I have just had a good time taking the picture that accompanies my contribution to this project. While checking out the result on my laptop, I am aware of at least two simultaneous trains of thoughts. One train of thought is about the contents of my bag and the other — more persistently visual and therefore in need of more incisive translation — is about the picture of the contents of my bag.
The taking of the picture, one might suppose, has least to do with the contents of my bag (more about this to follow), except perhaps that the camera itself has also come from a bag. For a wee while I did indeed carry that camera-bag inside the other bag, but the camera proved too bulky in due course. The digital camera was meant to replace a much larger non-digital camera I had used to record the 2,000-odd photographs in my PhD project, and I went digital in an ill-conceived desire to return to the remembered pleasures of ‘photographic posturing’, a reference to Durham sociologist David Chaney’s (1988, 1993) work on popular photography.But I am after another, deeper connection between the photo and the contents of my bag. Photography involves performance of a specific kind, an act of communication not any less complex, nor less subject to social order, the durable structuring of human relationships, than the act of telling a story or writing a scientific article, both with respect to the act of taking pictures as with the (anticipated, implicit rule-governed) pleasures of looking at pictures. One of the first academic books to live in my bag would have been Pierre Bourdieu’s Photography: A Middlebrow Art (1990), in which he elucidates that very point — in much better words than mine here. I could perhaps be berated for starting a story that seems to have no relationship to the contents of bags; but to assert that irrelevance would be to mistake the general of object categories with individual history, the integrated coherence of rich experience that we call meaning and without which the contents of the bag can be listed but not understood. Somewhat lost in the rational conceptions of a scientific logic that isolates, dissects and classifies phenomena considered relevant is exactly the interpretative stance of the social sciences and humanities, the supposition that rich stories not only interconnect different objects and different activities, but is what gives them meaning on a human scale of experience. There is of course notable influence of Isaiah Berlin’s essay The Concept of Scientific History in developing my understanding of the scholarly art of photographing the contents of my bag.
Bourdieu, P. (1990) Photography: A middle-brow art. Cambridge, England: Polity Press.
Chaney, D. (1988) ‘Photographic truths’, in Discourse social/social discourse. 1:4, 1988.
— (1993) Fictions of collective life: public drama in late modern culture. London, England: Routledge.