Analysing and Interpreting Participants' Photographs of a Mental Health Hospital

Wednesday, July 16, 2014: 6:30 PM
Room: 313+314
Oral Presentation
Ellie BYRNE , Cardiff Institute of Society, Health and Well-Being, Cardiff University, Cardiff, United Kingdom
In this paper I reflect upon the analysis and interpretation of 377 photographs taken by research participants in my PhD study. Service users and staff in a mental health hospital were asked to use disposable cameras to show what they thought of their surroundings. The aim of the study was to explore the contribution of photography to understandings of the mental health hospital environment, in terms of both the research process and as visual data.

I began with a detailed methodological review of studies where research participants took photographs as part of the research process. This informed the iterative cycles of data collection which followed. Some participants took photographs on their own and did not take part in any form of interview (6). Others took part in follow up interviews where we talked about the photographs they had taken (7). Some participants took part in mobile photo-interviews where I accompanied them as they took their photographs, collecting interview data concurrently (4). In addition, two focus groups took place with people not connected to the hospital. The focus groups produced individual and group responses to a sample of images.  

The focus of this paper is on the techniques of data analysis and the interpretation of visual images from different standpoints (e.g. researcher, photographer, third party). I found that certain images produced stronger reactions than others and I will use Roland Barthes’ concepts of ‘studium’ and ‘punctum’ in order to theorise this. I will also discuss the possibility that, by unpicking of the content of a large number of photographs, ‘thin’ yet ‘rich’ descriptions of the hospital environment can be produced.