Practice as Research

Photographer as observer- Research Questions

I have many questions (below) that I would like to answer or even get chance to consider through conducting my practice, and some reoccurring themes seem to occur Here are a few things that I have added to an ever growing list with a file name of ‘ideas’


History of the found image in photography- its use, popularity and meaning

Found imagery and hidden memory- forever looking for sentiment that doesn’t exist

Invention into visual culture- trend of collage within fine art in a time of change

Photograph as an object

The family snapshot- an insight into a previous time and its trend in today’s photographic practice

Digital archives- are we going to lose a generation of images because of social media and digital technology?


Intervention into existing visual culture: Collage, found imagery and the digital era

–       Has the rise of digital technologies caused a recent trend in the popularity of collage and found imagery based work? As it has with film photography? Links with economics/ nostalgia

–       Will the rise of digital technologies eventually break this trend and found imagery will be only existing online such as google images

–       Review into the history of collage/found imagery/digital found imagery

–       An in depth analysis/review into the work of collage artists such as John Stezaker and Broomberg and Chanarin/Mishka Henner (exhibition?)

–       Will a future generation understand the sentiment of the found image having never been brought up around them? The link that we find fascinating?

–       Predictions for the future

Can the photo book replace the exhibition for photographers?

Most of these questions hang in the balance, as at present I am currently considering my practice (developing) as research at the moment: I put the developing in brackets because I am in the process of forming a practice as research, and I do not think it is there yet. I feel it is important to present the questions that I have considered throughout practice as it does in some way demonstrate a methodology to which I work, actively engaging with current contemporary discourse in photographic practiceI have highlighted the questions my practice is currently addressing, and through my independent project I hop

ideas: Using the photo book as a vehicle to deliver photographic based work, making photographs (or collections of) an object.

Underlying related questions

–       Can a photograph be considered an art object?

–       Will a future generation understand the sentiment of the found image if their main photographic archives are online?

–       Will the found image ever solely be just online?

–       Can the hierarchy of digital documentation by undone by effective use of the photobook?



As a photographic artist, my practice is constantly questioning these ideas and broad statements. I have made several photo books to deliver projects, as well as exhibitions. By doing this I have able to compare the two elements, and monitor how they are received by an audience. This is quite hard with photo books as the audience’s reaction is not always available once the photo book is taken away by the audience. Using found imagery constantly continues the sentiment of it by begging for interpretation or questions of origin to be asked. The theoretical practice that I am undertaking is helping exploring the use of the found image and digital archiving in the future, and research into artists such as John Stezaker and Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin help me understand the contemporary use of collage, photography and found imagery.

There are lots of areas that I could go into detail to explore this topic further such things I have mentioned such as the methodology I work by, the situation of my practice in relation to this issue, or the knowledge that the practice creates. However, I am going to concentrate on the area of document/documentation as I feel this is applicable to many of the areas that I am exploring and reveals much more about my practice developing as research at this present time. It is also the area that I can relate to comfortably and confidently most at this time in my growing academic practice as research.


Photographer as collector


Documents of Practice

I keep constant scrapbooks of receipts, gallery leaflets, tickets, film canisters, any mementos, and photographs from trips/outings when making work and not making work. Essentially, my work develops from photographs that I take as documents, and from the things I pick up from day to day. Do they bear any relevance on my work as research? Yes. I keep these things to continue the cycle of visual culture that exists in the world, hoping that one day the things I collect can inform others in the same way that existing visual culture has influenced my practice. These documents also help to influence projects, inspire ideas, as well as settling my constant fear of forgetting. Childhood memories that I hold have many elements of collecting, whether it is flower pressing or scrapbooking tickets from trips. Continuing this practice is natural and possesses a huge element of nostalgia and physically holds memory, so I don’t have to, the same way in which I photograph/document the everyday in order to preserve moments as they are at that particular time.

Problem: There is a pragmatic requirement as a photographer to make work available and fight the definition of photography by its use. This can be difficult for any photographer or artist, as a hierarchy exists where any form of documentation of an existing work (whether it be print or exhibition) can be seen as inferior to the work itself.

