I had a challenging, but exciting and informative meeting with my supervisor this morning.  She asked what I had been doing and I reeled off work on my literature review, attending various courses and the thinking about the ephemeral.  I shared with her that I felt I had not done as much general reading on philosophy as I had planned.

Whilst she acknowledged that I had worked hard she reminded me that I was doing practice-based research and I should be thinking about and doing practice.  I need to identify clear time to engage with practice – to experiment, write about what I am doing and record the insights I gain from my work.  It will be my practice that provides the insights I need for my research – I should be researching practitioners rather than philosophers.  I need to start thinking about methods, practice outcomes and the drivers of my research.  She recommended a book entitled Practice as Research in the Arts (2013) by Robin Nelson.

She said I needed to shift my mindset to the literature review being contextual and that I should be thinking about my practice.  My methods should be determined by my practical research and might include action research and field studies for example.  I needed to conduct a series of experiments in my photographic work, reflect and learn from the outcomes and move forward.  She spoke of a diagram in Nelson’s book that refers to know how (experiential and performative), know what (knowing gleaned from critical reflection) and know that (conceptual framework).

She suggested that I might look at other forms of representation – such as abstract writing, creative texts and how these might access the essence.  Also look at film as visual narratives.  She confirmed that my research should be broad and shouldn’t be limited to photography and photographers.  Why does their practice speak to me, or not?  Identify the gaps, controversies or someone else’s research that has identified questions – what hasn’t been tackled?

My supervisor suggested I am at the design stage in my research – what do I want to achieve?  Look at three months chunks of time and identify tasks no longer than 1-2 weeks. What is the task on Skye – what should I do, what is the process and what are my reflections on the task and outcomes?  I should make practice a feature of everyday or every other day and start writing – connecting thinking with what I am doing – “doing thinking”.  I need to understand my own practice and research through my practice.  I need to find others’ work that speaks to me.  Research methods in other creative fields – film making, poetry, drawing – and how they have depicted it as identity or place.  I should write essays on critical reflection – don’t describe their work but identify insights, analyse how they achieve it, and think critically about how it relates to the subject.  How have others depicted Skye?  But, above all I should enjoy thinking.

She also suggested that I think about the equipment I use, and think about how best to present my work – using for example different textures, colours, grains etc.  How might these decisions affect my ability to deliver the essence?  How do I process my images, what paper would be most appropriate, and the size of the image will all make a difference to the finished image or outcomes?  I should note these decisions and the new insights I have gained as a result.  Don’t write about what I have done but what I have learned.  I need to evidence knowledge.  What is significant for my research?

I should set exercises for my practice work.  Go out every-day at 6.30am and take the same image.  How do the photographs change, can I change equipment, perspective or lens for example?  Compare the outcomes and write about the images and why the exercise was interesting and informative.  Experiment – Document – Analyse practice.

I think my supervisor was right to suggest a change in my mindset.  The fulcrum of my research should be my practice.  So, I will start working on a plan for my practical work in the hope that I can return to Skye soon.



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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