Photography as research


Some time ago I applied for a job as an art technician. The application asked for a person who could prepare the materials for art classes, who could work to support students and stated a preference for an arts graduate or a working artist. I could do the prep at a push, I could do student support in droves, but was neither an arts graduate or a working artist. I did do art. I dabbled in painting, wrote poetry, performed and made music. But the one thing I had worked at consistently over time was photography. But, I reflected, I had never shared it with anyone except family and friends, so could not really count myself as an artist of a photographer. To me, to be an artist or a photographer, I would have needed to be selling or showing my work.

This got me thinking about my motivation for art-making. As part of the application process, I looked around for some expression of this for my interest in art-making and photography. One photographer I adored was Garry Winogrand. I found a quote by Winogrand that summed up why I took photographs.

I photograph to find out what something will look like photographed.

When Winogrand died, people found thousands of unprocessed rolls of film and just under a quarter of a million unedited images. I realised that for Winogrand, the act of taking photographs was more important than showing the images.

I did not get the job, but in doing research for the application I learned something important about my own photography practice that I had not understood before. The act of taking a photograph was an act of inquiry. I found something out. I realised art could be done as research.

It was like lots of switches that had hitherto been closed, opened. Connections between outdoor and adventure learning, the arts therapies, art-making, experiential learning and performance, all suddenly linked up. Something hidden in plain sight showed itself.

The purpose of this posting is to use photography as an introduction to the ideas and practices of art as research to explore and express personal experience. Art will be explored as a form of research. And with all forms of research, some knowledge of research methods is useful. My intention is to explore the relationship between art as research and quantitative and qualitative research in other posts.

But to use art as research, knowledge of the history of art (amongst other things) is important. It is important as a way to say what you mean by art, as an art-maker, artist and as a researcher. All research needs some clearly stated starting point, and the history of photography is particularly useful starting to understanding art as research at an academic level. It is also useful in that it was that through photography that I made the connection to art as research, so I can share my understanding gained from my personal arts practice.

The birth of photography – art or science.

One of many new forms that emerged from the 19th century was photography. Coming at a time when technology in the form of the industrial revolution had changed the world forever, the technology to produce accrate images from light by purely mechanical means was emblematic of the age. Much of human life had by the 1840’s been mechanised when Deguerre in France and Fox Talbot in England brought photography to the world.

  • Edgar Allan Poe
  • Woman in Black
  • Two Women
  • Lighthouse Vessel
  • Portrain of a Young Woman
  • Lighthouse worker Anders Folkestads
  • Emily Dickinson
  • Fishing Boats

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