Complex book form (Arles reflection)

Les Rencontres D’Arles, 26th-28th July 2019

Les Rencontres D’Arles 2019 Book Award

Working through the display of shortlisted work for the Luma Rencontres Dummy Book Award 2019 gave an opportunity to look at some complex forms of book, incorporating a range of different types of image and text presented on different types of paper and in different formats (for instance, books within books, inserted cards and images, foldout sections and gatefold images, single images in envelopes). The most complex was Katherine Longly’s handmade artists book To tell my real intentions, I want to eat only haze like a hermit, which explores the relationship between food and the body in Japanese society.

Longly interviewed people over a period of time, and the book contains testimonies, photographs, illustrations and archive material. She also gave participants disposable cameras in order to explore and illustrate this complex relationship from their own point of view.

The book is of interest to me as an artefact in its own right, and it was interesting to see how inserts, tri-folds and gatefolds, tipped-in photographs and half-pages were used with montage, photographs, texts (including letters, notes, menus, recipes, tables and graphs), diagrams and drawing. Four types of paper are used in the construction of the book.

Page from Katherine Longly, 2018, To tell my real intentions, I want to eat only haze like a hermit

The work itself, on the borders of art and anthropology, also resonates with my own, in that it is collaborative, involves participant image-making and a range of forms of images, texts and artefacts. The book represents one possible form of output from the project, and Longly’s book demonstrates how a number of visual strategies can be used in book form. She has organised the book as sections, with each section focusing on one of the participants. Whilst the images are made by the participants (it is not immediately clear whether all the images are theirs, or whether some are made by Longly), attribution for the overall project and the book itself clearly belongs to Longly (appropriate attribution of work in these kinds of projects clearly being an important issue, and one that I will have to resolve in the final presentation of my project). Whether I produce a book in this form is still an open question, and depends on whether I want to force an order in which the reader engages with images and texts, or whether I want a more open and exploratory form of presentation (such as an archive, or set of micro-archives, from which the reader can create their own order and juxtapositions). Colberg’s (2017) analysis of photobooks, and schema for relating project concept to materials, design and sequencing has been helpful in thinking this through.

The wider 2019 Book Award entries illustrated the diversity of forms of books being produced, and reinforced the importance of strong editing, book design, quality of material, and the need to ensure coherence and consistency in the relationship between concept, form and content.

Alberto Piovano, Dual Landscapes New York 1999: Fifteen Diptychs

In Dual Landscapes New York 1999: Fifteen Diptychs, Alberto Piovano has used the book form to good effect to present diptychs where the relationship between the two images varies subtly. He has printed images on single sided photo paper, folded and bound to enable facing pages to be viewed as diptychs (see earlier post about ways of dealing with printing on single sided photo paper in handmade books).

Alberto Piovano, Dual Landscapes New York 1999: Fifteen Diptychs

Other books of particular interest. Monica Alcazar-Duarte‘s (2018) The New Colonists uses gatefold pages at key points in the book to insert contrasting images relating to space travel into a mundane sub-urban narrative. An app can also be used to seek out images and information concealed within the images, including 3D animations of spy satellites and space colonies, thus heightening the juxtaposition of the mundane with visions of a new colonial future.

Rif Spahni, 2018, Son Boter

Rif Spahni’s (2018) Son Boter elegantly and simply combines a collection of prints on cards inserted into an envelope which is part of the cover with a small book. This allows both sequencing (within the book) with exploration of the juxtaposition of images by the reader (with the cards)


Alcazar-Duarte, M. 2018. The New Colonists. London: Bemojake. [accessed 30.07.19]

Colberg, J. 2017. Understanding Photobooks: The form and content of the photographic book. London: Routledge.

