Positions and Practice – Week 10

Theory in Practice.

Digging deeper into the relevance of theory to my practice has led me to a brick wall of sorts. There are moments when I feel I get this, and then moments when I feel as though my head may well implode. What exactly is the relevance of theory to my practice?

I stumbled across this article in The Guardian – Photography theory-a beginners guide  -this week. A useful starting point. It also makes me realise how listening to others views on theory and contexts help me to continue to discover how I can relate it to my own practice. This isn’t something I’ve really done before; I would have said my background lay in a more “jobbing” photographer roles than “artistic” photographer and maybe I felt less dissection and consideration was needed at that time. The importance and relevance of theory for me is allowing time to think about photography. Doing is the fun bit, thinking is the part that adds weight to my work. Theory helps separate the images I want to share with the world that have my “me” put into them and the snapshots I take for family or fun.

Reflecting on the question posed this week, what do you think are the most important aspects of communicating and contextualising photography in written or spoken forms, I would put forward that it is essential to be clear. Write for your audience, and if that is a general one then try not to bamboozle with pretentious prose. Will I be shot if I say that I struggle with Sontag; not due to lack of understanding but just simply writing style. For some reason I just don’t connect, and although I can appreciate her words have had a big impact on contemporary photography I don’t feel engaged. I shall persevere (and promise not to follow the above Guardian article’s tips on how to sound as if you’ve read something). However, in said article Diane Smyth reviews the follow-up to Sontag’s On Photography, Regarding the Pain of Others, and in the How to sound as if you’ve read it paragraph states:

Photographs of suffering don’t rouse viewers to action because they universalise pain rather than explaining what could be changed. There’s no hope, so stop being a voyeur and take action instead.

And this is one of the things pictures should do. Images should have something to say, whether obvious or more illusionary. Whether to you or someone else (Barthes punctum perhaps?). They should motivate and mobilise – whether that be to take action, to find out more, to pick up a camera and try it for yourself or simply to provide a means for conversation. They should engage and intrigue but as you contextualise your work you should mainly stay true to you. Don’t think you have to be like another photographer and mimic their output (visually or verbally), but, at the same time, be willing to adapt and soak up ideas inspired by others. Putting work into context may help expand its scope. Be prepared to describe and/or defend your work with persuasive argument.

With the work I plan to create through my MA, I hope that I can encourage change. My proposal is aligned to human impact on the environment. If it enables change, even at a personal level it will have acted as a catalyst for a less voyeuristic attitude to a more productive one.

Putting together the proposal for the rest of the MA has been daunting yet rewarding. The peer-to-peer feedback session was very useful with tips from my two colleagues being incorporated into the wording. Great suggestions around developing how to record my own carbon footprint as part of the project, growing my own produce and how to apply a deeper analysis of geology. There’s still a little more tweaking to do but it’s nearly there.

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