The Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention & Innovation
Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation, Smithsonian Beanie Illustration
MIND: Documenting Invention

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Photo Elicitation

Using historical photographs during interviews is a well-established practice. Historical photographs can trigger discussions about individuals who worked with the inventor, locations where they did their work, or the step-by-step creation of the invention. Images should be used carefully, especially those with strong meaning for the inventor, because such images can influence the direction of the interview.

Historical photographs may generate a series of discrete, disconnected stories pertaining to each image. Illustrative pictures tend to generate highly specific and detailed interviews focusing on the artifacts and methods of the inventor, and move the interview away from context and larger generalizations. Hence using pictures is best employed in conjunction with a more open-ended interview process. Photographing the inventor at work and then using those images in the interview to elicit information about his/her inventive process is another method useful in documenting the inventor's work process visually and verbally.

The purpose of visual documentation is, in the end, to bring the invention itself into dialogue with its creator(s) and more richly convey that invention is a problem-solving process.

Last Update: 28 Dec 2010

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