Photo/stories from the field: field notebooks, cameras and stickers

Visual methods were at the heart of the multimodal ethnography used in the Connectors Study. In our second visit to family homes we gave each child a small Nikon digital camera, and rechargeable battery pack. We gave children a basic tour of their new cameras and left them with the brief of taking photographs of things that are important to them. We defined ‘things’ as people, place and/or events. In the course of the fieldwork, and as you can see from the exhibition catalogue, animals and nature were a big category that featured heavily in children’s photography and the ways in which children extended that category of ‘things that matter’ in the process of the research.

We heard from parents mainly about the ways in which children treated their cameras. Some cameras were dismissed, these children already had their own similar model camera and/or prefer to use the family camera or their mothers’ mobile phones. Other cameras broke and were replaced or fixed, sometimes several times. Other children hid their cameras in secret and private places where they kept other important artefacts of their lives. In London, I spent a morning rummaging through a box of odds and sods looking for the camera with one of the children.

Children took many different types of pictures (many of which conform to classic photographic genres without our instruction to do so), and different amounts (some children only took 30 or so photographs, others took over 300, and often took several pictures of the exact same thing).

>Meanwhile all our visits were documented using field diaries. We managed these notes books differently across the three cities.

In London, Melissa bought small notebooks one for each child. In Athens, Christos had one field notebook with different sections for each child. In Hyderabad, Vinnarasan, who was working in a second language with the support of Madhavi Latha, a researcher who is a native Telugu speaker, voice recorded his visits and transcribed them later. He also used a single notebook to record his observations.

From the outset however, in all three cities, we introduced the children to the idea of a field diary, and explained why we used notebooks and took notes: we can’t possibly remember all the things that you tell us or that we do together, and so we note things down to create a record, a memory of our time together. Children enjoyed the field diaries and would often intervene into these notebooks. Vinnarasan has written elsewhere about how his fieldnotes, and handwriting in particular, became the object of gentle mocking by one of the children. Christos often tells the story of how children would check his fieldnotes and intervene to correct what he had written if they felt they had been misunderstood. In London, Melissa’s field diaries also include children’s drawings and other doodles. The success of using a field diary in practice varied considerably. As we’ve written elsewhere (Nolas and Varvantakis, under review) play was a key modality that children brought to the study, and an activity that was impossible not to participate in. As such, as time went on field diaries became less useful and many of our recording took place close after visits in diaries and/or directly typed up on mobile phones on the way home.

On this blog we have used the metaphor of desire lines to chart our progress through the research. We also use this metaphor to think about the ways in which our analysis developed (Nolas, Varvantakis and Aruldoss, 2017). In reflecting on our photographic and fieldwork methods we find another desire line. This time created by children.

In October 2016 Melissa is visiting Akil a boy who lives in North London. They haven’t seen each other since early summer and there is much to catch up on. Akil shares all the photographs he has taken over the summer and shows Melissa a special toy collection he is developing. He then shows Melissa his actual camera. It’s covered in project stickers which were sent to the children earlier that year. ‘Look what I’ve done!’ he says holding his camera up excitedly. ‘This is sick!’ he comments on his artwork and the transformation of the camera from a black generic looking Nikon Coolpix into his own project camera.


In Athens, many children interlocutors have been showing and discussing their stickers collection with Christos. Through the many discussions, Christos has been thinking how stickers may be seen as a sort of a currency – to be collected, exchanged, gifted or safely stored. In many occasions children gave Christos stickers as presents – either for himself or with the request to give it to his son.  Fotini, a girl of eight was often showing Christos her collection of stickers and discussing those, and in one visit, she intervened with Christos note-taking of their discussions, and stick some stickers on his notebook as examples, to better describe what it was all about.

Taking our queue from the children and their stickers that ended up leaving their traces on our various methods, we included stickers at the children’s workshop. This is how many of the photo/stories also bring a certain sticker aesthetic to them.