In my recent post, Defining Elements of my Photographic Practice, I refer to four visual heuristics that describe and define my practice:

The subject of this post is to dwell on The Recursive Loop – A Practice-Led Research Model and discuss how this visual articulation of my practice-led research has helped me maintain focus and recognise and be mindful of the five important elements of my work – practice through ontology, epistemology, methodology and method.

The Recursive Loop – A Practice-Led Research Model

In creating the Recursive Loop, my original intention was to identify the various entry points rather than considering research to begin with ontology, and then move on to epistemology, methodology and method.  I did not want my research to take a linear approach, as I realised early on that my practice would involve entering the loop at different points and maintaining a circular movement within the loop until a natural exit point emerged.  The exit from the loop would normally identify a moment of insight or require a rethink or a change of direction in my photographic work.

At its most basic level and particularly in the early days of my PhD, developing and then regularly returning to the recursive loop kept me focused and allowed me to develop a habit of reflection.    During the days of Covid lockdown, I, like many others had more time to think, write posts for this Critical Research Journal, and allow my walking practice to provide space for reflection, development of ideas, connections between practice and my academic endeavours, and pursue new lines of enquiry to emerge.  This simple visual articulation of my practice kept me grounded in the important components of my work and ensured that I did not lose sight of any of them for too long.

The habit of ongoing reflection was important for me to develop, as throughout my career, my focus was on doing, taking appropriate action swiftly and achieving results.  A short moment of reflection on the options together with a brief SWOT analysis of them was all that was normally afforded.  Taking time to think and reflect, something encouraged by the coach and author Nancy Kline (1999) was limited and undervalued under the pressure of leading large professional service departments.  My reading included Gillie Bolton who describes reflection as follows:

“Reflection is in-depth review of events, either alone – say, in a journal – or with critical support with a supervisor or group.  The reflector attempts to work out what happened, what they thought or felt about it, who was involved, when and where, what these others might have experienced and thought and felt about it from their own perspective.  Most significantly, the reflector considers WHY?, and studies significant theory and tests from the wider sphere.” (2014) p7).

Reminding myself of her words as I come to the end of my studies, but not my practice and research, allows me to conclude that her words aptly describe the recursive nature of my work.  Her focus on journaling as part of reflective practice also reinforced my commitment to writing as a reflection.

My early work on my PhD also led me to Robin Nelson (2013) who emphasises the multi-disciplinary nature of practice as research in the arts:

“As I see it, the thinking in intelligent contemporary practice is likely to resonate with ideas circulating in other domains and perhaps other disciplines. A programme of reading of all relevant kinds should be undertaken simultaneously with the commencement of the practical inquiry to mobilise an interplay between practical doing-thinking and more abstract conceptual thinking, typically understood to be verbally articulated (in books and articles). Bolt sums this movement up neatly when she writes of a ‘double articulation between theory and practice whereby theory emerges from a reflexive practice at the same time as practice is informed by theory.’” (Nelson, 2013 p29).

Nelson’s advice to scan widely across contemporary practice and various disciplines has been significant throughout my practice-led research. It has set me on a path that involved research about practitioners across the artistic spectrum, and consulting writers in several disciplines, including philosophy, psychology, tree science and the fascinating world of fungi. His words about using practice as a means to combine and integrate “doing-thinking” (Nelson, 2013 p44) with more conceptual understanding and development served to encourage me to produce heuristics that best described my approach including The Recursive Loop and The BAR Diagram.

Reflecting on the applicability and usefulness of the Recursive Loop during my practice-led research, the depiction of my work as circular rather than linear was helpful and I think avoided me being “locked in”.  The visual nature of the reflective process that emerged, allowed me to avoid becoming trapped and bogged down for too long in one approach or dimension or becoming ground down by a lack of progress.  This mental prompt to move on provided by the Recursive Loop was important, as an extended focus on one aspect would have potentially excluded the others and the sense of wholeness and interconnectedness of my research might have been lost.  In summary, the Loop provided me with the means to remain grounded while enabling me to review and revitalise my thinking when necessary.  It allowed me to keep the fire of creativity burning as well as ensure that the creative act remained multi-dimensional.



Bolton, G. (2014). Reflective Practice – Writing and Professional Development. London, SAGE Publications Ltd

Kline, N. (1999). Time to Think London, Octopus Books.

Nelson, R. (2013). Practice as Research in the Arts:  Principles, Protocols, Pedagogies, Resistances. London, Palgrave Macmillan.


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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