My background is in both anthropology and photography. During my time as an undergraduate in anthropology, I worked as a photographer for my university’s student-run newspaper. I had no formal training as a photographer, but I’d spent enough time behind the lens that I was able to develop my skills enough to get paid for it. It was at the newspaper that I began to develop my documentary style. From there I continued on with my anthropology education with a master’s degree.
As an anthropologist, I’ve been interested in how I could introduce photography into my work. While there were always photos mixed in with analysis in the ethnographies I read, there was never any explicit information on using photography as part of the ethnographic method. Even so, anthropology has included photography as part of the “ethnographer’s toolkit” since the inception of photography itself. It’s used as a form of data collection, sometimes as a way to illustrate a scene or a concept, and othertimes as the data itselt
Over the last 100-150 years, photography has transformed from one of the tools in the ethnographer’s toolkit, to becoming a large part of its own anthropologic subfield – visual anthropology. In addition to being part of anthropological study, photography is used in very anthropological ways, even if it’s not specifically anthropology itself: documentary and street photography. These candid styles capture people and things, the artifacts of everyday life. They can be visually interesting, capturing something we would consider strange, or of the mundane activities of everyday life. They might tell a story or they might just capture an opportune moment. They attempt to capture the human condition, which relates them with anthropology and ethnography. These methods and styles are found popularly in publications like National Geographic and photographers like Henri Cartier-Bresson, Tony Vaccaro, and Alex Webb.
Speaking of which, I recently began trying to identify my niche in photography. After spending a long period of time looking at different photographic styles and thinking introspectively about the things that I enjoy taking pictures of, and the things that I’m interested in (I still read National Geographic and wish that I could be taking those photos), what I eventually realized by looking back at what I’ve taken most of my pictures of, is that in some form or another I’ve been practicing candid, documentary-style photography since I first picked up a camera. And I’d never given it a thought.