Qualitative Research

Portraiture

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Paint me a portrait.

As a researcher how can I best capture the nuances, the essence of an individual and his or her experiences? How do qualitative research methods enable that process of carefully gathering authentic data that is real, potentially troubling and offers solutions?

I have been a long term proponent of narrative inquiry. We all have a story. Story telling, narrative making helps to uncover and reveal our ideas, values and vision. And this is a powerful way of gathering data. But through my initial reading around the innovative approach of portraiture I am drawn to Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot and Jessica Hoffman Davis’ work, The Art and Science of Portraiture. Lawrence- Lightfoot references the writer Eudora Welty (1983) who makes a distinction between ‘listening to a story and listening for a story.” This is the key distinction between ethnographers and portraitists; the latter listen for a story.

Portraitists are active and engaged, seeking the story and simultaneously being central to its creation. The role of the researcher, her identity, character and history all inform the creative role of the portraitist.

Lawrence-Lightfoot (2005) says:

“In the process of creating portraits, we enter people’s lives, build relationships, engage in discourse, make an imprint….and leave. We engage in acts (implicit and explicit) of social transformation, we crate opportunities for dialogue, we pursue silences, and in the process, we face ethical dilemmas and a great moral responsibility. This is provocative work that can disturb the natural rhythms of social reality and encounter; this is exciting work that can instigate positive and productive change. We need to appreciate the benign, generous impact of portraiture, even as we recognize the huge ethical responsibilities weighing on the portraitist.”

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