‘archive documentation creates the circumstances by which the practice”itself” will be forgotten” Piccini and Rye (2002) 41

It is particularly difficult for me as an analogue photographer, as the work is carefully shot on specific film, developed in a way to produce a particular aesthetic, to be then digitally scanned (usually badly) and flattened into pixels on the internet grouped with the thousands of millions of images beside them, with no real sense of scale, authorship or context. What are the limits to these technologies? I am at risk of succumbing to temptation to consider all technological forms of documentation as transparent.


Mishka Henner’s work identifies with this head on through his practice using the digital documents of Google earth taken directly from streetview in the project No Man’s Land, portraying prostitutes around the world performing banal and everyday tasks. Grigoletto (2011) discussed Henner’s work, and spoke of it moving further and further away from taking an image, but rather as using the recording and archiving tool of photography to present new ideas about existing material and art.

Printing and distributing physical prints to the same audience the internet/digital forms reach would be time consuming, not cost effective, and most of all- impossible. There is also then the question that crops up in photography often, which is the actual work, the print hung in a gallery, or the documentation seen online? Exhibition catalogues are often seen as documentation of an event, not as the event itself. However, the work is only seen hung in a gallery by a very small percentage of an audience, thus posing the former question. Hughes (2005) looked at the need for non-gallery spaces for exhibiting contemporary art, stating that white cube spaces were not being used well to transport and distribute work to a wider audience, and exhibition catalogues and photo books can be seen as a solution to this.

I do not want quick and careless documentation to represent my practice; therefore it has to be a big part of the work and form the work itself.

So how do I embed this big part of my practice INTO my practice as research rather than it being an outside issue?

This issue has been an elephant in the room throughout my entire artistic career, however I am only just starting to tackle and solve it. Rather than documenting work solely through digital means, producing a photo book as the work means I can create a vehicle for the photographic imagery keeping full control of the documentation of the works during the process providing an art object with a particular aesthetic, documentation of the project as a whole that is easily distributed to a wider audience, and a collectable, archive material to store.

Here are three projects I have recently been involved in that focused directly on the work being documented and exhibited through the means of a book.

Relation to practice: Index- Café Royal Books 2014

Glasgow residency 2012

Garden Book Club 2014

Café Royal Books combined the two elements of book and exhibition by launching their book in an empty gallery space, keeping the focus entirely on the work, but bringing the audience together in a traditional gallery sense, invoking conversation around the work but allowing the audience to take the documentation/memory and work itself home with them. (Atkinson, 2014)

Most contemporary photographers use both exhibition and photo book (of some description, whether it be catalogue, zine, magazine or artist book) to disseminate their work and ideas. At some point in the making of a project, they will ask the question of book or wall, when considering the execution of it overall. In a field where there are countless outputs for work, the final outcome will affect the making of the work to some degree, with photographers gearing their style and project towards huge mural style prints, or using lo-fi technologies with the intention of photocopying their prints into a limited run zine, Daido Moriyama style (Tate, 2012). By deciding these factors, practitioners are also affecting what type of work it will be, whether it will be geared towards a high end commercial gallery or unlimited fertility through production of a book.

The collage work I am producing at the moment begs the question of display. Printed too big, the work becomes advertising. Printed too small, the technical aspects of the pieces are sometimes lost. I have always enjoyed the transferability of a book: between people, between places and making people talk. Presenting my photographic practice as exhibition has always posed issues, as I feel the actual outcome never really meets the expectation of desired outcome in my mind, whether it is due to financial or space restrictions, or time restraints imposed by deadlines. As aforementioned, photos can often be lost as singular images (although sometimes their effect is more powerful alone) and by presenting my current practice as a photo book; it becomes a much more strong and constructed project as a whole. In previous blog posts I have discussed my work being more concerned with the process than the outcome, and by producing a photo book I have managed to encompass both elements by being entirely in control throughout, and being satisfied with the outcome at last. In my eyes, documentation of photographic practice can be the work itself. I store my work is series’ of prints anyway, and the book is just a creative extension of this. By doing this you are exploring the photograph as document but redefining the document’s use by recontextualising it into the work itself. (Soutter, 2013). For example,Dusseldorf’s own Bernd and Hilla Becher’s bland seemingly record photographs were then recontextualised, encouraging viewers to project their own subjective meanings.

