Research as Practice and Practice as Research
I have just received a copy of the latest addition to the series Basics-Creative Photography published by AVA Publishing. Called Behind the Image: Research in Photography it is the third volume in a series that already includes Design Principles and Context and Narrative.
Behind the Image, as with all the other books in the series, is aimed at students in the visual arts and combines explanations of the relevant topics with practical examples from real-world practice.
There are six sections each ending with a case study and suggested activity but scattered throughout are examples of how particular topics have played out with photographer’s practice.
It might be argue that there is rather too much reliance on the work of the two authors but it is equally possible that by referring to their own work they have a greater intimacy with the details of the projects and their own working methods.
The authors, Anna Fox and Natasha Caruana are both practicing artists and photography academics at the University for the Creative Arts, which is co-incidentally our accrediting university.
The opening sentence of the book sets the tone, ‘Research and exploration are vital elements of the photographer’s practice; together they form part of the process of making photographic projects.’ The book sets out to show how any photographic project needs to grow from an idea to a final outcome via well directed and documented research. ‘Documenting the process for the future enables critical reflection, and the evaluation of what you have done helps you to decide where to go next.’
For the student new to developing coherent projects rather than randomly taking photographs as the mood takes, there are a number of useful suggested formats for research and organising the results of that research. Interview techniques are touched upon and there is no stuffy academic shunning of contemporary communications media. The Internet, blogging and social networks are discussed and one of the activities is to start your own blog. Of blogging as a research tool they say, ‘Creating a blog allows increased functionality above simply digitizing and compiling your research material.’ But neither are the traditional research resources passed over; libraries and particularly archives are dealt with in some detail and there is advice on setting up your own archive to store the results of your own research and its outcomes.
They start their conclusion by saying,
‘The emphasis of this book has been on understanding, acknowledging and recording the research process in a way that enables critical reflection and evaluation, creating a rich and vibrant resource for continual use.’
For students at level 4 (our level 1 modules) this can be a difficult concept to grasp, there is sometimes an over emphasis on intuitive working and too great a reliance on inspiration but this book should go a long way to explaining why and how research based projects are likely to have better outcomes and how research can form the basis of a truly professional approach to one’s work.
Curriculum Leader: Photography and Visual Culture