Talking the talk, walking the walk

The second part of the article titled ‘Representation and videography in linguistic landscape studies’ by Robert Troyer and Tamás Szabó covers videography as an alternative to photography. That said, I must point out that the authors do not assert that the two are mutually exclusive. In fact they (62) note that still photos may be beneficial for illustration purposes, when superimposed for highlighting certain features in the landscape. I guess one could overcome this issue if enough money is spent on the equipment, but somehow I just don’t see researchers, universities or funders spending big bucks on such. Using a high resolution photo selectively for such purpose is arguably more cost effective. For example, my current travel camera, the Ricoh GR manages to push out 4928×3264 pixels (some 16 megapixels). For a pocket camera launched in 2013 (rehashed in 2015), likely using the same APS-C Sony IMX071 sensor found in DSLRs launched as early as 2010, it offers higher still resolution than 4K videos. At the moment, most APS-C DSLRs go well beyond that, typically at 20 to 24 megapixels, full-frame cameras typically pushing above 30 megapixels and then medium format cameras typically at around 50 megapixels. In other words, combining the best of both worlds makes most sense, especially if on a budget.

Discussing methodology, Troyer and Szabó (64-67) address the artificial nature of video recordings. They (64-65) point out that achieving ‘natural’ recording may not be feasible. Wearing a set of glasses, for example, sort of might do it, but then again, I assume one should not be aware of their purpose. Imagine presenting that to some research ethics committee. Somehow I think that it just wouldn’t fly. Anyway, even if it did, as they (65) do point out, that would still result in a mediated recording. It would only tell us what was in the field of view at any given time, not what was paid attention to. One would need eye tracking to cover that aspect, but to my understanding that is currently only feasible in lab conditions.

I don’t have much to say about the elaboration of methods and what they imply here. I think the authors do a good job at pointing out the pros and cons. The only thing missing that I can think of is the lack discussion of utilizing 360 degree photography and videography, which, judged by the hype, is supposed to be the next big thing. Offering full coverage, 360 degree cameras manage to escape the frame issue, at least in physical or optical terms. I considered this initially, but at the time, and even currently, 360 cameras do not offer enough detail for this purpose. For example, an improved Ricoh Theta is supposed to come out with 4K video. Now, if I understood correctly, that’s the total resolution on a camera with two sensors, not two 4K sensors. Not too shabby for a relatively cheap camera that looks like a remote, but I wish each sensor was 4K capable. Distortion is another issue. To achieve full coverage, it’s easiest to use fisheye lenses, but that’s hardly ideal for capturing detail. One would have to use a rig with multiple synchronized cameras or a panorama robot like a GigaPan to overcome those issues. Once again, if money is not a problem, one would go for those.

What comes to the involvement of other participants, I find it potentially useful, but also rather challenging, with or without video. If it is assumed that people make little note of the landscape of the space they inhabit, that is beyond the possible appraisal of its aesthetics, as beautiful or ugly, as argued by Ronai in his articles, as well as by a host of others, notably Peirce Lewis in ‘Axioms for Reading the Landscape: Some Guides to the American Scene’, how does one gain the insight of the inhabitants without affecting their orientation to the landscape? In other words, I wonder how could I not affect their perception of the landscape if I push them to engage it. How do I prompt the unprompted? Would I not risk putting words in their mouth, seeing myself in them, or so to speak? That said, I do believe I have witnessed this work when in the company of friends or relatives. For example, people have made remarks about how certain buildings ruin the otherwise pleasant view and I’m sure I have said such as well in the past. Then again, I cannot say I’ve pulled it off though because those situations have not been arranged or staged for research purposes. It’s something worth being aware of though. At times you come across stories in the media, interviews where people back their arguments based on landscape. Anyway, it’s fascinating when that happens.

Related to the topic of participation, Hannah Macpherson discusses informants in her article titled ‘Walking methods in landscape research: moving bodies of disclosure and rapport’. She (425) acknowledges that “[w]alking methods do not simply ‘uncover’ people’s responses to landscape” as (426) “[p]eople rarely simply traverse the surface of a landscape and respond to it as ‘scenery’ or ‘amenity’”, considering that such tends to be the privilege of the few. That is not to say that she (426) is somehow against walking methodologies, but rather that they involve “their own politics, cultures, histories, habitual responses and lived experiences that must be taken into account.” Now, broadly speaking this ventures into the non-representational side of landscape research, not addressing gaze, but experience. I struggle to understand how experiences can be adequately put into words, or rather, why one would turn the experiences into words. Aren’t they then just rendered into mere representations? Anyway, this is too broad a topic to cover here, but I hope to discuss this sometime in the future. Perhaps it is better here to state that the different sides seek to answer different questions.

Among the other interesting observations by Troyer and Szabó (59, 70), dynamic change is worth mentioning. The time of the year is usually addressed in research (when it was conducted), but otherwise the environmental conditions tend to be glossed over. I have thought of conducting some study at night time, to address the darkness and illumination in landscape, how landscape is different at night time. To go with the -scape trend, I guess it would be referred to as the nightscape. At this time of the year in Finland this is hardly feasible though. Different conditions also pose different challenges. In this case, low light is pretty much kryptonite to cameras. It’s nothing that one cannot overcome, but it does more or less force the researcher into long exposure photography, which leads to tripods and extra batteries and benefits from high resolution sensors. I’m not really familiar with videography at night time, but by all logic I believe it faces the same low light issue. I assume retaining overall quality, i.e. same look in variable low light is tough. Not only does the overall amount of light vary, but some objects, such as neon lights or backlit signs, may end up overexposed, which is hardly ideal.

In conclusion, or summary, the authors, Troyer and Szabó, venture into a territory that is somewhat unfamiliar to me. At least it helped me to understand certain pros and cons of videography without coming off advocating it as a quick fix to overcome problems of representation in LL studies. I hope to have brought something extra to the table here. Restating what the authors discuss would’ve been pointless. It’s better to read the text in question yourself anyway.


  • Lewis, P. F. (1979). Axioms for Reading the Landscape: Some Guides to the American Scene. In D. W. Meinig (Ed.), The Interpretation of Ordinary Landscapes: Geographical Essays (pp. 11–32). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
  • Macpherson, H. (2016). Walking methods in landscape research: moving bodies, spaces of disclosure and rapport. Landscape Research, 41 (4), 425–432.
  • Ronai, M. (1976). Paysages. Hérodote, 1, 125–159.
  • Ronai, M. (1977). Paysages. II. Hérodote, 7, 71–91.
  • Troyer, R. A., and T. P. Szabó (2017). Representation and videography in linguistic landscape studies. Linguistic Landscape, 3 (1), 56–77.