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Composing Visual Narratives

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  • CHAPTER1 1

    Composing a VisualNarrativeInquiryHedy Bach

    Figure11.1 FieldTextsinMyPictureWindow.SOURCE.ReprintedwithpermissionofHedyBach.NOTE:This image isthefirstcameraworksfromaparticipant intheMotherEarthChildren'sCharterSchoolinquiryasIbegintowritephotographicfieldtexts.

  • NarrativeBeginningsAlice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank, and having nothing to do: once or twice she had peeped into the book her sister was reading, but it had no pictures and conversations in it, "and what is the use of a book," thought Alice, "without pictures or conversations?"

    Carroll, 1955, p. 3 What use is a book without pictures and conversations, what use is research without image and story? Being a visual narrative inquirer is not so much about what I do. For me, it is a way of "being" in my world: beingliving a life, not just doing a life. Seeing is a way of being in relation with people, nature, and self. Being a visual narrative inquirer involves an active process of photographing my life and is a nat-ural way for me to hold an experience. As a visual learner with deep roots, I love the mystery of narrative inquirythe mystery of simultaneously inquiring while living a life narratively, a being that engages fully with the senses of the body and the mind. Being truly mindful has meant seeing my heart as "a living museum" (Ackerman, 1994, p. 336), and in each of its galleries, there are both open and closed doors and doors that need to be opened to fully understand an experience. In this chapter, I attempt to be "fully present" and, with "warm heart" and "still emptiness," to hear and see possibilities not yet lived. I recognize that nothing in life is any more permanent or secure than an ocean wave. I am always riding the crest of a wave. To try to hold on to anything is to pursue an impossible illusion of security. When I accept the truth of this impermanence, I realize that all boundaries are human constructs imposed on the unpredictable, and therefore uncontrollable, process of reality. In my experience, visual narrative inquiry begins in mystery.


    In coming to a definition of visual narrative inquiry, I draw on my experiences, my personal practical knowledge (Connelly & Clandinin, 1988) informed by both my lived and told stories and by the theories of other scholars. My knowing of what it means to learn, to construct knowledge, is that the visual is important. Following from this, visual narrative inquiry is an intentional, reflective, active human process in which researchers and participants explore and make meaning of experience both visually and narratively. I see experience as an undivided continuous transaction or interaction between human beings and their environments that includes not only thought but also feeling, doing, suffering, handling, and perceiving (Dewey, 1938). As I turn to consider what I mean by researchers and participants making meaning of their experiences visually in visual narrative inquiry, I draw on the work of Clandinin and Connelly (2000), who note that "experience happens narratively" (p. 19). By narrative inquiry, they note that arguments for the development and use of narrative inquiry come out of a view of human experience in which humans, individually and socially, lead storied lives. People shape their daily lives by stories

  • of who they and others are and as they interpret their past in terms of these stories. Story, in the current idiom, is a portal through which a person enters the world and by which their experience of the world is interpreted and made personally meaningful. Looked at this way narrative is the phenomenon studied in inquiry. Narrative inquiry, the study of experience as story, then, is first and foremost a way of thinking about experience. Narrative inquiry as a methodology entails a view of the phenomenon. To use narrative inquiry methodology is to adopt a particular view of experience as phenomenon under study. (Connelly & Clandinin, 2006, p. 375)

    Following this, narrative inquiry is a form of narrative experience. My work is also informed by theorists such as Bateson (1990, 1994) for learning along the way; Heilbrun (1988), Dillard (1982, 1989), and Sarton (1959) for writing a life; Freeman and Brockmeier (2001) and Freeman (2002) for identity and selfhood via \ autobiographical narrative; Haug (1987) and Morrison (1987) for memory work; Jaggar (1994) and Jaggar and Bordo (1989) for recognition of the body; Ackerman (1990, 1994) for sensory knowing; and feminist theorists such as Irigaray (1985), Cixous (1994), and Le Dceuff (1989, 1991) for desires involved in the aesthetic.

