Technology and the Profession(s) and Practice(s) of Photography: Week 3 reflection

Richard and Daniel Susskind (2015) explore the impact of new technology, and in particular artificial intelligence and machine learning, on a range of professional groups, the institutions in which they work and the organisations that regulate their practice. They argue that we are entering a period of fundamental change in what we expect of the professions and how they operate, and call on practitioners to ‘think more widely and strategically, and to be tolerant of the possibility of change in their own disciplines’ (p.4). The areas of practice that they address include health, education, law, journalism, management consulting, tax and audit, and architecture. Whilst photography, as a profession, is not explicitly discussed, photography as a practice is clearly implicated in the changes that are taking place in the professions. Those who make a living as photographers will need to consider both how new technologies and the resulting changes in their own practice, and in the wider professional contexts within which they operate, will impact on what it means to be a photographer. The discussion topic this week has focused very much on journalism as a professional context, though the guest lectures have also raised important issues in relation to new technology, and in particular the critical role of visual artists.

Hayley Morris-Cafiero, through the circulation of images via social media, and subsequently a critical engagement with others through social media, highlights the critical role that photography can play in revealing and confronting social injustice and discrimination. Edmund Clark explores contexts in which the actions and expertise of multiple professional groups intersect and interact, and through his complex multi-modal works (in which the visual, and more specifically, photographic, is a major component) raises questions and illuminates practices, as a visual artist, that construct and contest social order, and the impact on institutions and individuals (as both subjects and objects of institutional activity). In both cases digital technology enhances and facilitates the work (more emphatically, these technologies are a pre-condition for the work).

So whilst innovation in photographic production and networked distribution of images transforms the wider field of photography, the potential for critical art is enhanced, both by the technology and the increased opportunity for inter-disciplinary collaboration. A place for visual arts is held open, not solely through appreciation of human craft (albeit in new areas of craft activity in a digital and post-digital age), and the enhanced ‘generic’ and employment related skills developed through a visual arts education (such as new forms of communication and community building, modes of working and collaborating, ways of engaging with data, creative problem posing and solving) but in the production of work that provokes, challenges and potentially transforms our understandings.

I wouldn’t, at this point in time, consider myself to be a photographer, but rather as on a journey into photography, or perhaps, more broadly, visual arts using photography. That sets a sense of direction, rather than marking out an identity. This is not just a point in time issue. More generally, a degree of fluidity in identity seems more fitting to the 21st Century, identities which, empirically, are always multiple and in flux, as much through changes in context as through a changing personal sense of self and community. Viewed in this way, personal trajectory becomes of greater interest, and cogency, than assertion or achievement of an identity. It’s a journey with a particular destination in mind, but recognising that both the place itself and the traveller are in a state of change and development. Arrival, if that ever happens, will inevitably be other than envisioned at the outset. And the effect for the traveller is to supplement, not replace, who they are and how they are seen by others. Calvino (1974, 1981) explores this better than I ever could.

In addressing the discussion question, I am learning to be (and be seen as) a photographer, in a time in which the idea of photography as profession is fragmented and radically challenged. In this context, the practices and communities associated with, and enveloping, photography and where we sit in relation to these, become more important than the idea of a profession. And finding this place involves critical engagement with all technologies, old and new, associated with photographic image making in the development of a distinctive voice, and the potential to supplement and enhance the practices of others, in other disciplines as well as in photography and the visual arts.

Calvino, I. (1974). Invisible Cities. Translated by W. Weaver. London: Vintage.

Calvino, I. (1981). If on a winter’s night a traveller. Translated by W. Weaver. London: Vintage.

Susskind, R. & Susskind, D. (2015). The Future of the Professions: How technology will transform the work of human experts. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


First attempt at linking sound and image. A lot to learn here. Initial recording is relatively high quality, but that has been lost in re-recording with image (as has the binaural audio, which has now become mono). This was just using a Quicktime screen recording. I’ll explore other tools. Click to play.

