Peter Sztompka head of the department of theoretical sociology at the Jagiellonian University (Krakow), one of the leading researchers in the field of Theoretical Sociology. Krakow, Poland.
Abstract: In a broad social and philosophical and cultural contexts P. Sztomka examines the theoretical basis and practice of using photography as a method of social research, and communication. On the one hand, not enough developed the concept of visual communication. All communication is based on the theoretical constructs that explain the social world and the ideas of the transmitted image, which is constructed on the basis of the interaction between the actors themselves. All around, it seems the man in the images, which means that the available visual fixation. This in turn provides an opportunity to transmit and receive information in the form of images, and, on this basis, to build communication design. For the implementation of social communication set of visual images may not give less information than the flow of words, sentences and judgments.

Keywords: visuality, visual imagery, visual communication, visual sociology

My interest in visual sociology is relatively young. I have been interested in photography as a hobby, taking photographs of all things for forty years now. And wherever I was going abroad, I was taking a lot of pictures, because usually one is visiting a foreign country looking out for some exotic things, different from your own. It is a typical situation in which one is interested to document and to record impressions and the experience is a foreign country. So, I have collected a lot of pictures from my academic trips, conferences, symposiums, and congresses. I was teaching particularly in the United States, but also in Australia and some very exotic places like Tasmania. I was teaching for a year at Hubert University in Tasmania and in Buenos-Aires, and some other places. And I always have my camera and take some shots. And then you know as the one who is coming to an advanced stage of an academic career, I decided that to join my hobby with my profession to do something, which I really enjoy (apart from teaching and researching). So I started teaching visual sociology to my polish students. This was only in photography, as I have no experience in filmmaking. So, I wouldn't enterprise to do that with my students, we have limited us only to style photography, to traditional photography. And started to discuss how photography may be have full of social understanding. The point of departure was the observation that in contemporary society, and particularly in this period of late modernity of the advanced modern society, there are more and more visually important elements in our world, in our surrounding big world. Society is more and more visible, because it is more and more structured with pictures, with all kinds of things including advertisement and billboards, and fashion and types of various instruments, and cars, and technology, all that is usually very colorful, very diverse, which catches the eye, because it is somehow presented whenever we think about modern city. If you go around, you see a lot of things, which you would never see in a village somewhere in the XIX century.
So, the modern society becomes more and more visible. If it is so it means that we should devote more attention to a very simple method of sociological research, which is observation. Observation was a very important method for the early sociologists and of course social anthropologists, particularly who visited exotic societies in some far away countries, also for ethnographers who were studying communities. But later visual methods observation was replaced by mathematical formalizations and interviews. By the studies instead of pictures, that people make instead of looking that they do. For a long time, sociologists were more concentrated on what people say, than on what people really do. And what people do is visible. You can look around and see a lot.
So that it was a point of departure and then we started to think about various ways in which visual material may be used. And generally there are two ways I believe and that may be something obvious to you but I am just speaking about what I studied through my own experience. One way is just to go to look at the society and to record what you see by means of photography. Photography helps because my own experience was that if I go around with a camera, I look differently then when I go without a camera. When I go with camera I am more focused and I try to find interesting things. I am on a kind of a hunting expedition. Usually, when I just go in the streets, I don't take notes, I only see the difference between seeing and looking. Seeing is just to register expressions. Looking is focused. You try to find answers to some questions, which you put.
Camera helps, helps to focus, and also helps to separate important things from unimportant things, because camera always frames the past of the world you are seeing. And by this framing, it also helps you to select what is the most important sample by cutting it from the picture so it gives some sociological help. But of course it is also useful for registering, and later comparing and it may be also useful even for finding regularities not only for recording events, but for finding regularities of social life if you compare pictures from different periods of the same or similar situations. If you compare pictures of my city from the time when I was a student and then year by year up to now, you see the process, you see the huge and extreme important process of civilization development, change of lifestyles, and something which is very easy to understand, but I think you also know what I speak about the change of color of life from grayness to more and more color. It is a metaphor, but I'm sure it also true in Moscow, it also true in every big city in the world that it changes to much more colorful life. So you could contrast this kind of process by yourself through series of photographs. So I was arranging several projects for my students. They were going out for picture taking.
