tool for researchers from other disciplines (Stanczak 2007). Indeed, photographs have been used as visual projective techniques in a variety of disciplines, including marketing (Soley 2006), tourism (Jenkins 1999) and education (Kaplan and Howes 2004; Loeffler 2005). Consumer researchers have used photographs to investigate attachment to 'favourite things? (Wallendorf and Arnould 1988), 'Thanksgiving rituals? (Wallendorf and Arnould 1991) and 'home and interior design? (Firth 1995). Firth?s (1995) study used respondent generated photographs to examine place attachment. In this case, the results of a free-sorting task were analysed by the Repertory Grid Technique (Kelly 1963), which is useful in uncovering respondents? values and meanings when asked to explain choices made between objects (e.g. photographs), particularly in difficult to articulate situations. The technique has been used to explore perceived value and value that was latent in direct question interviews (Gutman 1991, Zeithaml 1988). Consequently, this technique has been used in two of the three studies discussed in this paper.

To explore the benefits and disadvantages offered by photographs used in research, three diverse studies are reviewed, including an analysis of visible face makeup; a study on place attachment in a rural community using farmers and town respondents; and finally, a study into international students? perceptions of the home environment. Each study is outlined, followed by a discussion of the common benefits and problems associated with Photoelicitation techniques.

2. Study 1: Analysis of visible face makeup

The purpose of this study was to gain insights into why women wear make-up. It explored how visible face-make-up affects the way women consume appearance in everyday life, how they feel about themselves, and the role make-up played in their perception and image of self. It utilised a phenomenological methodology to explore this everyday behaviour.

Adopting this methodology, the study used a combination of qualitative techniques including observation, in-depth interviews and photoelicitation as an auto-driver. In line with existential phenomenological principle, the study used these techniques to explore the symbolic nature of face makeup and the emotional dimension that it represents to women. By including photoelicitation, it was possible to explore this emotional dimension further and gain a clearer interpretation of the experiences and dialogue that was captured in the data.

In this study respondents were provided with a disposable camera and asked to take 4 (four) photographs of themselves with an emphasis on face and shoulder shots during the following different consumer behaviour activities:

* A night out or special occasion.

* Work or normal daily activity throughout the week.

* Relaxing at home on day off.

* Shopping (Groceries).

In addition, they were all asked to take 4 (four) photos, or find a newspaper/magazine clipping of someone, who they perceived to be 'different? from themselves and someone they considered to be similar or the same as themselves. The purpose of this was so that attributes of self-identity could be further explored through understanding these differences and similarities (Woodward 1997). This facilitated the repertory grid technique ensuring a range of the photographs could be sorted.

The camera was then returned to the researcher who developed the photos and set up a time with the respondent for an in-depth interview to discuss them. Interviews were conducted with participants in a setting that was convenient and conducive for candid and open exchange. …

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