I have really enjoyed the practice and writing about what I have done and more importantly what I have learnt. I felt that my second supervisor had legitimised my doing regular periods of practice and making that practice central to the direction of the research for my PhD.
I decided to go out at pre-determined times each day – meaning that whatever the weather I would go out and take some shots. On many of the days, I was met with quite extreme weather including a number of gales and heavy rain and wind. But it was on one of those days that I observed being as being. I was out photographing a lone silver birch tree in a northerly gale on the crest of a small hill. I realised that I needed to focus on keeping my footing and my connection with the land underneath me. In that moment, I realised that was what the lone silver birch tree had to do every time it encountered this type of weather. I had always felt a connection with the silver birch, being quite small, vulnerable and fragile and yet, resilient and strong but on that day, it was at a different level.
We talked about other learning points that I had recorded in my Critical Research Journal (this blog). I had treated this first intensive period of practice during my PhD as an experiment and as a means of testing the research approach and methods in the field. As a result of the experiment, I have learned the following:
- I have determined that an intensive period of practice (two weeks) followed by a two-week period of following up the direction and learning from the practice will work well for me. This will ensure that my practice is truly embedded and driving my academic and contextual research.
- I will continue to pre-determine the time when I go out in the field. This will increase the times when I encounter the changeable and extreme weather and conditions on Skye.
- I will continue to record my thoughts in a hard copy journal in the field and on return from the photo-shoot immediately write these up, process the images, and post a blog.
- I will research the possibility of taking a Creative Writing course to improve my style and also consider incorporating the writing with my photographic images.
- I will continue to summarise each week’s practice in a Critical Reflection of Practice piece on my blog with the intention that along with 3 and 4 above I will collect evidence to support my approach and findings.
- I will write a suite of essays about the key learning points from this first period of practice.
- I will focus on those philosophers that directly inform what I am doing in my practice – at the moment these are Derrida, Heidegger and Harman.
- I will cast my net wide in terms of contemporary practice to include nature writing, films, other photographers and writers and also continue reading Robin Nelson’s book Practice as Research in the Arts (2013).
- Now that I am better informed, I will revise the Plan for the next nine months of my PhD to the point of upgrade.
My supervisor and I spoke of the way I am reacting to the elements of nature and how they affect me and the relationship between body, environment and image – the being in the moment and how it might change. This may be an aspect of research to pursue.
She suggested that as I engage in the process of academic research, I will begin to filter that which is most relevant. Perhaps focus on a quotation, write, dig deeper, look through books for the “unnameable glimmer”. What is it that speaks to me, or not, and critically analyse how it works in my photographic practice?
She suggested that I should open up my writing – write about something that reveals a thought. How do philosophers speak to me? I am building a thesis. I should write deeply about small themes like the unnameable glimmer” for example. How does it speak to my practice? Collect quotations – and I might find a theme that connects them. Academic research is about carving a path – step by step. My supervisor advised that I should not fix anything and remain open as long as possible however, this does not mean I should not make some decisions.
Curating, Storytelling and Communicating
My supervisor mentioned that she was not sure about the generic title I had chosen for my work – Winter Impressions. She said she did not like the approach of many artists to label their work as Untitled – a practice I had been encouraged to use during my MA. She said that she saw the title as the first clue (for the viewer) – it should not be a descriptive text. It is an opportunity to set the viewer off in understanding the imagery. She spoke of how a title can change meaning.
We spoke again about how decisions about the crop, the paper, the size of the image have an impact and how they turn an image into artwork. She talked to me about how she sees an exhibition as an exhibition of artworks, and that an exhibition is about storytelling (what story can I tell?) and that different platforms provide different opportunities. “When you curate, you communicate”. I have the opportunity to mount a couple of exhibitions in 2021 and propose to use these as a means to explore different ways of seeing and developing my curatorial, presentation and communicative skills. Moving forward, I may choose to combine language and writing in my practice – this path will reveal itself depending on the direction of my photography and research. Research is about awareness. My supervisor said that it is important to record key moments and turning points.
One of the themes I identified in my first period of practice was subverting intentionality. My supervisor mentioned improvisation in the performing arts in this context. In this instance, there is always a framework, a generic structure but within this it is possible to improvise and be in the moment. I should also talk about aesthetics in my work and others’ images and start to bring the philosophy and my images together. I noted that I would like to do this for the next meeting I have with my supervisors at the end of January.
Nelson, R. (2013). Practice as Research in the Arts: Principles, Protocols, Pedagogies, Resistances. London, Palgrave Macmillan.