This year, for example, I had two films, which I gave them. And that was the basis for the exam. Instead of the exam they gave me five pictures from one film, and five pictures from another. One film is very difficult. In fact it had to do with the competition, photography competition, I learn about, which was organized by the famous photography cult person  –  Michel Rinon. They organized competition asking for pictures, focusing on the problem, which sounded in the following way: acting and living for the common good benefit, for the common good, for the public good. How to photograph this? You must think a lot to find the right situation. And my students have a very hard job now. They are rushing around trying to think. And some of them of course think about helping some poor people.
But some others indicate to me than even normal world may be considered as contributing to the common good in some sense. So does not necessarily have to be this kind of volunteer work. But also professional could be, if it is, of course, found in the right way. We shall see what will come out. But the second film is much easier, it is very-very simple, but needs some imagination. You know Christmas is a great tradition. We are a Catholic country and that make Christmas the most important event of the family life, church. So, I asked them to give me a set of pictures which would describe Christmas, after they go home for Christmas, after they enjoy Christmas, to describe Christmas as a family event, religious event and commercial event. Three aspects of the same phenomena. Commercialization is an aspect of Christmas, which becomes the best occasion for selling things and for shopping, and for all that. But also we saw religion and family as combined in the Polish case, because 90 % of polish people declared themselves to be Catholics.
So, it is very interesting how to describe this in the pictures. So that was the first part of our work. We find some topics. We tried to photograph them, then we bring pictures into class and we discuss them and debating our own pictures. And then there is the second very important thing – to use existing photographic material for interpretation. And of course, there are a lot of possibilities here, starting from commercials and all type of pictures, which are used for marketing, to interpret them. For example, to interpret them from the point of view of how they describe gender, how they describe masculine.
How to look at the picture to draw the meaning, to interpret them? I have various directions, which I tried to describe about how interpretation may be seen.
One is of course to ask about the motivations of the author, what were the photographer’s meanings, and why he took this one and not a different shot. And that is may be called collage interpretation or humanistic interpretation. But then there is very important sociological interpretation: what sort of social arrangements are represented on these pictures, what kind of structure, what type of interactions, what sort of mutual interpersonal relations. This is a kind of structural interpretation. Then you may have also cultural interpretation: what sort of rules, tastes, and fashions are represented.
There are a lot possibilities looking at all kind of pictures including of course newspapers and pictures in the newspapers, in the illustrative colorful albums, and also at exhibitions. I sent my students to a typical event – to an exhibition, and we have some great photographic exhibitions. So, I sent them to the exhibition and then they also were supposed to select one picture out of five hundred pictures. They have to select one, which they believe to convey most sociological meaning and write one page, just one page on this picture. Why they have chosen that, we read it at class. We read it in class, we discuss it, and that raised a lot of interest in my students. So, this is the second direction to use existing photographic material for sociological interpretation.
When I was doing it with my students for two years, I decided it is time to write something down. So this year I published not a big book, as you can see, but still I published it in Poland, a little book on visual sociology, speaking about a photography as a research method.
This book has two parts. One is about taking photography, another is about interpreting photographs. And still the point I want to stress, that in this part describing taking for photographs. And I'm not limited to observation. Observation is just one method, sociological method, for which photography may be helpful, but there are other methods. For example, the content-analysis. Content-analysis is usually realized in texts, written texts, which contain certain  number of phrases, or certain number of concepts, or certain number of important ideas which are compared. But the same is possible if you look at photographs. Of course, it is more difficult to standardize the method, to find the way to formalize. But it is really possible, for example, to study the photographic material, from that perspective, for example, how much violence or terror  is shown in the pictures in newspapers across some period of time, if you look  years ago: year ago, five years ago and compare. Now many events of violence and terrorist acts are reorganized then presented in pictures. And when you make a kind of content-analysis, you see some tendencies, you see some even some pictured formula, for example.
Another method that photography may be very useful for is just a classical sociological interview. It may be very helpful when you take the pictures of some environment, where people are leaving, and you show them the pictures, and discuss the pictures with them, trying to find out some interesting things about the community, the relationships, who are the leaders, who are the marginal people, who are the rich, who are the poor. This is very easy, to draw information from the respondents if you have photographic material, it is much easier then when you simply ask questions. So that is another method, where it may be very useful.
