I have to admit that this was the area I felt least comfortable with as I drafted the PhD proposal. I had been, at the time of submission of the proposal, recently introduced to autoethnography as a possible method and also felt that interviews might form part of audience feedback. I need to do some deep reading about research methods over the next few weeks so my reflections can be informed by a better understanding of the options. I also feel that the methods will develop and evolve as the research questions become clearer. It is a chicken and egg problem, but I need to make progress.
Initial Questions framed for this Thought Piece
- What perspective is guiding the approach to my research questions? Could be a philosophy thesis leading to a research methodology to mirror that or it could be mapped from the perspective of a practitioner leading to the artistic work bringing it together. What is the balance?
- Nature of research – relationship between theory and practice will guide methodology.
- Does research mean you have to investigate or solve?
- From Fine Art Photography to the development of a successful business – how much is this focus and journey part of my research?
- In relation to autoethnography, should not just be me as only case study – should position myself in relation to others – philosophers and other practitioners to underpin my work.
- Need to look at research methods. Research questions are fine for now.
- Need to talk about interviews. Should it be one of my methods and what kind of interview would allow me to gain insights and who would it be with?
- Keep outcomes loose at this stage – how could I know at this point what outcomes might be best? But when do I know enough?
- Exhibitions at An Crubh – exhibitions can take any form and should not necessarily be driven by venue. On-line exhibitions? Outputs are something to return to later in research.
Research Questions, Direction and Emphasis (Questions 1-4)
This first set of questions are about the overall balance of my PhD work. To what extent is my photographic practice driven and informed by aspects of philosophy and how might my search for answers be directed by this in the practical development process? After meeting my supervisors my immediate reflection on these questions was that I am clear that my work will be practice-led but informed by the perspectives and insights of philosophy. My interest in philosophy and in particular ontology – the study of reality, being and presence – began as part of a process to try to make sense of my motivations in photographing the Isle of Skye. At the beginning of my journey I was clearer about what I did not want to achieve rather than what it was I was searching for. I did not wish to represent Skye, I wanted to get underneath the super-saturated images of so many, in an attempt to share with others, the Island that reveals itself to me. Through a process of immersing myself in the landscape I started to glimpse transient moments of revelation.
My motivation is a search for the ephemeral hiddenness of Skye. I see this search to be an iterative process of being in the field taking images, finding strategies and techniques that are more effective in revealing some of these fleeting revelations and then returning to the literature and the great thinkers for insights into how I might develop and improve my understanding and practice further. The driver for my research is clearly to inform and develop my practice and develop what is currently a fledgling photographic business (although I do not see this as a necessary outcome of my PhD work).
I also believe that the extensive reading I intend to do in philosophy will result in a substantial thesis rather than a shorter piece to legitimise my practice.
In answer to the question about whether my research will investigate or solve, I guess the prudent answer at this point is to investigate. See postscript below.
Research Methods (Questions 5-7)
The area of research methods is where I feel very unsure at this point. This was picked up in the feedback in the admissions process and by my supervisors. I suspect that through the refinement and clarification of the research questions, aims and objectives the methods will naturally evolve. In the meantime, I plan to read more about the options I might have. In particular, I would like to investigate autoethnographic practices further and understand better the strengths and weakness of this approach. I plan to review some submitted PhD theses that have successfully threaded the personal through an academic piece of work. I would like to understand more about interviews as a research method along with the ethical challenges of this type of work. I plan to write a further Thought Piece on this area.
Research Outputs (Questions 8 and 9)
The outputs of my research are some way off and my supervisors have suggested this is not something to finalise at this stage, however I am conscious that a need to determine how I might present and evaluate my practice by the end of the first year of my PhD, particularly as I would like to explore more creative and novel output opportunities.
After having written this Thought Piece I felt very dissatisfied with my progress in considering and clarifying some of the methods that might be available to me.
I am very clear that my research is practice-led. I am the practitioner and the subject of the research and the objective of the research is to investigate and generalise from my experiences as a reflective practitioner. The questions started to fall out of my reflections:
- How might I legitimately generalise from a case study of one?
- What is unique and common about me as a photographer and what insights might the case study provide that might be generalisable or reproducible?
- What aspects of the theoretical underpinning of my work might provide insights for others in tuning into the ephemeral hiddenness, the essence?
- How might my ways of engaging with nature be transferable to others?
In any case study, there will be internal and external components – those that relate to general principles, practices and theories (the internal) and those that are not in this category and are unique to me (the external). I have a range of life experiences including an early career as a police photographer, that will have influenced my techniques, approaches and the way I experience and interact with the world.
My research methods will be aimed at identifying these internal and external elements. I now have a direction for my reading and further research into the most appropriate methods available to me.