Longly, K. 2018. To tell my real intentions, I want to eat only haze like a hermit. Handmade artist edition. [accessed 30.07.19]

Spahni, R. 2018. Son Boter. Joan Miró. Text by Gustavo Martín Garzo. Barcelona. Ediciones Anómalas. [accessed 30.07.19]

Installations, exhibitions, surfaces and contexts (Arles reflection)

Les Rencontres D’Arles, 26th-28th July 2019

Apart from the shear quality, quantity and diversity of the work exhibited, it was the manner in which exhibits and installations were designed with the specific setting for the piece in mind that impressed. At its simplest, this involved making some prints on fabric to be stretched across windows (see image below from Guillaume Simoneau’s series The Murder), and placing prints so that the natural light falls on them to the greatest effect.

Guillaume Simoneau, The Murder, Arles 2019

For Christan Lutz’s Eldorado series, shot in Macao, natural light was excluded from the vast shed like space to simulate the artificial light only character of the casino.

Christan Lutz, Eldorado, Arles 2019

Mohammad Bourouissa’s exhibition Free Trade, in a disused floor of a supermarket, took the form of supermarket sections and used, for instance, clothes racks as mounts for video screens, a form that resonated with the focus of the work on domination and economy.

Mohammad Bourouissa, Free Trade, Arles 2019

Many to the exhibition spaces had stone walls and high ceilings, with little or no internal structure.

Philippe Chancel, Datazone, Arles 2019

Hanging on wire was common (including from the ceiling in Philippe Chancel’s exhibition) and a variety of forms of wooden and other temporary structures were used to provide additional bespoke display space.

Philippe Chancel, Datazone, Arles 2019
Libuse Jarcovjakova, Evokativ, Arles 2019
Claudia Passeri, Aedicula, Arles 2019
Mario del Curto, Vegetal Humanity, as Gardens Unfurl, Arles 2019

Most extreme was The Anonymous Project House, which recreated a two-storey house with interlinking rooms, themed to reflect the function of the room.

The Anonymous Project, The House, Arles 2019

Whilst there are clearly lessons to be learned about designing installations in relation to the space in which they will be shown (both in terms of form and content), the major lesson for me here relates to the manner in which images are presented and juxtaposed; particularly important as I will be presenting my own images alongside collaborative work and participant images, as well as other documents, texts, artefacts, projections and, possibly, video and audio material. The ‘micro-projects’ will be presented in pop-up exhibitions, so this material has to be portable, and the exhibition quick to put up and take down in spaces that are not designed for exhibitions. The final exhibition has to bring these projects together as a coherent and meaningful whole, and has to work in the space chosen for the installation.

The use of slides with a loupe on a lightbox, and the suspension of prints from wires with bulldog clips, are two ways in which the mobility of an installation can be enhanced.

Here is New York, Arles 2019
The Anonymous Project, The House, Arles 2019

Projection onto a screen that can be viewed from both sides was also used in a number of exhibitions, which is easily portable and can be adapted to the exhibition space.

Helen Levitt, Observing New York’s Streets, Arles 2019

Portfolio review (Arles reflection)

Hôtel du Musée, Arles, 28th July 2019

I gave an overview of my project presented some prints made from the three series of composites produced towards the end of the last module. In particular, I wanted feedback on how these might fit within the overall project (as examples of my own artistic response, and possibly as one way of working with participant images) and how they might best be presented (so far, I have presented these on screen and as projections, but want to think about how they might be best presented as prints). I showed prints made on different types of paper (semi-pearl and fine art smooth cotton).

The work was well received and a number of helpful comments were made on how I might develop this aspect of the project.

  • the first image in each series worked best, and could produce engaging prints (Jesse commented on the manner in which human figures were concealed in and emerged from the images, and these could make good platinum prints).
Displace #1, 2019
  • Wendy cautioned, though, against over-aestheticising the image/context, which could create tensions with the overall intent of the project. She mentioned looking again at Joan Fontcuberta‘s work in this respect.
  • the link between switching between analogue and digital image forms and the tension between resident lived experience (qualitative/analogue) and data driven decision making in housing and other areas (quantitative/digital) was appreciated, but wasn’t clear in the way in which the images were presented (without a supporting narrative). Jesse suggested that some form of random or automated image manipulation might be used to give versions of the images that were not ‘human-made’. This could be in the form of ‘glitches’ or types of juxtaposition or interaction between images. I could do this with my own images, and/or with resident images (which could be exhibited in the way in which Edmund Clarke showed images in Control Order House as a grid of jpegs).
Edmund Clarke, from Control Order House, exhibited at Arles 2019.
  • Bekkie suggested the interleaving of digital data in making the composites, which I’ll experiment with.
  • in terms of process, Anthony Luvera‘s work was mentioned, and in particular his recent writing on the ethics of participatory photography. Earlier conversation with Mick has also provided other references on ethics to follow up (he also mentioned code that is available to remove elements of digital images, for instance human figures – to follow up).


