What does security look like? Exploring interpretive photography as method

Adam Ferhani, Jonna Nyman*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)
4 Downloads (Pure)


IR’s visual turn has emphasised visual analysis over visual method, centring images of war and crisis. Meanwhile security studies centres great power politics and moments of rupture. Together, they reinforce a dominant image of security as spectacular. This article unites two ethnographic projects focused on everyday security: one examining everyday security landscapes in China, and one examining health security at the UK border. Both found a gap between the dominant image of security and what we saw, and explored this gap through photography. Building on the everyday and visual turns, the article introduces interpretive photography as method to make two contributions. The first is methodological: it introduces interpretive photography as a distinct critical qualitative method that operates on five modes: enabling the seeing-capturing-making-sharing of visual artefacts, it also disrupts dominant visions and contributes to the construction of international relations.The second contribution is empirical: a deeper, richer account of what security looks like. While the discipline associates security with emergency politics or a state of exception, Nyman’s photographs show the exception-made-everyday, while Ferhani’s photos reject the exception by showing banal routines. In this way, photography engages the visuality of security, and can change how we see security.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)354-376
Number of pages23
JournalEuropean Journal of International Security
Issue number3
Early online date11 Apr 2023
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2023


  • Ethnography
  • Everyday
  • Method
  • Photography
  • Security


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