Reflecting on documentation and the photo book, reflection as documentation

It exists beside documentation, not instead of. There is still a need for digital presence through scanning etc. Plus the photo book is made in this way. Using various models of reflection for my teaching practice such as Gibbs’, Schon, Brookfield and Rolfe, I have been reflecting on my practice in different ways to examine the impact it would have on any future decisions I made. In all honesty, none of them really stuck.

I reflect on my photographic work through my WordPress site and it seems to work well to cast my mind back to a certain point in my practice, as well as inviting peer and outside feedback and evaluation from others. Keeping a website updated regularly is a new thing for my practice, and one that has helped keep my ideas structured and at the same time is forming an important digital presence and archive.

Relation to the institution

A firm believer in education as power, and even more so knowledge as power, I have strong research interests and belief that increasing the amount of knowledge around my specialist area will impact on the field as a whole. This wouldn’t have happened without my educational path into doing so, teaching me the ways and means of research and its importance. However, this being said, the research with a big r is a daunting prospect and a term that I do not feel my practice is nearly enough developed yet to be applied to. During my MA I have become more confident in confirming my practice and research interests, and hopefully this will, in the future, generate some brand new knowledge to the field of photography research. I have summarized the future for me through a chronological order and based around the reflection that I have undertaken. Slide 22 Independent project- slide 23 continuing my photographic practice whilst working in slide 24 arts education, slide 25 expanding my own knowledge, slide 26 perhaps studying towards a PhD, and then finally, slide 27 contributing original research to the photographic field and the institution.

Atkinson, C. (2014) Index Cafe Royal Books: Preston

Badger, G., Parr., M. (2004). The Photobook: A History volume I. London: Phaidon Press.

Borgdorff, H. (2011). The production of knowledge in artistic research. The Routledge Companion to Research in the Arts. Oxon: Routledge.

Brookfield, Stephan (1998). “Critically Reflective Practice”. Journal of Continuing Education in the Health Profession 18 (4): 197–205.

Daichendt, J. (2012) ‘Artists and Scholarship.’ In Artist Scholar. Reflections on writing and research. Intellect: Bristol. PP xiii-xxiii

Derrida, J. cited in Nelson, R. (2009). ‘Practice-as Research Knowledge and their place in the academy.’ In Allegue, Jones, Kershaw and Piccini Eds Practice as research in performance and screen. Palgrave: Basingstoke. Pp.112-30

Gibbs, G. (1988) Learning by doing: A guide to teaching and learning methods, Oxford Centre for Staff and Learning Development, Oxford Polytechnic. London: Further Education Unit.

Gossage, J. (2002). As cited in Parr, M., Badger, G., (2004) The Photobook: A History volume I. London: Phaidon Press.

Grigoletto, L. 2012, “WORK THROUGH THE LENS”, Afterimage, vol. 40, no. 3, pp. 2.

Hughes, L. 2005, “Do we need new spaces for exhibiting contemporary art? A critique of curatorial practice in relation to the viewer’s engagement with contemporary art”, Journal of Visual Art Practice, vol. 4, no. 1, pp. 29-38.

Piccini, A. (2002). ‘An historiographic perspective on Practice as Research’. PARIP: University of Bristol.

Prins, R. (1969) In conversation with Cas Oorthuys, quoted in Bloom, M.,

Suermondt, R., (2002) Photography Between the Covers: The Dutch Documentary Photo Book After 1945. Fragment Uitgeverij: Amsterdam

Rolfe, G., Freshwater, D., Jasper, M. (2001) (eds.) Critical Reflection for Nursing and the Helping Professions. Basingstoke, U.K: Palgrave. ISBN 0-333-77795-6. pp. 26 et seq., p. 35

Schön, D. (1983) The Reflective Practitioner, How Professionals Think In Action, Basic Books

Soutter, L. (2013) Why Art Photography? Routledge: London

Tate Gallery (2012) Daido Moriyama Printing Show. [online] accessed 6th May 2014


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s