Edmund Clake, [accessed 30.07.19]

Joan Fontcuberta, [accessed 30.07.19]

Anthongy Luvera, [accessed 30.07.19]

Workshops and helping others (Week 8 Reflection)

Anticipating the workshop activity for this module, and knowing that (i) it would fall at a time when postgraduate and undergraduate students are on vacation and (ii) that this would be a particularly busy period in terms of travel and other activities, I arranged to do some workshops earlier in the year. I have also been able to plan workshops with children and adults over the next three months, and these will be central to my work on the FMP.

For the MA Urban Planning students at the UCL Bartlett Development Planning Unit (DPU), I conducted a 3 hour workshop on using photography in the exploration of the impact of urban regeneration on residents, and followed this up with accompanying two groups on their fieldwork (one to explore spaces for women at the Feminist Library and the other to explore the impact of housing development in the Thames Ward in Barking).

At the workshop I presented different ways that photographers have engaged with urban development and examples of my own work. The workshop included group activities (I asked people to bring 5 images that gave a sense of the area in which they lived to discuss, and we did some planning on how the students might use photography in their own projects). The presentation for the session is below.

BASc Object Lessons group at the Grant Museum

For the UCL Bachelor of Arts and Sciences (BASc) module Object Lessons, I contributed to workshops on engagement with objects and artefacts from museums, galleries and special collections, worked with students on making photographs of the objects they were working with, and participated in the assessment of student group presentations (on the creation of an online themed exhibition).

For my project, I have been running informal workshops with community and activist groups on working with and making images. Over the past few weeks, I have been giving small cheap digital cameras to people to use to take photographs of the area they live and how it is changing, and then working with them on the images (one person took 400 pictures in two days). I will be running a four day workshop for 7 to 11 year olds over the coming two weeks as part of a community centre summer programme on a local estate, and in September I’ll be starting a series of workshops in two schools, exploring the lived experiences of school students, how the area is changing and their hopes and aspirations.

Formal and informal feedback has been good. Running workshops has helped me to scrutinise and develop my own practice, as well as giving insights into the experiences and perspectives of the groups I am working with. It has been particularly insightful to teach/learn in a range of formal and informal settings, and with groups of different age and different experiences. As with most teaching, I’ve probably learnt more than the people I’ve been teaching.

For my project, I am thinking about how the images made by participants in these workshops will feature in the outcomes of the project, and the ethical and attribution issues that this raises.

Investigative Techniques

Lewis Bush, Workshop – Investigative Techniques, 29th June 2019

Lewis Bush Workshop, 2019.

A key aspect of my project is collection of material relating to urban development projects in different parts of east London. This material (which includes maps, planning documents, studies of the areas, archival accounts and images, developer promotional material, consultation documents, press reports and so on) helps to understand the dynamics of change in these areas and provides material to be used in workshops with residents. Some of the material will also form a part of the final outcome of the project and may be incorporated into the images presented (for instance, in various forms of composite and/or juxtaposed with other images and artefacts). Collection, organisation and analysis of this material require the use of particular tools and techniques, and the development and implementation of an overarching strategy.

The workshop with Lewis Bush focused on the tools that he has used and the techniques he has developed in his own work. The workshop provided insight into Lewis’s practice and opportunity to consider how the tools and techniques might be applied and adapted to my own project. This post will explore some of these tools and techniques in relation to my own practice. I am posting this now because (i) the theme this week is on the development of workshops, and this provides an example of one approach; (ii) I am in the ‘research’ phase in working towards my FMP, and am collecting materials for my own workshops and for use in the development of the project.

