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The focus of visual research ethics has largely been on the ethical effects of visual research on participants. There is increasing identification of how researchers are ethically affected by visual research. However, there has been no sustained examination into how visual materials themselves have ethical consequences in visual research. In this paper we argue visual research presents with particular ethical challenges because of the agentic capacities of the visual materials themselves. The paper draws on a research project where participants generated two different kinds of visual materials: timeline charts and photos. We show how timeline charts and photos have contrasting imaginative, bodily, memory and synaesthetic capacities. The agentic capacities of the visual materials act in specific ways to co-create a network of relations across the research encounters. This network of relations has the capacity to act in particular ethical ways with serious consequences not just for research participants, but also for researchers. We propose the action of visual materials themselves needs to be added to ethical discussion about visual research. Drawing on the concept of ethical sustainability, we advocate for extending situated ethics and researcher reflexivity to include consideration of the agentic capacities of visual materials themselves.
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