To recap, in terms of approach, my second supervisor had suggested that I should Experiment (engage in rigorous and thoughtful practice), Document (record and evidence my work) and Analyse Practice. The key here is not to write so much about what I did but how this informs and develops my photographic work. I need to think about methods, practice outcomes and in turn, drivers of my research.
Reflecting on Photographic Outcomes and Future Direction
I very much enjoyed the intensive period of photographic practice. I decided to go out each day – at 8am for the first week, 10am for the second week and 12 noon the third week. The reason for going out every day at a specified time was to leave to chance what type of weather and conditions prevailed rather than me choosing the time.
Reflecting on Recording and Evidencing my Work
Before and after each photography shoot, while still out the field, I would write about the day, the weather, my feelings and approach, and sometimes the technical choices I had made. I became aware that I did not feel very comfortable about my writing style and early on recorded that I felt I did not have enough adjectives at my fingertips. I tried to improve over the three weeks – I included verbal vignettes of meeting sheep, the trials of facing the weather conditions and any other experiences I had in the field. A number of my blog readers complimented me on my writing style. I plan to seek out creative writing opportunities.
As soon as I returned home, I wrote up my notes and processed my images and posted a blog about the day. I included images that were both successful or unsuccessful in my view and explained why this was the case.
At the end of each week, I wrote a Critical Reflection of Practice piece on my blog.
Reflecting on Approach
The approach of setting a pre-determined time each day for my photographic practice led to a revelation in the first week. It led me to realise that through my approach hitherto, ie choosing the time and conditions, I had likely, given myself reduced opportunity to capture the ephemeral hiddenness of Skye. Furthermore, by going out come rain or shine, I was photographing when others would choose not to venture out, and perhaps when Skye might choose to reveal itself to me. I believe I was increasing the chance of capturing reality and the essence, rather the sensory experience of the Island. In the first Critical Reflection piece I wrote:
“So, for me the big learning point is this: I have come to appreciate that seeking the ephemeral hiddenness is about awareness as opposed to deliberate intention. Being open to the Being of Skye might appear to be a challenge when the wind is howling and the rain pounding down. However, what is striking is that the visual appeal of the island itself withdraws when the weather is inhospitable, the gorgeous scenery disappears behind the murkiness and the gloom, the colours are lost in the grey of the weather and what is left to awareness is the essence of Skye. Indeed, this week’s practice has led me to a greater understanding of the problem of withdrawal of being, behind the veil of presence. Heidegger and Derrida are, in their different ways looming larger and larger in my thinking. Heidegger for his insights into withdrawal and Derrida for his practice. He eschewed the presence of the text, he ignored the meaning as given and tried to probe behind the words and between the lines seeking “. . . the crevice through which the yet unnameable glimmer beyond the closure can be glimpsed ((Derrida 1998)) p.14)”. Maybe, that is what I am doing with my camera.”
Reflecting on Techniques
I know the location for much of my photographic work well having been working there for about four years. This may be a benefit or a weakness. A benefit in that I know the terrain, some good shooting positions and the local sheep. It can also be a weakness in that I might not be open to new shooting locations or positions.
Having photographed at Loch Cill Chriosd for a number of years I also have favoured techniques that I use. Having said that, until the start of my PhD I have sought to present the essence of Skye through representational photography rather than the semi-abstract and abstract work I have doing since October.
I have an intuitive relationship with my camera and rarely feel the need to focus on the technical choices to achieve the desired effect. However, having said that, when I work with multiple exposures this does require conscious focus on what I am doing and wanting to achieve.
During the three-week period, I have used slow shutter speeds with the camera on and off the tripod to record the movement of nature, such as the reeds, caused by wind, rain and water movement. I have used the combination of a slow shutter speed and intentional camera movement and also double exposure methods. I have merged images, in camera, such as overexposed and out of focus images with a perfect exposed sharp image and also an image using a slow shutter speed with intentional camera movement and then a second perfectly exposed and focused image.