Gathering information

Lewis stressed the importance of starting with a clear question to guide the collection of information (drawing on Hunter, Sengers and Thordsen, 2011, he called this a hypothesis, because of the association of this term with positivist science, I would prefer something like question or problem statement). For my project, this statement would be something like ‘There is a disjunction between the experiences and aspirations of residents and the stated rationale for, and effects of, housing development in east London.’ Stated as a question, this would be ‘To what extent is there a disjunction between the experiences and aspirations of residents and the stated rationale for, and effects of, housing development in east London?’ This acts to focus both the strategies used and path taken by the collection and analysis of data.

The focus of the session was on Open Source Research (OSR), in which the information collected is publicly available (but which might hint at things that are not known or immediately obvious). As well as published material, this includes information that can be obtained through means such as Freedom of Information requests and patent applications. A clear workflow is needed to handle the volume of data and maintain a clear direction.

Working with these sources enables a researcher to stay under the radar and to gain credibility through providing readily available evidence to support statements. Bellingcat, as well as publishing their own investigations, publish a toolkit for others to use. The disadvantages of this kind of information, apart from the danger of overload, is that it is open to manipulation and difficult to verify, and thus potentially unreliable and/or invalid. Consideration has to be given to who is impacted by the study and what risks need to be considered (for instance, of legal challenge). Precautions need to be taken to protect the researcher, their equipment and the information.

For this reason, it is helpful to explore anonymously using Tor or a VPN (such as Nord), and to set up ‘burner’ accounts for email (proton mail or guerrilla mail) and social media. Running an ad blocker (AdBlock), script blocker (NoScript), and encrypting (VeraCrypt, or PGP for email, though this will be visible) or air-gapping.

The threats to the photographer may be legal, and it is important to assess the rights, powers and interests of the individuals or groups who are the subjects of the work, and to take appropriate precautions (for instance, if the subject is a private individual, their powers are limited, mostly to legal redress, and the precautions include fact checking, legal compliance and keeping a low profile).

Notable examples of investigative work, apart from Lewis’s and Ed Clarke’s, are projects by Forensic Architecture and Anne-Marie Casteret’s (1992) L’affaire du Sang.

For searches, using filetype (filetype:), site (site:) and operators (and/or etc) help to narrow search. Looking for Excel (.xls) and google earth (.knz) files can be useful. Useful resources: search engines such as, webscapers (zapper, if this then that) and plugins like foxy spider and download them all (can be used together to harvest images), and other tools such as way back machine, recipe generator, dataminer, jeffrey’s image metadata viewer, yandex (reverse image search), user agent switcher (see site formatted for different devices). For social media searching: politwoops, way back machine, twitonomy. Can use social media to do ‘patterns of life analysis’.

For analysis of images can put on an overlay and go square by square. For google map images can take screenshots at highest resolution and stitch together. Using mymaps can upload gps data. For signs of cloning look for repeating patterns. Can use reddit picrequests and whereisthis to get help in identifying places and things.

Public records can be useful (Land Registry, Companies House, Charity Commission – see CIJ Investigative Journalists Guide to Company Records). FOI requests can be made for specific information (though can be refused for specific reasons) and ‘grey’ or leaked information used with caution. Care must be taken with private information that is inadvertently made public.

On the legal side, need to be careful about contempt of court, respect for right of privacy (privacy law), defamation of character (libel law) and protection of sources (on the record, background, deep background and off the record).

This kind of investigation is just a small part of the background to my own work. Much of the information I need is readily available (about planning applications and developments), but this needs to be carefully organised. Working with images available is important, and clarity of what can be used and how is essential.

As well as the content of the workshop, reflecting on the format has also been helpful for the Week 8 activities on designing and running workshops. It has also led me to think about the design of my own workshop space and how this is best configured for the kind of work that I do.


Bellingcat, Digital Toolkit. Online at [accessed 23.07.19]

Casteret, A-M. 1992. L’affaire du Sang. Paris: Découverte.

