Visual Sociology

I shoot photos because for me, it is applied visual sociology; I can use the camera as my research tool to analyze, critique, and hopefully change society.

What is sociology?

To me sociology is about analyzing and critiquing society.

Sociology comes from the French, “sociologie”, coined by Auguste Comte in 1834. Previously, the field of sociology was referred to as “social physics”.

Simply put, sociology is rooted in:

  • Social
  • (iology), which means “study of” or “explanation” in ancient Greek.

So we can consider sociology as an attempt for us (sociologists) to explain how society works, and from a philosophical perspective, trying to answer:

What is the ideal society for humans?

Anyways taking it back to the practical, to me, sociology is about understanding the social structures around us, to help us as individuals answer the question:

How can I best thrive in the society in which I live in right now?

Or answering the question,

Is there an “ideal” society that already exists out there, in which I would prefer to live in?

As an undergraduate at UCLA I studied sociology under my professors Terri Anderson, Mark Jepson, and Robert Emerson. They gave me the fist taste of sociology, and it was a bridge to leading me to studying philosophy on my own.

But still, I would consider myself as a sociologist; as humans and human society is endlessly fascinating to me.

And to me, photography (especially street photography) is just doing sociology with a camera.

Purpose of visual sociology

In my projects such as SUITS and ONLY IN AMERICA, I sought to analyze the concept of the corporate world rat race, as well as injustice and inequality in America, using my camera as a way to find “proof”, or to come up with my own personal conjectures.

Remember with visual sociology, there’s no ultimate “truth” with your photos. It’s just your own personal perspective on the world and society. But recognize there is worth for you to share your own cultural critiques with your camera!

As a photographer, you’re essentially trying to make some sort of statement with your photos. In the words of Lewis Hine (the original street photographer/visual sociologist), he wanted to show what needed to be changed, and what needed to be appreciated.

Society advances when we critique it, and when we figure out ways to improve injustices. Society also advances when we discover what needs to be appreciated, and we can stop, meditate and be grateful of certain aspects and elements of society (the joy of friendship, family, communities, etc).

So friend, recognize that street photography is your entrance ticket to a brave new world of visual sociology.

So consider and meditate for yourself:

How can I best employ my camera to change society for the better? What photos do I want to make; to either critique or better appreciate society?


Street Photography 101 >