Most of the posts published in this blog focus either on Design, Design research or Sociological / Media studies. It’s because I was a graphic designer before I became involved in the social sciences, and thus there is a strong focus on media technologies and the visual in my work. More recently this has extended to include more experiential, embodied and performative kinds of knowledge.
For the past four years my research has focused on photography, museum studies and Sarawak’s Indigenous communities, in particular small rural ethnic groups in the north of the state. Sarawak is a Malaysian state For the research I digitized around 1500 old black-and-white photographs from the Sarawak Museum. The process required a set of good practice guidelines to meet requirements for resolution, colour management, digital compositing and repair, and to meet potential future demand. It was a very slow process because all negatives were scanned at a resolution of at least 600 dpi!
Research at the Sarawak Museum – the skeleton belongs to the Archaeological section, I think.
For the research I established a database to complete metadata for each image, such as the location where it had been taken, the identity of the people in it, activities, names of objects, and references in literature about the are. This information was made public in two exhibitions and book published about the photographs.
The map below shows some of the areas where my research took place.
Map of Sarawak and my research area
My research in Sarawak included extensive fieldwork in rural communities, which I think was the best part of the project. It allowed me to travel to small villages and longhouses and to talk to people for hours about old photographs. People were very pleased to see the photographs, and many didn’t know they existed. Even the people who were shown in the photographs had often forgotten about the day when the museum photographer came to their village – no wonder, since this was over 50 years ago in most cases. The method I used for the research is called ‘photo elicitation’, which I describe more in detail in another post.
Photo elicitation in Long Sobeng, Sarawak
My research also offered me the opportunity to see a lot of the forest, plants and wildlife in the area, which are spectacular, and to trace some of the recent developments which the area has seen. These include the slow decline of logging activities and the increase of land conversion to oil palm. Most importantly it provided the opportunity to talk with local people about their take on the environment, development, media, material culture and photography.
Jenun Batok in Long Nuwah, working on a sun hat
This little bit of material culture best summarizes my research philosophy.
Spotted near Long Loyang, Sarawak