Friday, 12 October 2012

Review: Research in Photography: Anna Fox & Natasha Caruana: ava publishing, 2012

Research is something I did not expect to have problems with. I spent 10 years as a research chemist and my job since then has regularly involved briefing myself (and others) on issues to a level that allows me to write an intelligent press release or article. However, what has become increasingly clear to me is that if I’m going to do something other than assemble small portfolios or batches of loosely related images then my ability to hold and mentally sort information is going to need some help.

It also became clear that I wasn’t really clear in my own mind about the range of sources available, how they might inter-relate and how they might inform my practise. Enter this book. Fox and Caruana do an excellent job of explaining – from the beginning – the value of research, the resources available and how to compile analyse and test it. It covers areas that I had not really thought about as research – such as actually taking your own photos as part of the process. This last bit has the potential to add some purpose to the projects – which at times seem almost trivial, but will probably come to life if I treat them as part of the research for the assignments.

The compilation section encourages you to start your own blog – each major chapter ends with an activity to help embed the ideas in your own practise - as well as looking at more traditional ways of compiling thoughts and research material. The final two chapters – on testing the relevance of your work, and reflection and contextualising – are also areas which I hadn’t really thought about in the context of research. My only slight criticism is that at this stage they call a halt – the project is complete and the the reflection/contextualising is about presentation of the work. It seems to me that this is a circular process – and that you might well wish to use the outcome to take the project in a different direction or to a different level. In fairness some of this thinking is implicit ion the whole book – but it could perhaps be a touch more explicit.

The book is well illustrated by work from a range of photographers – not just the authors, and the chapters are also supported by short case studies and, as noted above, exercises. The first of these is about recording ideas – I’ve already tried the mind mapping (but need to update it sometimes) and I had made a reasonable start on a paper day-book, but have rather let it slip so there’s the first challenge for me. The third – in the compilation section – is about blogging, so I’ve probably got that covered off reasonably well, but I may dip into the others in the coming months to supplement the work in the course notes.

I was a little sceptical when I ordered this book, wondering if I might be wasting my money, but happily that is not the case. There is more than enough food for thought and insight here to more than justify the cost. I suspect it would be even more useful for anyone who does not have any research background and/or is returning to study after a significant break.

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