Seeing self and world: everyday photography and young male adults with autism spectrum disorder

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


With digital image technologies proliferating in contemporary visual culture, the ubiquity of photographs suggests people produce, consume and share photographs widely and routinely, in multiple contexts and with different meanings attached to them. Creating these photographs involves decisions, actions and interventions the photographer makes to guide the viewer and convey a particular message. Illuminating the ways in which photography enables one specific, often overlooked group – young male adults with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) – to visually express the ways they see self and the world, this thesis develops a more inclusive understanding of everyday photographic practices. From the literature that has been reviewed for this study, there has been no investigation that offers a systematic and rigorous approach to empirical enquiry in an effort to explore the photographic image-making of young autistic male adults. The area that has been researched extensively is how autistic people perceive gaze patterns and focus on facial expressions in picture communication systems. While recent studies consider photography and analyse visual perception in ASD, there has been little collaborative discussion in the literature that encompasses autistic people’s own everyday photographic image-making and self-reflective thoughts. This study is one of the first to address this knowledge gap. The methodological framework developed for this qualitative investigation includes participatory visual research methods, and positions this study at the intersection of the recent advances in visual methodologies, and participatory creative methods. Using thematic analysis, the study identified key findings across two dimensions of ASD individuals’ photographic image-making; namely, the phenomenological and social dimensions. Participants’ insights were not only deeply fascinating in their own terms, but also challenged dominant assumptions of digital photography. This qualitative study underlines the importance of multiple senses in the act of taking photographs, while expanding an understanding of what constitutes autistic people’s visual and social worlds. The contribution to knowledge of this investigation is to (i) deepen the knowledge of young male adults with ASD and their everyday photographic practices; and (ii) extend the development of visual and creative research methods. Furthermore, working with this specific group sheds light on photographic practices more broadly.
Date of AwardNov 2017
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Brighton
SupervisorDarren Newbury (Supervisor) & Catherine Palmer (Supervisor)

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