One of the defining moments in the first semester of my PhD was when my second supervisor suggested I reframe my activities to place my photographic practice at the heart of my research.  She introduced me to the concept of practice as research in the Arts and the book of the same name by Robin Nelson (2013).  One of Nelson’s adjustments in moving from practitioner to practitioner-researcher is to capture the moments where a change of direction or approach is determined through a “moment of insight” (op cit).  And the discussion about Know How, Know What, Know That was certainly one of those moments.

At this point, I determined that my photographic practice should be central to my ongoing research and that I should change my mindset and focus from producing a traditional academic thesis, literature review and structure to a multi-modal model of research informed by the development of my practice and a wide range of practitioners within a broad base of creative genres.  So, rather than seeing my research in discrete elements such as philosophy, other academic reading, reading about creative practitioners and my practice, the dialogue between these aspects should be integrated through reflection and method.  A key element of Nelson’s model is critical reflection and I have begun to adjust my writing to analyse and consider rather than describe.  What am I learning from the outcomes of my practice and how does this learning inform future practice and change the emphasis or direction of my academic research?  As Nelson explains:

“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 mobilize 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).

So, not only reading but writing notes in journals in the field, regular Thought Pieces (such as this) and Critical Reflection Pieces on my Practice on this blog, engaging in creative writing, setting up exhibitions, experimenting and playing with photographic practice all contribute to this multi-modal process of research inquiry.

Nelson outlines his thinking through the diagram below.

From Practice as Research in the Arts – Principles, Protocols, Pedagogies, Resistances by Robin Nelson (2013)

As I grappled with what my supervisor had said, I read more of Nelson’s book, and engaged in an initial and intensive period of reflective practice at the end of Semester 1.

Starting a new semester now, I find myself much better informed on research methods that might suit my practice and how different a practice-based PhD is to a more traditional academic model.  Perhaps I should have known that the clue was in the name!  However, I am very excited about the direction my research might take, its emphasis on my photographic practice and also how my current approach, process and intended outputs are already beginning to contribute to a multi-modal research model.



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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