Ellis, Epiphanies and Photography

Autoethnography is an approach to research and writing that seeks to describe and systematically analyse (graphy) personal experience (auto) in order to understand cultural experience (ethno),” – Ellis, Adams and Bocher 2011.

In my previous post, with the benefits of hindsight, I narrated a past cultural experience. This was the beginning of an autoethnographic story. The analysis of both the experience and how I communicate my experience reveals my cultural framework. Once I recognise such frameworks and the related points of epiphanies,  will I be able to see how my cultural framework structures my project investigation.

I begin my previous post sharing a personal feeling. When reading back on my post, I can remember being hesitant in sharing this information. I know that it is normal to feel conscious about sharing feeling on a public space, but the fact that I did not shy away from the core of my project work shows that, when it matters, I am able to use language to openly communicate. The nature of an autoethnographic narrative encourages this emotive storytelling. It was interesting to do this in an academic context where we are usually not encouraged to share our feelings and personal bias.

I then in my previous post discuss how I regard travel. It is obvious from the beginning that I am using travel as both a way to recharge my personal batteries and also as an escape. I mention my passion for travel and that I value my privilege as a white person. This idea of being me describing myself as a ‘white person’ was interesting to read. I am a very brown female with curly black hair, raised in a very brown family. And in my day to day life in Australia I pride myself on being vocal about racism in Australia as I do often notice the differences (both good and not so good) of being a person of colour in a very white costal town. Here I realise that many aspects of my life, for example my medical care and travel access are defined by the constructs of my life as an Australian, not as a migrant in a white country.

I narrate that the first structured activity I do when arriving in a country was a visit to a historical site. Reading my previous post I reflect to recognise I was raised with the idea that to understand, respect and enjoy a culture, I must learn about their history, from their perspective, in their land. This is something that I have always done as a solo traveller, but did not previously recognise it was something that stemmed from familial travel routines.

I have always valued art. I grew up in a house of classical Indian music, foreign films, so much food from different parts of the world and different languages of literature. As a child there were many reasons I disliked travel with my parents – we never went to theme parks or stayed in luxury hotels,, Instead we were focused on history, art and food. I moved out of home at 17 and thought that I had left my parents travel habits behind (I do love rollercoasters and the very occasional night in a fancy hotel), but they had taught me so much about how to travel.

This cultural framework, being primarily my life as a first generation migrant and my rooted familial values, is what has structured my project. My access to travel and style of travel lead me to Cambodia and the S21 Museum. It was here that I was exposed to the nature of photography in Cambodia.

While epiphanies are self-claimed phenomena in which one person may consider an experience transformative while another may not, these epiphanies reveal ways a person could negotiate “intense situations,” – Ellis, Adams and Bocher 2011.

Autoethnography identifies these epiphanies as points of understanding. To put simply, it is only when something stirs or changes that we can recognise a shift. When reading the beginning of my narrative, it is clear that I had one of these epiphanies pushing me to seek something. It was an ‘intense situation’ that demanded reflection and action. At the time, my shift was to travel. In Cambodia I had epiphanies about how strong humanity can be. And about how humanity shares their emotional experience. It is this that inspired me to also use photography as a way to communicate loss.

…writing personal stories can be therapeutic for authors as we write to make sense of ourselves and our experiences,” – Ellis, Adams and Bocher 2011.

Writing and reading the previous post does feel therapeutic. Using photography as therapy is an extension of this autoethnographic expression as a form of therapy.

This TedxTalk by Bryce Evans provides an investing presentation on photography therapy and how it can help a person navigate through their mental health. Bryce Evans says in this video that – “Everyone knows how to take a photo…photos allow you to connect instantly on an uncurious level, without the stigma to of it (‘it’ being mental health),”. HIN both my previous post and the paragraph above, it is clear that I value maintaining a healthy mental health and believe creative outlets can help me achieve this.

My values framed by my family, my experiences as a migrant, unfortunate ‘intense situations’ in life, my love of photography and focus on mental health has evidently structured my DIGC330 final project.

Ellis, C., Adams, T.E., and Bochner, A.P. (2011) ‘Autoethnography: An Overview‘, Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 12:1. Available at: http://www.qualitative-research.net/index.php/fqs/article/view/1589/3095

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