As I prepare for my viva, I have been working through the Onion Diagram to clarify in my mind the key aspects of the ten signifiers as they relate to my practice.  While the signifiers are firmly embedded in my practice, I need to ensure I have the key points of each ready to hand.  I have previously written about the Onion Diagram on this blog as detailed below.

The posts referred to below represent my thinking about mid-way through my PhD as to how my practice has focused and developed around these drivers.  They show the seeds of connecting the signifiers together within my practice and also evidence that some of the signifiers have been renamed or removed in the final version of the Onion Diagram – for example, Analogous Reasoning has become Analogous Awareness and Temporality has been removed as a discrete signifier, first because I realised I had eleven signifiers rather than ten, and second because I felt temporality formed part of other signifiers such as Spatial Persistence, Subject Commitment and Dynamic Awareness, rather than standing alone.

The Ten-Signifier Onion Diagram

To recap, the Onion Diagram emerged and developed through my practice as a means of possibilising Being in my work.  My initial goal was to uncover the “essence” in nature but as I focussed on Graham Harman’s Fourfold Model, I began to realise that it was allure rather than essence that I was seeking.  In Harman’s terms, I was aiming to glimpse the Real Qualities of the Real Object through the Sensory Object with the result that my images draw the viewer in through a series of revelations.

The outer layers of the “onion” provide the foundations for the signifiers closer to its heart.  It is not a rigid structure but one open to interpretation.  I populated all of the signifiers with meaning based on my practice.  In other words, what each one means to me in my goal to capture allure, the realisation of Being.  The meanings below are presented in bullet point form as an aide memoire for me as I prepare for my viva.

Camera Skill

  • Over time, skill needs to be intuitive such that the camera can be operated effectively without conscious intervention.
  • For me, the skills relating to multiple exposure images merged in camera, intentional camera movement and working with slow shutter speeds were ones I focused on during my PhD.
  • The goal is to use the camera intuitively and reduce conscious thought and open-up awareness.
  • In my case, my work as a police photographer meant that the basic skills of camera operation such as exposure, focus, and framing were burnt in.

Analogous Awareness

  • The use of metaphor, allusion, or simile as a means of referring to wider meaning through the Real Qualities and allure.
  • For example, in my work, I use the fragility, vulnerability, strength and resilience of reeds and the lone silver birch to allude to the same characteristics of the Isle of Skye as a whole.
  • Metaphors can be rich – multiple or higher order, or thin that might have surprise value.

Subject Commitment

  • In my practice, Subject Commitment provides focus and creates boundaries.
  • Requires deep time, deep work, practice, and knowledge such as Nan Shepherd’s knowledge of her beloved Cairngorms.
  • Subject Commitment represents how I come to know my subjects.
  • Examples in photography include Jem Southam with rivers, Joe Cornish with Roseberry Topping and Awoiska van der Molen with trees and wild places.


  • In my practice, Interoception is about being open to inner bodily stimuli mastered through practice.
  • In my photographic work, Interoception is about using conscious activity to induce a meditative and non-conscious Zonal Flow  – which I believe is the gateway to Being.
  • Works closely with Exteroception.


  • Exteroception is about an intuitive awareness of the external world.
  • In my practice, I use focus on reflections and movement in water to induce zonal flow.
  • Schon’s reflective practitioner is also relevant referring to “reflection on” and “reflection in” practice.
  • Also sense of extended self where we extend our identity beyond our mind and body.
  • In my case, I see the camera as an extension of me and the viewfinder as a cue for non-conscious activity.
  • The camera becomes part of my extended self.
  • The loss of the trees for me provided a tangible example in my practice – a feeling of loss and sadness swept over me.


  • While attentiveness might be considered to be a conscious state, for me, it can, with focus, on an aspect of the natural world, induce the non-conscious state of awareness – it is the gateway to Being.
  • In my work, the movement of water and the reflections serve as a means of entering a meditative state and Zonal Flow.

Spatial Persistence

  • In my photographic work, Spatial Persistence is a commitment to deep work over time in a location that I come to know deeply – Loch Cill Chriosd is the best example of Spatial Persistence in my work and the one where I am most likely to enter a period of zonal flow.
  • I know how the loch behaves in different weathers, light, seasons and times of day, I know what colour palettes occur across the year and I know where to locate myself in a southerly gale.  I know when the cattle congregate at the head of the loch and when they are most likely to make their way to locations where I work!
  • This deep knowledge is accessible by the non-conscious brain part of the brain as I work intuitively with my camera.

Perceptive and Dynamic Awareness

  • Dynamic Awareness refers to the constant flux and flow of time.
  • Our world does not stand still.
  • The camera captures a moment in time which is lost as time moves on.
  • Heidegger speaks of objects revealing and concealing and I wait for that glimpse of allure when the Entanglement of Being is unconcealed.
  • I would characterise the Zonal Flow as being a passive process of being aware of changes around me albeit in a non-conscious state.
  • Perceptive Awareness in my practice is a state of awareness without conscious evaluation or critique that might undermine awareness.

Zonal Flow

  • Zonal Flow is a period of time when awareness of Being is heightened through non-conscious intuitive practice.
  • Time stands still and I am alone with my camera – the camera becomes an extension of me.
  • It is a time when focus is enhanced through deep knowledge and deep practice.

I hope this post has been helpful in explaining what the ten signifiers mean to me and how they ebb and flow in my photographic practice.  Below are a list of earlier blogs that represent some of my formative thinking.

Thought Piece 18 – Interoception in Object-Oriented Photography 

Thought Piece 19 – Exteroception in Object-Oriented Photography

Thought Piece 20 – Analogous Reasoning in Object-Oriented Photography

Thought Piece 21 – Temporality and Spatial Persistence in Object-Oriented Photography

Thought Piece 22 – Attentiveness in Object-Oriented Photography

Thought Piece 23 – Camera Skill in Object-Oriented Photography

Thought Piece 24 – Zonal Flow in Object-Oriented Photography

Thought Piece 25 – Dynamic and Perceptive Awareness in Object-Oriented Photography


Schon, D. A. 2016.  The Reflective Practitioner.  How Professionals Think in Action.  Abingdon.  Routledge.

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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