Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Research - why, when, who and how?


Why do I have to research and how do I put together the research section of my work?

This section relates to most level three programmes, whereby you're expected to conduct research on a continuous basis and at the start of most of your assignments.

(1). Why do I  have to research?

First you've signed up to a photography course and therefore you need to learn about all aspects of photography. Increasingly, you need to learn about the contextual aspects of photography in order to set you apart from the enthusiastic amateur who spends a lot of time doing photography as opposed to learning about photography. Learning about photography gives you a far greater depth of understanding which in time feeds into your practical work.

The more you read and look at photography - the reason it's made, what it aims to do, how it conveys meaning, how it's produced and what influences it, the greater the potential for you to be able to create your own work in a meaningful way working with interesting ideas and concepts.

(2). When should I research?

All the time! Once you've established a few ground rules about what you should be looking at, you should soak up as much information you can, collect pictures, ideas, names and concepts. Check journals and websites for new issues and updates, collect old copies of journals and buy books - fill your head with ideas and information. Live and breath photography.

More specifically - at the start of all your assignments. When you're set an assignment, it will have a theme. As soon as you've got the theme/title, you should then looked to start researching in order to generate ideas and establish the context of the theme. With the ideas and the context established you can move forward with developing your project.

(3). How do I research?

Use the British Journal of Photography as one of your main ways of researching, but consider some of these other approaches...

Primary Research - Visit galleries and studios where the work might be displayed in it original form. Visit studios and venues where you might be able to talk to the photographer and ask direct questions. Where possible try and gain work placements and work as an assistant. Interviews with the photographer.

Another form of primary research is to produce a survey and ask peoples opinions on the subject you're researching if appropriate.

Secondary Research - Journals, videos, newspapers and the internet. Youtube, Vimeo and dailymotion. Films and TV.

(4). Good practice in research

Secondary research is problematic in that there's an awful lot of information out there you could use, especially on the internet. You have to be a bit clever and identify what is useful and what should be ignored. The safest easy way of researching and one of the most productive, is to use journals such as the British Journal of Photography (BJP) and Hotshoe magazine. These magazines are written and edited by professionals that work in the field of contemporary photography. All of the articles are worthy of your time and you'll find they are short and concise and to the point. There are number of slightly more specialist and in-depth publications such as '8', aperture and AG. All of which - if you're at our college are in the library along with back issues.

If you are going to use the internet, you do need to identify high quality websites where you know you can trust the content. The type of 'Content' that you are looking for is...

(A). The photographer discussing their own work, explaining what it is about, what it means, how the work is made and where it is seen etc.
(B). Interviews with the photographer asking questions that explain the above and more.
(C). Critics, curators, journalists and others that are qualified - writing about the work, explaining, analysing and reviewing the work describing what they think it means and why they feel that the work is significant/important/good.

Suggested websites include...

www.americansuburbx.com - Use the 'Browse and Artist' links. This site is very well researched and has some of the best contemporary photographers listed. Most of the content are videos, where the photographer talks about their work.

http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/series/sean-o-hagan-on-photography - From the Guardian Newspaper here in the UK. He reviews work being exhibited currently along with books.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/photography/ - This one you have to be slightly careful of as some of the content is a bit cheesy 'The worlds most inspiring photographs' Images taken for the most part by 'Jobbing photographers' so there wont be any in-depth analysis of the images. But a lot of the content is good quality.

http://www.listofphotographers.blogspot.co.uk/ - This is my list and it differs from most in that it is theme driven. If your looking for a particular theme say for instance 'Dogs' and you've gone through the BJP's and the websites above and you still can't find any content to research that is of any substance. My list might help. Once you're on the page use CTRL + F and bring up the 'Find' box, type in 'Dog' and ENTER, you'll then be presented with names of photographers that I've found that are worthy of exploring and using in your research. Search the photographer or if it already has a link - use the link.


Needless to say books are brilliant resources too. Two really good books that we'd recommend are -


(5) Finally - How do I go about putting the research together?

Break the work up into sections...

A. Once you have the theme e.g. Landscape; Write up your take on what you think landscape photography is, or you could do some primary research and ask other people without any photographic background the same question? Consider the following...

  • Where do you see Landscape Photography?
  • What purpose do the images serve?
  • Who are they for - who is the audience?
  • Do you take landscape pictures, if so, why - what do you do with them?
  • Do you ever see landscape photos being sold anywhere other than an art gallery?
  • Who buys landscape photographs and why?
  • Could you name 5 or more landscape photographers - who?
  • If you were a landscape photographer how might you make a living out of it?
  • What equipment is used in making landscape photographs?
  • Do you know anyone with a landscape photograph on the walls of their homes?

  • B. Then do your research - find a minimum of two photographers that shoot contemporary landscape images (use the methods described above). Collect enough material to write up approx. 300 words per photographer. You will also need 4 -5 good quality images per photographer that illustrate their work. As you collect the research material make a note of your sources - list web-links, books and magazines (Bibliography).

    C. Using the information you've found read it and extract from it the information you need.

    • Where is this type of work seen?
    • What is it about?
    • How is the meaning conveyed?
    • What visual language is used and how?
    • Who is the audience?
    • Who/what is it influenced by?
    • How has the image been made (Equipment/lighting/materials/techniques/processes?
    • What kind of image is it - Art/editorial/Advertising?
    • How is helpful to you - how might it influence your work?
    D. Where possible and if suitable, try and quote the photographer/reviewer when you're trying to substantiate, make a point or offer evidence in your analysis. When using quotes, always identify them as quotes either use an indent, italics, different coloured ink and or inverted commas. Then at the end identify the source.

    E. Compare and contrast the two different photographers approaches, they may both shoot landscapes, but their reasons for doing so may be vastly different.

    E. Finally reflect on the research - having now studied the two photographers - do you hold the same opinion as to what landscape photography is, or do you now see it in a different way? How will you use this research to generate ideas and influence your work, what will you take from the research?


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