RVP soundscape for web


Exploring how I can get different forms of images to work together. In each case the central image is predominantly text or diagram (though, in the graffiti, for instance, there are both textual and diagrammatic elements, but maybe not immediately perceived as such).

(Re)visiting Roding Valley Park

Following discussion with Paul, Vincent and Clive in the Webinar last week (Friday 15th), I took at couple of trips back to Roding Valley Park (henceforth RVP). The  images present here focus on the creation of public spaces beneath the roads. I have incorporated found objects, maps and texts, and paid attention to the interface between the concrete (purposefully altered by humans with graffiti) and the relatively neglected natural environment (incidentally altered by humans). I am trying to convey as sense of the place in the daytime. There are technical and visual issues to be addressed (for instance, around lighting and dynamic range). I’ll follow up to explore in different lighting conditions. I have also made binaural audio recordings which I want to incorporate alongside the text and images. The sound from the roads is a key a feature of the experience of the spaces explored. I am also experimenting with the presentation of the images in triptych form to try to explore the play between text and image, regulation and disorder, human activity and environment.

Disciplines: Week 2 reflection

My direction of travel is a little different from others on the programme, I think. I am moving from a professional life/identity as a sociologist to the the development of my (somewhat immature) practice as a photographer (with a particular interest in art photography). Sociology as a discipline and photography as a practice have common roots in industrialisation and the mid-nineteenth century, and have been productively and critically intertwined as they have developed. Photographs have been used by sociologists initially to record (as an alternative or complementary form of representation), but subsequently photography (in a post-representational era) has been used to elicit accounts from and provoke dialogue with research participants, as a tool for researchers and research participants to explore their lived experience, and has been the subject, itself, of sociological analysis (for instance, in exploration of the social uses of photography, and in the social semiotic analysis of images). For some reflections on the possible role of the sociologist/photographer, see the blog posting by a fellow sociologist from another part of my workplace (Scrambler, 2017).

Visual Sociology as a distinct sub-discipline developed out of Chicago School urban sociology, and was initially inspired by social documentary photography, and in particular Robert Frank’s book ‘The Americans’.

Subsequently, Visual Sociology has moved to more collaborative work, and engagement with the prolific and networked production of images in the widespread use of camera phones and distribution through social media, in gaining insight into, and critically exploring, the dynamics of contemporary society. Harper (2016) provides a neat overview of the development of Visual Sociology.

I’ve used photographs and the making of images in my teaching, and the analysis of images in my research and in teaching social semiotics. Now my interest is shifting to multi-disciplinary, collaborative work addressing complex issues, but I have a way to go in developing a distinctive voice and confidence in myself as a photographer.

Increasingly, both social science (and scientific and humanities research more generally) and artistic production have become inter-disciplinary, collaborative endeavours. Daniel Palmer (2013) gives some examples of how contemporary art photographers have worked collaboratively, both with partners from other disciplines and in partnership with communities, in the production of photographic works (for instance, use of camera phones and geo-tagging by citizens to explore local pollution as part of a larger inter-disciplinary work addressing this issue), an extension of the earlier, pre-networked image-making, approaches to community participatory photography, like Photovoice (Wang & Burris, 1997). My interest, I think, extends out from this, towards working across disciplines and areas of practice to address some of the big issues that collectively challenge us, such the inter-disciplinary exploration of environmental issues by Glover et al (2014).

The webinar gave me an opportunity to discuss ideas for my project with Paul and other members of the group, and helped me to develop these further (see Roding Valley Park post for initial ideas, and Interaction through/with artifacts  for development). This helped me become more confident in the idea, and provided me with feedback on some of the initial images. The references provided by Paul have helped me to link my work more effectively with other contemporary artists working with photography (in particular, Rut Blees Luxemburg, Mandy Barker and Marc Wilson). The exploration of space in relation to both social activity and sound clearly makes it an inter-disciplinary project, drawing on sociology and cultural anthropology to understand and engage with the daytime and nighttime social activities, and sound arts in the inclusion of sounds from the immediate environment (notably from the roads which surround and traverse the park). In relation to the inclusion of sound in presenting the photographs, Lewis Bush’s use of barcodes is interesting as is Layla Curtis’s use of an app alongside the images. The making aspect of the project leads me towards exploration of the work of environmental artists such as Andy Goldsworthy and Richard Long, bringing other disciplines into play.

