Photo/stories from the field: the photo-camera has a video function!

Early in the research we provided each child with an inexpensive digital photographic camera to use as part of the data production. The idea was that children would make pictures of their everyday, as well as pictures of things that matter to them – the idea that was driving most of our data collection activities with our interlocutors during the ethnographic fieldwork. The cameras however were theirs to keep and we were very clear about how they are free to make a personal use of the camera independently of the research and how they would always choose which pictures they want to give us and which ones they prefer to keep for themselves. The photographic method has proved to be a very rich source of data and has led us, among other things, to think, reflect and tremendously expand our understanding of children’s everyday life and things that matter to them. The pictures they took led to countless discussions, thinking and experiments as well as to three photographic exhibitions, a book and a rich archive of children’s photographs. Providing the children with a camera however also had a pretty unexpected twist: the video function.

Although we didn’t specifically mention when we presented the cameras and its functions to our interlocutors, most of the children found out pretty soon that their cameras could record video as well. And since then we have been viewing and receiving all sorts of video creations from our interlocutors. We are still thinking about if/how to use some of these videos, which additionally cover a pretty wide array of genres and styles. In Athens, there are ‘YouTube’ videos made by a couple of children, in which they present objects, toys, their siblings and so on, to an imagined audience. Similarly, there are a sort of video diaries made by a child interlocutor, in which she describes her day to day life. A child used it to conduct interviews among her peers at school. Then, some of the children used the camera to create fiction films with their friends and/or siblings – mostly action films. And some interlocutors used it to document events – such as school plays, or their siblings’ sports performances. All these uses, as well as the very fact that children decided to record and share with us videos, has gotten us thinking both about what to do with this, as well as about unexpected encounters with children’s agency. And then, there was another one, rather particular and pretty inventive use of video, by Natasa, a girl of eight in Athens.

Natasa, having found out that the camera can record video, came up with this idea: She secretly recorded cartoons on TV, during the time that she was allowed to watch each day, and then past her bed time she was secretly re-watching the recorded cartoons in her bed! Her mother told me about it a time we met – and she told me with a shy and unsure smile, ‘struggling’ between feeling proud for her daughter’s idea and being the parent who has scolded her daughter for her deed. I was thinking how the idea and the deed may be two separate things as far as parenting is concerned – the former connoting a pretty inventive mind and the latter a disobedient body. When a bit later that day I was with Natasa in her room and she told me about the same incident, of her secret cartoons recordings with her camera, she had a full proud and shiny smile on her face, and I couldn’t help but mirror that smile on my own.

Any thoughts?

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