Hunter, M.L., Sengers L. and Thordsen, P. 2011. ‘Using hypotheses: the core of investigative method’. In Hunter, M.L. (Ed.), Story-based Inquiry: A manual for investigative journalists. Paris: UNESCO.

Publication (Week 7 Reflection)

In his interview with Ben Smith, Simon Norfolk (2019) is pretty forthright in expressing his opinion that the majority of what is produced in book form by photographers amounts to nothing more than vanity publishing. The book becomes an end in itself, without consideration of the readership/audience. Far from democratising art, by bypassing the gallery and patronage system, he sees the current interest in the production of books by photographers as reinforcing the elitist consumption (and collection) of photographic work. Whilst he makes an important point, he is taking a fairly narrow view of both the form and function of books, and how these are used by photographers and other artists (he is also forthright about his opinion that photographers are not artists, on the basis of a vary narrow conception of art). As Lukas Birk illustrated in his guest lecture this week, whilst established publishers do have a certain caché, self-publishing with a clear purpose, and oriented to a well defined readership, can be highly productive, and enable photographers to reach new audiences for their work. Birk produces a range of forms of work (from high volume and cheap bookshop for a south-east Asian market, to limited run artists books), each with a tightly defined sense of audience. Birk is also highly adept as supplementing published work with other forms of dissemination (for instance, the website for the Afghan Box Camera project). This sophisticated combination of print, online and exhibition/installation forms of dissemination is increasingly characteristic of the practice of successful contemporary photographers (for instance, see the work of Susan Meiselas, who has a very sophisticated website which catalogues the phases of her work and relates this to other forms of output, such as publications and exhibitions, including artefacts, texts and other contextualising material).

In my own project, I am not aiming for publication in book form of the work in and for itself (ie, as a self-published photobook or through an established publisher). There will, however, be print outputs from each of the constituent projects. At the moment, I am thinking of these as zine type publications which present the work of the participants alongside our collaborative work and my own work in the contexts we are exploring together. These can be combined to present the outcomes of the project as a whole, for instance by compiling the zines into a single publication, or by putting them together in a slipcase or envelope (designed to represent the overall themes of the project). As the project will also involve collection and use of a wide range of other material (for instance, developer plans and archive material relating to the areas), I was also intending to produce some form of resource pack/box, or perhaps (less didactically) and form of portable archive that could be used to explore the issues raised, reconfigure material collected and generated and provoke new activity (see earlier post about archives and refugee experience). Exploring different forms of publication this week has made me think about a form of artist book as an alternative. Having learned a range of book binding techniques at the London Centre for Book Arts (see post here), I have looked at the work of artists who have used similar techniques to present their work.

In Permission To Belong, Tammy Law uses a Solander Box as a container for exposed spine books which, in addition to photographs, contain letters, maps and other materials relating to the theme of migration, home and belonging from the perspective of families from Burma. Some of the material is bound into the book, and some is inserted (for instance, maps and large folded sheets of images).

Here the artist’s book is being seen as an object, and both an outcome of a project and a resource for exploration by the reader. Even more elaborate, with ornate binding and a wide range of inserts and multi-part pages, is Ryo Kusumoto’s 連師子/Renjishi, which takes the form of a multi-section exposed spine book.

Both these books use techniques that I have learned, and could use to produce low volume work at the end of the project. A good source of inspiration is the Dummy Book Awards at the Kassel FotoBookFestival.

It is also important, at this point, to return to earlier consideration of the political dimensions of self-publishing (explored in this post), and the argument put forward by Thoburn (2016) in Anti-Book: On the Art and Politics of Radical Publishing.


Norfolk, S. 2019. Simon Norfolk interviewed by Ben Smith, A Small Voice Podcast, 107, online at [accessed 22.07.19].

Thoburn, N (2016). Anti-Book: On the Art and Politics of Radical Publishing. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Making books

So far I have done three workshops at the London Centre for Book Arts, and have learned to make a Solander Box (which I have been using as a portfolio case) and most recently a single section case bound book and two styles of multi-section open spine books (see LCBA, 2017; Orriss, 2014; Abbott, 2010). Elsewhere, I have produced Japanese four-hole stab bound book (Yotsume-toji). Whilst doing this, I’ve given thought to how I might integrate making books into my practice.

