‘You understand?’  Visual Images of Craftwork from East Jerusalem and Palestine – An Exercise for Geo-ethnographers

You understand?’ is a visual exercise that aims to provoke the ethnographer’s thinking and practice that combines digital and visual data.

I shot the images with my smartphone to capture the ‘moment’ on the move during a visit in the Old City of Jerusalem, in late May 2023. Looking back to this research experience from a time-space distance, I see it as a synthesis of encounters and discussions that constitute a ‘moment’. I choose ‘moment’ rather than ‘trajectory’ even though my ‘moment’ embraces the elements of a trajectory, the movement, the visual and sensorial aspects, and the different emplacements of the researcher on the move (Gomez-Cruz, 2016). This is, however, an exercise for training the geo-ethnographic gaze and creating a basis for geo-ethnographic imagination and thinking. Geo-ethnographic methods allow positioning encounters in time and place on demand and, thus, offer one way to deal with possible memory gaps and other sources of bias.

Geo-ethnography is nothing but new. Surprisingly, it has been a tool for historical research since the Classical times when Herodotus applied geo-ethnographic methods to get to know the ‘facts on the ground’ and separate myths from reality (Masalha, 2021). The smartphone has in-built technology that makes possible the convergence of image creation and locative metadata and, thus, becomes geo-ethnography’s good friend (Vivitsou & Janhonen-Abruquah, 2024).

Visual ethnographic studies are usually working within a participatory framework that passes the technology to the research participants to use and create visual content with it. And yet, this is far from the only way to do collaborative visual ethnography, even when the camera is in the researcher’s hand. Even then, the study participants’ narratives, gaze, voice, bodily movements can direct the focus of the camera and re-shape the storytelling. In this way, the camera does not have to be a documentation instrument only argue that. It enables new forms of collective authorship and collaboration (Preisig et al., 2022).

Evidently, geo-ethnography that is performed with technologies of image creation and locative metadata opens up a whole new space for epistemological discussions.

‘You understand?’ is a visual exercise that aims to provoke the ethnographer’s thinking and practice when it comes to combining observation notes, narratives of random encounters and flows of images (Tormey 2013). It is an assemblage that departs from the visual ethnographer’s need, as Pink (2008) expresses it, to become emplaced while, at the same time, seeking to understand the emplacement of others and the practices through which the places they form part of are continually reconstituted.

‘You understand?’  is a narrated adventure (de Certeau, 1998) that reproduces a geography of action while organizing the walk. The walk takes place in the Christian Quarter in the Old City and is a ‘moment’, a part of narratives of random encounters. It is reflection and acknowledgement of the casual and emergent moments at the places of observation and comes up with a flow of images that form a digital back-up map of the researcher’s psychogeographies (Tormey 2013).

‘You understand?’  is one of the multiple points of the digital geograpgy of action at that time. It entails the conversation of two Palestinian women and a Palestinian man with the researcher.

You understand?’

-Designs from families, from nature, from our society,

-Heritage pieces,

-People stopped making them

There aren’t camels anymore,

There aren’t sheep anymore,

There is no time anymore,

There’s oppression from the government,

Day-to-day life has become harder.

– It’s hard.

‘You understand?’

– These are the large ones. But we get people who want small ones.

– In the first place, the loom wasn’t made to be large.

– Yes, it was made in some fixed width, but it would be in huge lengths. They made it in 20-30 meters.

– Then they cut it however they wanted.

– We have one that’s 4 meters.

 Sometimes they group 2 or 3 together or more.

– So, the loom is just that size.

 And you can make it as long as you want.

In my mother’s place, we used to have one that has 3 similar pieces. It was really big.

It was 4 by around 3.

They would add the width by adding more pieces.

– This pattern–

Jordan’s side of the Dead Sea–

– So, this is nearer to Jordan.

– They make patterns like this one at the Jordanian border.

– This one is like that one.

– But this design is made below the Dead Sea.

– So, it’s the pattern [that makes the difference], because the stripes are wider?

– The pattern and the colors.

– And the colors, they’re darker.

– I mean, he’s well experienced to, you know–

– What about something like this? Is this from Hebron?

– This– Which one? This one isn’t Hebron.

– This one is most likely made from camel’s hair. If I’m not mistaken.

– So, this is camel’s wool.

– If I’m not mistaken, this is probably not from our region. It could be Jordanian or Syrian, but it’s not from our region.

– This is also from the Jordanian region.

– Because if it’s camel skin, we don’t have that many camels.

‘You understand?’

– This is a bag that’s 80-90 years old from As Samu’.

– It’s so soft.

– But it’s unused.

– These are antique pieces, he says. They are around 90 years old.

– This could be for the wall.

– But originally… When they planted, a lady used to put it on her neck–

– A woman would put it like this… with the seeds and everything.

– After this, they make it as a cushion.

– Also… they make it as a cushion. It has many uses.

– It has more than one use.

– They recycle it.

– Not recycling, no.

– In seasons, she would take away the cotton, and she would use it to sow the seeds.

– No, reuse.

– Reuse it. Yes.

– So, in different seasons, they use it in different ways.

– That’s how it is.

‘You understand?’

– This one also has another use.

– If they had a horse or some other animal, they used to put it on its neck and fill it with food.

– It would eat from it. It would be filled up to a level where it wouldn’t eat so much.

– So, they also use it to put in the hay for the horse.

– And they will hang it on his head, and he would put his head in and eat.

– Then there’s this white one–

– So many different uses.

– Of the same piece.

– This one with the white stripe.

– With the white stripe.

– They call this one ‘Bjad’.

– ‘Bjad’?

– In Hebron.

– Bjad.

– Back in the day, 40, 50, 60 years ago, and some people still use it to this day,

‘You understand?’

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