Another method is of course something which Znaneski called the method of personal documents. The method of personal documents is to look at original documents, written by the people, like letters, or memoirs, or some spontaneous expressions of the people. Znanezki was studying a special thing, the letters of the emigrants to the USA, who were writing home, and who were themselves in another situation, in America, which was something very exotic. So you may use the same method with photography, looking at the private collections of photographs, which people collect. Usually people have such collections and they reach back to the nineteen  century, sometimes to a very old time. You may find at home a collection of portraits, or pictures describing family events, other things. And to get to such collections may be very helpful too for understanding a real life, what was important, how their environment looked like, their main jobs, main ways of  people’s work etc.
So there are many possibilities of using photography in these creative ways. Of course, this is something, which is not my invention, I ‘d written about it in my book.
Now there is a quite strong tendency in sociology abroad and in many countries to turn to photography, to pictures and interpretation, as very important for sociological usage. There are journals debating photography, there is a return to that.
 If you go to a library and find all the American journals from the beginning of the XX century, you will find that previously the photographs illustrated a number of articles. It is particularly truth of the Chicago school. The sociologists who studied urban complexes were using photography very widely, for example, R. Park and others, who were making very famous school of empirical research. And they illustrated their articles in journals with pictures. Then, of course, there was a time when written records, and interviews, and service became so dominated that nobody cared anymore about photography and it disappeared. It returned back in the eighties more or less. And now for the last twenty or thirty years we observe the main important developments in this field.
So, my small book is illustrated with my own pictures. I also brought with me just for own interest some of my pictures with which I illustrated my sociological text. They may be not good enough for the experts in photography, but I would like to show them in order to tell you what I find there, in those pictures.
The elementary thing for sociological understanding is interaction. And interaction could be the first resource for understanding, and if you look at pictures.
Two young people by the fountain.
Here is a very nice interaction between two young people in New-York city, just sitting by the fountain, and a kind of typical interaction.
A black man is polishing shoes of a well-off white man.
And that is completely different type of interaction. It is an interaction between a rich man and another who is cleaning his shoes. And you even see a racial difference very clearly here on this picture. You may draw many interesting observations from a picture like that.
Children quarrelling about a bike.
This is the beginning of human interaction when even the children are involved in quite a serious debate around a bicycle here, and this is another type of early socialization and interaction in the early period of your life.
A young couple is a walking along the street, their hands around each other.
This is of course understandable, this type of interactions. This kind of situation can be observed in Buenos-Aires in Argentina, at the main square, those romantically involved people.
There are also related to that kind of contacts to romantic intimate close interactions that are some very special type of scene in Goffman. Irwing Goffman called it type tie-scene, that you are friends with somebody. When I met Nikita Pokrovsky, we embraced, we embraced to show to other people, to express our friendship, that we have been friends for a long time, and that we feel like that. You have also other type of tie-scene. Scene of cong, if you go with your girlfriend, you usually make some just shell to show your position, that you are her enchant. For example, here it is in Yugoslavia in the street one of the resorts there. And you can see a tie-scene a very typical between man and woman, who want to show that they are together. They are not just walking next by each other, but this is togetherness which is kind of protective like a shell against a possible interference, for somebody who makes a couple. And that it scene of it which you can easy observed. In various cultures it will look differently of course. This is typical for Mediterranean culture probably.
A group of young people preparing an amateur performance.
Now, people make up groups. And groups of course are quite different, and they have various meanings. Here you have some spontaneous groups in Boston, which is rehearsing for a spontaneous theatre place on some of this square the little group of friends who are just reseating Shakespeare in fact they trying to stage some little performance. Very characteristic type of a group because it has a leader, it has somebody on whom the attention is focused, it has many interesting sociological things, I could speak about it for much long about. You see that I mean that from a picture you can draw a lot of interesting observations about a type of groups.
Completely different groups of course, is a group of a children. Little children who of course behave differently, but this type of little groups, spontaneous groups of kids are also something which is very importing socialization experience.
These Italian ladies and Italian gentlemen, at one of the square in Rome have completely different reasons for sitting together, not for a performance, but just for feeling of togetherness. Some groups are very much organized. They have structure, look at this (picture 7) and this is from Korea and this is a group of young kids who are dressed in the some way, who are very much trained it is North Korea, I believe it is in North Korea. It may be even more. But the culture is of a type of organization, uniformization of training etc.
There are of course groups which are only a group, if you look at it. Which is not really a group. You have those people fishing on a rock in Portugal. There is three or four of them, it looks like a group, but it is not a group, because each other of them is doing an individual thing, so that is a different story then is a group of people who are next to each other, but who are together. Then it is a very interesting phenomenon.