Reflecting on the Interpretation of Glimpses
While out in the field, I reflected a lot on the words from Jacques Derrida above. How would I locate the crevice and glimpse the unnameable glimmer? Would I know when I had seen it. So, I started looking for what I guess might be considered signifiers of the glimpse. I peered through the reeds to glimmers of light, or ripples on the water, I looked for a flash of light on the water’s surface (perhaps the reflection of a waterfall, for example) or under the surface of the water. At the end of Week 2 and into Week 3 I started to peer through the trees to the loch, glimpsing the waters beyond and also through a blurred background to a sharp glimpse of the silver birches.
Reflecting on Subverting Intentionality
The learning from the last few days of practice has been about how I put intent out of my mind when I work. Whether it be what techniques to use or what pre-visualisation I might have considered prior to the shoot. I am torn between being clear about a body of work, but at the same time for the essence of Skye to drive my image, choices, photographic decisions and approaches and the unique conditions on a given day.
If I were to allow myself to be driven by the wish to try out a particular technique then, as I mentioned above, concerning myself with technical decisions puts me very much in conscious mode. I need to think about and focus on what I am doing rather than losing myself in the moment and the landscape. From experience, I believe that my best chance of capturing the essence of Skye is when I am least focused on doing so.
How can I develop strategies to avoid intentionality? I know the over-arching intent for my work – so, should I just go with the flow? Maybe I should just try to arrive at my location with an empty mind and let me and my camera work?
Drivers of my Research
My supervisor suggested to me that the drivers of my research should not be philosophers but other creative practitioners. I should research widely and across a number of genres. As I complete my first period of practice, I have a list of photographers, writers, and yes, a much smaller number of philosophers (Derrida, Heidegger and Harman) as I become much clearer about where philosophy can inform and provide inspiration for my photographic work to develop. In particular, there are a number of writers and books I want to read over the Christmas break including The Living Mountain (2011) by Nan Shepherd (nearly finished) Flight Behaviour (2012) and Unsheltered (2018) by Barbara Kingsolver and The Wild Places (2007) and Mountains of the Mind (2003) by Robert Macfarlane as well as re-reading some of Rebecca Solnit’s books. In terms of photographer, Sandra Bartocha and Andreas Gefeller are top of the list. I am also going to turn my mind to inspiration from films.
Developing my Research Methods
Alongside my photographic work I have started reading Robin Nelson’s book (2013), Practice as Research in the Arts. I read about documentary strategies that allow you to record and evidence your research. I need to find a balance in terms of the amount of evidence I collect and clarify what type of information will best evidence the enquiry of my PhD. I believe I have a strong start with my Critical Research Journal (blog) and the images I produce. I also have my journal of writings from the field. Some useful points from Nelson which I want to follow up are ensuring that I record the lightbulb moments in both my research and photographic practice. He refers to these as “location in a lineage” or either new knowledge or substantial new insights. In order to this effectively I need to be informed in both the academic theory and have a good knowledge of contemporary creative practice. I also need to evidence and record gallery visits, performances, and exhibitions in my blog as I have done hitherto.
Future Plan of Integrating Practice and Research
I think the intensive period of photographic practice works well for me and I believe I work best when I am entirely focused on writing, taking images and reflecting on what I have done, thought and achieved. Then repeat. I do not think that I want to divert my attention during these periods by trying to follow up academic reading or searching out other practitioners. So, moving forward I see a three-month plan emerging where I do two weeks’ intensive practice and then follow this up with two weeks of academic research and endeavour.
Derrida, J. (1998). Of Grammatology. Baltimore, John Hopkins University Press.
Kingsolver, B. (2012). Flight Behaviour. London, Faber and Faber Limited.
Kingsolver, B. (2018). Unsheltered. London, Faber and Faber Limited.
Macfarlane, R. (2003). Mountains of the Mind – A History of a Fascination. London, Granta Books.
Macfarlane, R. (2007). The Wild Places. London, Granta Books.
Nelson, R. (2013). Practice as Research in the Arts: Principles, Protocols, Pedagogies, Resistances. London, Palgrave Macmillan.
Shepherd, N. (2011). The Living Mountain. Edinburgh, Canongate Books.