For the ‘micro-projects’ in my FMP, I plan to produce simple zine type publications based on the work produced by participants. The design of this and the production of a dummy could be one of the activities for the final session (in which we will also plan and produce work for the pop-up exhibition). These will probably be in the form of a simple stapled pamphlet, a concertina or folded booklet or loose images held together in some way or in an envelope/folder.

From the start, I have been committed to producing artefacts from the work, so one option would be a limited run artist’s book, along the lines, perhaps, of Ryo Kusumoto’s (2018) (連師子/Renjishi, which uses a number of the techniques that I’ve learned at the workshops.

A major challenge is the choice of paper and being able to print on both sides (essential for books based on sections), which limits choice of paper stock. One option is to use drum leaf binding, which uses individual sheets of paper. An alternative, which I used for the stab bound book, is to use thinner paper and fold this, as shown below.

I’m not yet convinced of the potential of this; it may be that the process, form and content of the project requires something more flexible (like an archive of material that can be configured in different ways.


Abbott, K. 2010. Bookbinding: A step-by-step guide. Marlborough: The Crowood Press.

Kusumoto, R. 2018. (連師子/Renjishi. Tokyo: Reminders Photography Stronghold.

LCBA, 2017. Making Books: A guide to making hand-crafted books. London: Pavillion.

Orriss, L. 2014. Craft Bookbinding. Marlborough: The Crowood Press.

Micro-project update

Quick update on the planning for the constituent projects for the FMP (structure outlined here).

Barking Town Centre

Greatfields School. Met with the Headteacher and he was enthusiastic about the project. The plan is to meet with the teacher leading the GCSE Photography programme early September and to run six workshops between then and December with a group of 3 to 5 GCSE students who live on the Gascoigne Estate. This will be part of a wider set of initiatives to engage the community. He also gave me contacts with local arts groups to follow up.

BDHCG. Lent a small digital camera to Keith to take photographs around the area, and also processed and scanned some of his analogue photographs. He took around 400 frames and has sent more subsequently. I designed a flier with one of the images for distribution at events over he weekend. Went with a group for a tour of the developments and took photographs.

Barking and Dagenham College. To follow up with head of section. Also need to discuss access to scanner and darkroom, and possible workshops for students in September

Barking Riverside

TWCP. Took photographs at the Community Summit to add to repository. Also spoke to members of the TWCP Citizen Action about follow up activity. Spoke with Shed Life group about photographic work about the area to display as part of the launch event planned for December.

Riverside Campus. Talked to Head about project idea and will follow up with designated member of staff and with TWCP organiser, who is interested in the idea, perhaps with the Young Citizen Action Group.

New View Arts. I have arranged four workshops in August as part of the summer programme. This will provide the opportunity to trial the approach, and prepare for micro-projects in the schools next term.

Technical preparation

I have been making photographs with the 5×4 camera and processing and scanning these. Given the environmental impact of chemical plants in the area in the past, I have started to use low environmental impact chemicals in processing, and reclaiming silver from the fixer before disposal. I now have six low cost digital cameras and have been experimenting with these. I’m doing further work with channel mixing and other ways of making composites (including the use of colour, which I hope to trial with the New View Arts group). The environmental impact of digital photography also has to be addressed, given the construction of a large data centre nearby, and the high levels of power consumption this entails.

Architectural futures

Blueprint for the Future, architectural trail, Clerkenwell, 9-11th July 2019.

This exhibition of work from postgraduate architecture courses is spread across a number of commercial practices in the Clerkenwell area. For this module, and my own work, it was interesting for three reasons.

Greenwich @ Knauf, 2019

Firstly the exhibitions were in non-gallery spaces, and therefore placed speculative work alongside current commercial activity. They demonstrate the potential of non-conventional exhibition space, and the way in which this can bring different audiences and forms of activity together.

