Visualizing Social Science

Photographs by Rachel Tanur


Richard Williams, Sociologist, Rutgers University: One way in which we can fruitfully look at what passed through Rachel's eyes is by using the thoughts of Anthony Giddens who informs us that one impact of modernity is that it poses a dilemma between "personalized and commodified" experiences. From this perspective we can conceive of the experience of travel away from the center of modernity as providing, on the one hand, personal escape from modernity via the belief that authentic, traditional, worlds still exist while, on the other hand, bringing us face to face with the modern reality of the juxtaposition of traditional and modern worlds. In the latter case objects from traditional worlds become commodities in the modern world. Rachel's photographs provide us with the opportunity to experience Giddens's point.

Rachel's images of traditional societies offer us the feeling of having gotten into a time machine to travel back in time. As such they provide us with some of the personal experiences that we strive for. We search for those personal, authentic, experiences precisely as a way in which to escape the routines, the lack of mystery, that legal-rational authority has generated in the modern world.

Who knows what is around the corner, but there right in front of the modern traveler is a scene so traditional that one is encouraged to accept the fact that there are new experiences to be had in life. Down there, down this street, is a world that feels unknown to the modern traveler. And that is precisely the appeal of the image. To be told about a traditional world is one thing, to be shown an image of it, of what we can be convinced it looks like, is to be offered the special gift of the opportunity to forget the modern.

Who has walked here and for how long have people done so? Her images invite the viewer to go inward in order to construct a narrative. In the process of constructing a narrative the viewer is allowed to disengage from the contemporary world.

Rachel's photographs provide us with both conditions by which we can reach towards the authentic and the reality that we live in a global economy in which the authentic is commodified. As Giddens points out, it is attempting to manage those two realities that is a fundamental part of the modern human condition. Through her photographs Rachel has provided us with another opportunity to embrace the modern human condition.