A very interesting and relevant guest lecture, in terms of my Research Project The Road to Elgol, entitled Reframing Illness  from Katrin Joost of the University of Cumbria. Katrin started by talking about the phenomenology of photography and photography as phenomenology. She argued that phenomenology allows us to understand certain aspects of photography and that photography is a form of thinking about the world. She explained that phenomenology was a counter movement to modernist thought. She described phenomenology as a “life world”, “lived experience”, “meaning making” and “intentionality”. She went on to say that as living human beings we perceive things over time, we move in the world, we see the world with others and we see others as being in the world.

Katrin explained phenomenology by talking about the scientific analysis of a cat which provides us with certain information however, it does not provide us with the essence of a cat – what does it mean to encounter or engage with a cat – that is about interactions or what it is like to know or own a cat.

She argued that photography is a phenomenon in the world and there are some phenomenological aspects about photography such as: photography is about seeing something, seeing an image about something. We can see pictures as objects and can see into pictures. Katrin argued that there was a difference between seeing a painting and seeing a photograph in that there is a power in photography to provide a direct link with the content of an image. She argued we see through the photograph and that enables us to pre-visualise a city that we haven’t visited for example. She referred to Susan Sontag who in On Photography (1979) said that the world might be viewed as a set of possible photographs.

In order to explain phenomenology further Katrin talked about the phenomenology of illness. This can be referred to factually as a disease or a period of sickness but in itself this does not tell us about what it is to be ill and the experiences of being ill. She argued that how we feel is hardly ever visualised. In our everyday lives, photography can either be used to record symptoms or microscopic images that cannot be seen with the naked eye or photography can be about illness. For example, what is the life world of someone with poor health? What is it like to feel ill?

Katrin then referred to a number of photographic projects that had focused on this. For example, The Scar Project by David Jay that has recorded what it feels like to have breast cancer in a very poignant project. Sally Mann’s work Proud of Flesh documents her husband’s demise through a series of nude photographs. Mark Edwards charted the effect of Alzheimer’s disease on his mother with images showing her physical and mental degeneration.

The photographer John Darwell charts what depression can feel like in A Black Dog comes Calling:


In my view, there is an issue with Katrin’s exposition of phenomenology.  She focuses upon the phenomenology of the image and the viewers’ experience of the photograph.  However, in her references to medical illness she refers to the experience of the illness, which is not analogous with the experience of an image.  An alternative phenomenology  relates to the experience of the photographer in the context of which images are taken and indeed may reflect that photographers’s experience.  My project on The Road to Elgol is exploring my experience of the road, and my understanding of its meaning for me, and my images are an attempt to convey that experience with power and impact to the viewer.  It is also worth reflecting upon the fact that an image is a phenomena without a noumena.  The noumena subsists within the photographer because, in my view, in a very important sense the image is the photographer.

I found this lecture from Katrin very helpful and the example of illness as a case study has really made me reflect on my experience of The Road to Elgol.   How do I capture the essence of my feelings and experience through primarily landscape images? How can I connect with my audience and how has my early experience in photography influenced my work, and indeed my life?   How do I get my message across – am I getting my message across?


 Joost, K (2018), Reframing Illness: Photography as a phenomenological insight into the lived experience of illness – Guest lecture for Falmouth University

Alison Price

Alison Price

My name is Alison Price and for the past ten years I have travelled the world photographing wildlife, including Alaska, Antarctica, Borneo, Botswana, the Canadian Arctic, Kenya, Rwanda, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
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