The Association for Qualitative Research
The Hub of Qualitative Thinking

How to frame a living portrait

This was a day that promised much and delivered. Three sessions focusing on writing, photography and film-making showed how to bring the characters we work with to life.

As researchers we endeavour to open a window into the lives, loves and tribulations of the people we have the privilege of getting to know. The hope is that we can ultimately transport our clients into their lives and allow them to see through their eyes.

We know that qualitative research’s transportive power lies in its ability to uncover and tell original stories, but occasionally those stories get lost in our debriefs and presentations. Living Portraits offers a pithy masterclass of how to better connect our clients to our stories and raises important questions about our responsibility to portray people in an appropriate way, with three brilliant sessions.

To start, what does every good story have? Yes, you’ve guessed it: characters you want to hear more about. Danny Wain kicked off the day with an energised session on how to create compelling characters, showing how to borrow tropes from fiction and playwriting, like conflict and humour, to craft characters that would more meaningfully connect to our clients.

Staying true to the mantra of ‘show and tell’, Andre Ainsworth’s fantastic session on photography banished poorly photographed spice cupboards, fridges and bookshelves to our very own Qual Room 101. He put the camera into our hands and gave us a chance to practice his simple and usable shortcuts.

Amy Ryles’ hard-hitting introduction into the way filmmakers express different viewpoints posed a number of challenging, but important, questions about some of our industries practices. As researchers, we seem to dance in the messy middle of representing people truthfully but also creating stories that engage our clients. Understanding the ‘power’ a film maker has in the way that they tell someone’s ‘truth’ feels more pertinent than ever as ‘post-truth’ political sentiments fill our global stages.

A highly recommended day with open and impactful debate throughout. It left me feeling excited to change things up in this crazy business we work in.

 

Oliver Cary
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