    Visual narrative inquiry allows another layer of meaning to narrative inquiry. Experience as a whole includes all that is experienced as well as the experiencer and the way he or she experiences. Experience differs from person to person; each undergoes and acts and reacts differently. Each has a different "angle of vision" that touches on a common world. This angle of vision is an important component of visual narrative inquiry. There are no static categories of understanding or static forms of perceptionone perception leads to another perception.

    While at one level experience is an individual process, on another level experiences overlap. Our experiences are always our own, but they are shaped by the social, cultural, and institutional narratives in which individuals are embedded. We compose our own experiences, but others shape our experiences and so there is much that is shared. What individuals have in common is the basis of shared meaning. As individuals compose their lives, they tell stories of those experiences, and one of the ways in which individuals tell their stories is through the photographs that they take and through the photographs that others take of them. As pho-tographs and stories are shared, resonance across stories becomes apparent, and what might be seen as old common ground is revealed, even as new common ground among persons is created. Photographs, whether those of common places, of common events, or of unique events, are a way of sharing experiencesthe everydayness of lived experience.

    I begin my narrative inquiries with my passion and understanding of the influence of the place of still photography within narrative inquiry. I have seen the possibility for narrative inquirers and participants to take pictures of their lived experiences over months and many conversations. Just as Dewey (1934) intends to "recover the continuity of esthetic experience with normal processes of living" (p. 16), I believe the photographs participants take have an "everyday ordinariness" to showing how they are composing their storied lives and stories of those lives.

    As I worked through my stories of experience that involve the "active process" of composing a life in and through photography, I learned that visual narrative inquiry allows me, as autobiographical narrative inquirer and as narrative inquirer in relation with others, to add layers of meaning to stories lived and told. Photographs positioned within the process of visual narrative inquiry become more than photographs or stories. They add one to the other. Working within a relational method of narrative inquiry I became aware of the intentionality, the negotiated, and the recursive nature of how visuality enriches the "three-dimensional narrative inquiry space" (Clandinin & Connelly, 2000, p. 50). Visuality refers to the

  • socialization of vision: "this socialization is a network of cultural meanings generated from various discourses that shape the social practices of vision" (Walker, 2005, p. 24). Within this space I move backward and forward with words and with images and visualize how and where those words and photographs are located. According to Clandinin and Connelly (2000) these dimensions are directions or avenues to be pursued in narrative inquiry.


    Working within the three-dimensional space of narrative inquiry as a researcher means that I have met myself in the past, the present, and the future as I tell remembered stories as well as current stories. As I lived alongside participants in various narrative inquiries, I came to see that telling stories of who we each are, and who we are becoming, offers possible plotlines for the futures as we tell and retell stories (Clandinin & Connelly, 2000). Building on my experience, I was drawn to the work of Weiser, a psychologist whose practice includes working with phototherapy techniques. Along with Weiser (1975, 1988, 1993), I was introduced to the work of Spence (1986, 1995), Spence and Holland (1991), and Ziller (1990) as ways of exploring visuality within narrative inquiry. Through a workshop with Weiser, 1 began to learn how phototherapy techniques might inform my work as a visual narrative inquirer. I saw and felt firsthand how Weiser's techniques with still photography evoked feelings and emotions quickly. As I adapted Weiser's work with still photography to my research work, I learned that people enjoy composing their lives through photography and that people have stories to tell and retell about the images they create. Drawing on the notion of temporality, we are not only concerned with life as it is experienced in the here and now but also with life as it is experienced on a continuumpeople's lives, institutional lives, lives of things (Clandinin & Connelly, 2000, p. 19).


    Experience is the organic intertwining of living human beings and their natural and built environment. For Dewey (1934), human beings are not "subjects" or "isolated individuals" who have to build bridges to go over to other human beings or the things of nature; human beings are originally and contin