Seeing Everyday Life

Life unfolds everyday all around us. Whether anyone takes notes depends on whether resources are available and whether people make choices to observe and document what they see. On The Measure of Everyday Life, we often celebrate the work of researchers who organize and analyze data that describe people and their behavior. Sometimes, we also have the chance to talk with artists and journalists who engage in similar observational efforts.

Recently, we had a chance to sit down with Veronica Chambers of The New York Times. She’s written a book called Call and Response: The Story of Black Lives Matter (with collaborator Jennifer Harlan). The book documents the Black Lives Matter movement as it unfolded in 2020. Our conversation offered a chance to talk about the movement but also about what it means to document the movement through photography.

Photo: public domain image by Tookapic

Writing about seeing can pose challenges. Scholars like Paul Messaris and David Marr have explored how humans see and what the implications of that capacity is for the use of images in human communication. Because visual images lack defined syntax to guide interpretation, such images simultaneously hold the promise of direct documentation as well as the burden of potential ambiguity in interpretation. In other words, the acts of making a photograph and of making sense of a photograph turn out to be less straightforward than they might seem at first blush.

Veronica Chambers and Jennifer Harlan have approached their work of documenting protest and action for social justice carefully and with a sense of responsibility and opportunity. They have made choices about how to document everyday life just as researchers who need to decide how to measure other aspects of social interaction, which made our conversation a lively and compelling one.

You can listen to our interview with Veronica here.

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