Those people are also next to each other, they are not together. It is in the United States again in one square in Bronx. A crowd of people observing something. This is at the tennis track. Another type of crowd people setting next to each other, but not really interacting they just look at the ball, and if you look at film you will see now, they even more the head.
Another type of human group. This is in the famous Rome Roman Spanish Steps in Rome there people sit just for leisure. There is no performance, there is no tennis play, there is no theatre, but they are just sitting down an enjoying the sunshine. And again they make little group talking, and group of friends, but the home thing is individualized. It is not really a community, it is only superficially a community.
Well of course everybody is acquainted with billboards of all sorts and here are some billboards in some different countries: this is in Argentina, this is in Australia, in Saltsburg, and they look quite similar: it is commercialization of life. There are all types of advertisement, color of the streets, they may look probably similar in Saint-Petersburg and in any other city there you have old architecture, mixed with modern commercial elements.
Religion is very important part of the world for many people. And religion has one very interesting trait – it is very visible, it is saturated with external symbolic, meaning. Field, which is filled with pictures, with symbols, with ornamentations, with dresses, and all other elements. So in various cultures you may see interesting phenomena in the field of religion.
Here you have people in Mexico city at the famous Cathedral, Cathedral in Mexico city. Peasants coming to the church with a kind of pilgrimage. And that is characteristic flags, ornaments, very typical picture in the traditional religious country.
Here you have a very similar thing but even more interesting: Fatima in Portugal. People going to the Church in Fatima, they walk on the nears. Which is one of the interesting customs. They walk on the nears to the all tower, because they believe that a tour is healing.
So this is in my city of Krakow. There are young people started on the pilgrimage to the Virgin Marries Church in the Church hour 120 km. of walk of head of them. Students and young people once a year organize this kind of a common event. They go for three days or four days, they have everything organized on the way they slept.
Virgin Marries of Chansthola is the site of Polish church and the most important traditional place. So religion has those important and interesting visual elements which you may easily  see.
The same procession in Greece on the island. Of course orthodoxy has different ornamentation, but still very similar meaning of that is going now.
Another then from Krakow. The main square in my city during this starting of procession of students and young people to Chunsthola.
It is not necessary to photograph people to do sociological photography. Sometimes the objects themselves may become full of meaning, of sociological meaning. Particularly they become symbolic in our modern society.
Perhaps the motor-bicycle belongs to these guys in the United States in Boston. And they are very proud of the bicycle. It is of course Harley-Davidson, I think? And they have discussed with me before taking these pictures. How proud they are, as a status symbol, it is something, which give them the feeling of superiority.
But it may be symbol of something else. It may be symbol of liberation and here you have to Canadian girls in Montreal, who ride Harley-Davidson and look in this way for different reason. There is a different meaning to that, they want to look liberated, that they are like men.
A similar situation but with completed different meaning.
Another object, which may take very strange and different meanings, is the horse-driving carriage. Horse-driving carriage has become in some European cities and also American cities a very important tourists attraction. Before it was means of communication, now it is a tourist attraction. It change its meaning and anthropology have been studying this phenomenon long ago, that objects in culture time may completely change there use and meaning in the course of history.
So, now horse carriages are used for tourists here in Rome, in the street of Rome, here in some Italian city. And here in New-York. In New-York City with some characteristic driver who happens to be black because it is a simple job, which wouldn't probably be taken by a white man. And this in front of a huge hotel in Hotel Plaza.  Tourists enjoy riding horses among cars.
The biggest shock of my American friends, D. Alexander when came to visit me in Poland, the biggest shock came then we were driving to Krakow, and he saw horses and caws in the fields, just in the fields. And he was really surprised because has never seen it in the field before.
And this is just a funny picture with which I illustrated the very strips of professional roles which people may have. Some roles are very competing, you know to become manager it is very competing. But there are also simple jobs, which may look also very interesting. This is a guy who from Argentina, there is a role that your walk people’s dogs, because they don't have time. So you go from apartment to apartment, collect the dogs and that's a way you earn your living. As a dog-walker. That is very special type of work
There are two problems. One is of course that you emphasize selection. That of course photography is selective, but also looking is selective. You look at something, and you see different the your friend the same situation. You have subjective selective, that is an abuse and you cannot avoid it.