Bartlett @ USM, 2019

Secondly, the use of models, and movement between 2D and 3D forms, is well-established in architecture. Increasingly people are using 3D printing to produce new and novel forms, and to explore the potential of new materials and practices in construction. In a multi-modal, photography based work there would be potential in using similar techniques (for instance, Giovanna Petrocchi has made imaginary archeological artefacts using 3D printing in her Private Collection series).

Giovanna Petrocchi, Athlete (from Private Collection series), 2017.

Thirdly, there was a strong resonance between the imagining, and shaping, of the future city in some of the work, and core concerns in my own work. This was particularly marked in the University of Greenwich@Knauf exhibition. Most of the work was 2D, and projected a particular view of the future. The resonance may be due to the landscape dimension of the Greenwich programme, and the concern for global environmental and ethical issues. This work, in particular, made me think about other techniques I could use to explore relations between the human and natural environment and the past, the present and projected/anticipated futures.

Greenwich @ Knauf, 2019

Iterative processes and learning to read (and write) our own work

Having had to work intensively on production of a book manuscript to a tight deadline over the past few weeks, I haven’t felt much like writing CRJ entries (beyond the routine). I have, though, been able to reflect on the development of my practice in process terms, and relate this to my plans for the FMP. In doing this, I have tried to develop a coherent and consistent approach to the development of my own practice, which is reflected in, and consistent with, the constituent components of my final project.

The approach I am developing is iterative in the sense that it evolves incrementally through interactions between theory (general and specifically related to the arts and photography), field (what other artists/photographers are doing, both as individuals and as ‘schools’), practice (what I am doing in terms of my own photography, and other artistic and academic work) and context (the macro and micro contexts within which I am working). With a bit of thought, I could probably represent this diagrammatically, but for the moment, there are a couple issues that I would like to explore.

The first question is where to start this process? My feeling is that it doesn’t matter, hence the title ‘learning to read (and write) our own work’. Reflection is a process of making sense of our work, relating it to theory (the concepts and frameworks available to us to make sense of and advance our work) and to the field (positioning our work in relation to other practitioners and transform how we view that work relationally). The sense we make of the work is also influenced by the contexts within which we do the work, and what is possible within those contexts, and how this might affect both what we do and how we interpret and describe it. Viewed in this way, our readings of our own work (and consequently, our readings of the work of others) is becoming incrementally more sophisticated and informed, and that in turn facilitates the iterative development of that work. This does not, of course, preclude quantum leaps (radical changes in how we understand and position what we do, or in the form of work that we produce, where we do the work, where and how we distribute the work and so on). We are not, however, just producing, circulating and reading our work, but also writing it – that is making our practices and interpretations explicit. This is a necessary part of a pedagogic process (‘showing our workings’), and also a constructive component of a wider process of producing and distributing our work as part of a community of practitioners. Whilst a clear sense of intent is necessary, it is not sufficient: that intent has to be positioned (principally, but not exclusively, in the field of photography) and it has to be capable of being realised in practice.

Secondly, there is the question of the relationship between this process of development of practice and the practice itself. In an attempt to avoid an overly deterministic approach to participatory photography, I have attempted to mirror the relational and iterative nature of the development of my practice in processes that I use in my project. This is a way of escaping from the restrictions of bringing an already prefigured project to participants, which necessarily objectifies participants and restricts their agency and ability to produce something that has both value to them and to the wider project. So having defined a broad focus for the project (community engagement with urban regeneration) and a conceptual base (drawing on post-humanism and new materialism, exploring the entanglement of the human and the non-human in spacetime, and oscillation between the analogue and the digital, and the embodied and the virtual), the specific focus of each component of the project and the forms of the outcomes in each component of the project emerge from following the same process (creation of an archive, digital image making, sorting/classifying/editing/relating, rephotographing, mixing/compositing/juxtaposing, narrating, curating/disseminating). How different the outcomes are from each component/setting is an open (empirical) question.

There’s a lot to be done on every front here (for instance, in clarifying the theoretical underpinning of the move between analogue and digital, in the specification of the process, in the identification and organisation of the settings and participants, in the archival work on each location and in the development of the skills necessary for every part of the process). I’ll address these in the coming posts, and index these posts to the key themes of the module.