conference paper icon

Multisensory and Interactive Photography:
A New Form of Ethnographic Artefact

Conference: Anthropology and Photography
Location: The British Museum
Panel: Photography, new technologies and the predicament of the frame: theoretical and methodological reflections
Date: June 31st 2014


This paper asserts that photography in ethnographic study could be enriched by digital technologies to become both multisensory and interactive. New fieldwork techniques are proposed that allow for the creation of vivid, emplaced and individualised sensory experiences. These ethnographic artefacts facilitate an in-depth analysis of the relationship between the multisensoriality of experience, the sentient body and cultural phenomena. The theoretical framework for this paper is based upon the synthesis of three disciplines; sensory ethnography, cross-modal perception and environmental psychology. The fieldwork techniques incorporate panoramic photography, interactive authoring and binaural audio recording.

Building upon the foundational work of Sarah Pink and appropriating James J. Gibson’s belief that “The single, frozen field of view provides only impoverished information about the world” (1986), the resulting artefacts are navigable multisensory environments. These artefacts offer greater proximity to the subject of study (Schneider, 2008), "bring forth qualities of the material world that would otherwise be left behind in conventional forms of inscription" (Witmore, 2004) and create “a repeatable event for study purposes” (Schafer, 1973).

These new fieldwork techniques are currently being implemented in an ethnographic study of Temple Works, a Grade I listed building in the south of Leeds. Originally constructed as a flax mill and once featuring the largest single room in the world, the building is now a cultural venue supporting a diverse community of artists, performers and musicians.


This was my first ever conference paper and, I have to say, I was rather nervous! I knew I could deliver a clear and concise talk but, having never presented the Experience Temple Works project to an academic audience before, I was concerned that any number of my arguments might be challenged. The fact that my paper could be considered somewhat polemical, challenging the longstanding dominance of vision in ethnographic practice, and that I was approaching the subject from outside the discipline of anthropology did not help my nerves.

However, the presentation was actually a great success. The majority of questions from the attendees were in relation to my paper and, although some of my arguments were interrogated, it was clear that the response was overwhelmingly positive.

I learned a huge amount from the experience, not only regarding the processes of submitting conference proposals and presenting papers, but also regarding my argument that new technological methods might contribute to the creation of ethnographic knowledge. The discussant for the panel opened his response with a somewhat stark warning regarding the dangers of "technological determinism" (undoubtedly aimed at the thrust of my argument) and this became a recurring theme in my subsequent conference panels. Although I was a little perturbed by this criticism at the time, I have since learned to be very grateful for the experience. As Chapter 4 of the thesis reflects, the discussant's comments have served as an enduring reminder not to engage with particular technologies simply because the possibility exists and to provide a strong rationale for the adoption of specific technologies within my research. However, it is possible that this response to my work might be more indicative of anthropological conservatism than any specific problems with the validity of my argument.

It was also fantastic to meet the panel convenors, Paolo Favero and Luc Pauwels from the University of Antwerp. We subsequently collaborated on other successful conference proposals and the excellent work of both of these scholars is cited within the thesis.