Flickr as a research tool

I’ve just spent a couple of hours uploading photographs onto Flickr.  These photos are part of my current research project, and they’ve been taken to record various things going on at the project’s fieldwork sites, which are various kinds of offices.  I’m finding Flickr to be a very useful way of organising the photos into groups, as a preliminary form of analysis.

The project is generating lots of different kinds of data, and most of it will go into NVivo – but co-ordinating NVivo between three researchers is tricky (we are all NVivo newbies), so we’ve decided to use Flickr for our own fieldwork photos.

I’m using Flickr’s abilities to group photographs into sets and also to add tags to individual photos.  I’ve put the photos into different ‘sets’ to attach their specific location and their location type to each image (for example, ‘architects office’ is one location type, ‘visualisers office’ another).  Then I’m tagging individual photographs with codes.  Some of these codes are the same ones that the project is using on its interview transcripts and ethnographic observations; but I’ve added a few more, suggested by a preliminary overview of the photos themselves, particularly around the details of the offices’ layout and the what the people in them are doing.  In this way I’m assuming that the different codings will integrate – but that the different data sources will also offer their own insights.

I then plan to use Flickr’s tag-searching tools to gather together all the photos I’ve coded with, let’s say ‘table top’, to look at all the photos we have of the stuff that accumulates on the tables in architects’ and/or visualisers’ offices.  And then I can ponder on what those images tell me – which will be the difficult part!

In case my surprise at Flickr’s usefulness might seem bizarre, I should admit that I’ve never used Flickr to share photos.   And given that Flickr is indeed all about sharing, I’ve also spent a bit of time on the privacy settings so that Flickr only shares the photographs with my co-researchers.

I’d be interested to hear from anyone else who’s used Flickr as a research tool in similar – or indeed different – ways.

16 thoughts on “Flickr as a research tool

  1. A very interesting use of Flickr. I’m enjoying your book Visual Methodologies at the moment (I’m a photography student). Are you going to extend the research to ask other people what they think the images area saying?

    • Thanks for this Catherine. We’re not planning to do that. But your question certainly points to another use of Flickr, which would be to get other Flickr users’ views on the photographs generated by a research project. Crowd-sourced analysis, now there’s a thought…

  2. This is just what I needed to read about – thank you. I’m shying away from NVivo – too involved for my needs and access is an issue. I’ve played about with PhotoBox (a photo-gift site) – similar idea – using their tagging system as a means of grouping images. Are you running any workshops/seminars on visual analysis of images?

    • Hi Maureen and thanks for the suggestion about another site with some similar capabilities. And to answer your query – oddly enough I very rarely run workshops on visual methods here in the UK, for a variety of reasons – and I don’t have any planned – but if I do, I’ll post about it here on this blog.

      • I would travel quite far for a good critical workshop that moves beyond introduction-to-visual-methods type of thing. I’ll keep on the look-out – thanks

  3. Hello I am a PhD student on a collaborative doctoral award with LSE and Tate Modern. I’m using flickr images posted of the Turbine Hall to analyse
    methods and categories of behaviour working towards a definition of public space. But I need to substantiate this as a methodology, this is where I am lacking. I would love to hear more about your research. I’m familiar with your Visual Methodologies book as mentioned above.

    • Hi Corinna and your project sounds fascinating. The use of Flickr in our project is very different from what it sounds like you might be doing: I was using it simply as a tool to label and share photos. I guess the intriguing question for me (as a geographer!) about your project is: where are you situating the ‘public’? So, are you thinking that the Flickr photos show you a public place, that is, that they are ‘windows’ into the Turbine Hall? Or is it their representation of a public space, the cultural codes that mediate that ‘mirror’, that you’re focussing on (so the public is what is represented by the images)? Or are you thinking that it’s the act of photographing that constitutes a public, so you’re looking at the social practices performed as the photographs are taken? Or is it their sharing on Flickr that makes the public, their tagging?? Or some combination of these? Or – quite possibly – something else entirely??

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