It will never become objective documentation, photography is always a kind of subjective representation rather documentation. But when you interpret, you may of course also get to understanding this subjectivity of somebody who took the picture. Why this is not the other thing? Why this kind of situation there are not another kind of situation? Why I am taking the pictures of the horse, rather then car, which is next to that on the same street?
So that opens the possibilities of such interpretation, and of course you cannot avoids objectively.
You look for documentation to some preconceived concepts, ideas, when we come to photography with our sociological imagination we look differently then people who comes from other fields, because we have concepts. For example, we look for socialization, we look for conflict, we look for something else. So we all ready come with some type of meaning. The more dangerous thing is the manipulation with photography, which becomes more and more possible, with digital technologies, and digital cameras. And that is a problem, I think because at least in spite of subjective factor, in the traditional photography you were shore that something was in front of your camera, something like that. Now you may use Photoshop, or other technologies to produce this thing to combine, to join together some things, which have never been there. That opens a lot possibilities for manipulation, and for it's no longer kind of evidence it becomes much more of creative.
And that it is up to the moral qualities of the person who produced this picture, who represent something. There is a long debate, for example, about some very famous pictures, very famous reporters, the special reporters. Debate whether they are really taking this shots or they are staging them.
It doesn't differ if you translate it of course, in to text, then it doesn't differ. If you look at the text you suddenly would have to device different type of categories, I think, different type of categories then when you discuss the text. And then of course conce you do, you CodeView your picture, in the proper way then containg all kind of other manipulation of mathematical sort are possible .
But the most difficult thing, there, I think, more difficult indicate then of texts.  Is to codified the picture.
When I was writing this little book, I asked one of the professor, who was an expert in modern computer information science, a mathematics and other things. So think now this analysis could be aplat to photograph. For example, troth for computer technology could you standardized it, could you find some common fifield. He was supposed to contribute a chapter, but he didn't. He was not able.
No way yet, to do it. It's to the text, it seems with a written. Content in the analysis of the text is a valuable now. But content-analysis of the photography is suddenly not yet a valuable. That's the difference, but the future may be very similar, because it is very similar idea to look at the main component (50.43)of meaning in those cases the main component of meaning of the texts and the main component of meaning of the picture.
And once you discover the there is main component you may contifait  them, you may cant, you may find some tendencies.
There is various ways. One way contains, you just go in the context with which you are interested. One is interested in the street life, another person is been interested in the life of the University, another may be interested in the life of the family, another in the life of the hospital.    
Depending on the your conser  you imaricial yourself in this context, in this arena, of life. That is contains, and you just try to look observe and then to record that you find crousial. Interesting or important for this arena.
You think about commercialization you would go to the supermarket and see how people be have there, and that they ere doing, and then try to make photography that is contains.
Of course, much more structure approach is when you have already some hypothesis, then you have some questions on your mind/ And then you look for the proper context, you look for the proper evidence you think there this is you should shore could be best observe.
For example, you have a hypothesis that in the big city of today there is  difference in vales between rich people and poor people. And that in the every big city you have this kind of reminder (remainder) poor of human condition. From very rich to very poor. And now, how document it you  think where go to see how poor people live, you would not go to the center of the city, you would go to some outsquerce, to some poor buildings, to the places of this sorts. And on the other hand you want to document how the rich people live, when you go to the most expensive diskotex, clubs, another places, if you would to take pictures there, because they make kit you out of course. But as an example that are you doing when you have hypothesis.
Very typical strategy for photography is to look for contrasts. Contrasts themselves are always exective, like exotic things, if you see. The of different things, if you see poor people in the Gucci butik, that is a contrast/ And then you feel something is inconcurate and that is shocking.
So you look for these kind of contrasting situations. The most structured in this situation if you have clear scenario. Then you have such expesitive hypothesis, and the question on your mind that had of taking pictures. You write something like a script, you write something like move maker bas, before he goes to tales shots. And the you tried to find the right people, the right places, to feel this script, and that producers will be shore sociology product, the work in visual sociology.
There are many situations from the completes contain to more structured research.
Photography may be treat it is a part of resource of our own activity and that represent equality, and it is rudimental of the problems subjectivity, it represents equally the object photograph as the perspective of the photographer.
So how in this situation it becomes a very important document to understand the perspective of the people who take photographs.