Glover, G, Rayner, J & Rayner G. (2014). The Metabolic Landscape: Perception, Practice and the Energy Transition. London: Black Dog Publishing., accessed 11 June 2018

Harper, D. (2016). ‘The development of Visual Sociology:
A view from the inside’. SOCIETÀ MUTAMENTO POLITICA, 7(14), 237-250. DOI:

The New Yorker, April 25, 2017, ‘Eight Photographers on Their Favorite Image from Robert Frank’s “The Americans”’.

Palmer, D. (2013). ‘A collaborative turn in contemporary photography?’ Photographies, 6(1), 117–125.

Scrambler, G. (2017). ‘Sociology and photography’, GrahamScrambler, 2 August 2017. Available at: Accessed 11 June 2018

Wang, C., & Burris, M. A. (1997). ‘Photovoice: concept, methodology, and use for participatory needs assessment’. Health Education & Behavior, 24(3), 369–387.

The seduction of the sublime

It’s my last day in Newcastle this year. I took a cycle ride around the harbour at sunrise – the first day for a while that it hasn’t been overcast and/or raining. Unable to resist taking photos, against every intention. Such is the seduction of the sublime. Whatever, I’m going to miss this in Ilford … Watch this space for a conceptual turn.


Global image

This is the image I have chosen to present (in addition to the ‘re-make’ images) for the Week One online seminar. The photographs were taken in a ‘hard to reach’ school (i.e, one that takes days to get to from the city, and, if it rains, can take much longer to get back from) in 2001 when I was working with the Ministry of Education in Bangladesh. The degraded black and white image makes it difficult to place the photographs in time. The images also have a painterly quality, which challenges the aspiration to mechanical (and now digital) veracity. The activity and objects depicted (books, schoolrooms and literacy practices) also span the history of photography (with mass schooling, based very much around literacy, numeracy and the regulation of behaviour, developing in the UK, through the school boards, from the mid-nineteenth century). Literacy is also particularly important for me; I didn’t learn to read until the age of 8, and when I did, it totally transformed my life, and has shaped my subsequent trajectory. In the case of Bangladesh, and other similar contexts, female schooling and literacy is particularly important. In presenting the images, I wanted to experiment with the triptych format, which invokes an earlier, pre-photographic (and pre-industrial) era in the west.

Interaction through/with artifacts

I’m thinking about the relationship between the daytime and nightime users, and uses, of the place that I’m exploring (and, of course, the users may be the same people, but with different modes of engagement with the place, different interests and motivations and different relationships with others in that place at that time). One option for exploring this (without direct engagement, which could be highly problematic!) is to create artifacts that are left in the place for others (at another time) to interact with. I’m thinking about environmental artists, like Andy Goldsworthy and Richard Long, who create artifacts in the landscape, and use photography as a way of recording these. Goldsworthy, in particular, recognises, and records, the deterioration/change that takes place in the work (made from objects found in the environment) with the passage of time. In this case, though, I’m thinking about human engagement and agency. So, an artifact is created, photographed and left for a period of time (overnight, and periodically subsequently) to see (and record photographically) how it has changed (or rather, been changed, by humans, animals, weather). This could range between total indifference and total destruction. Worth a try. Need to think about he nature of the artifact and the location. So I think the first steps (photographically) are to explore places within the park where activity and interaction takes place, and to explore the material for making that are available there, and subsequently to work on what can be made. Another option is to leave objects and explore/record their fate (and these activities and interactions leave their own artifacts for other to engage with and respond to, of course). But, I think it is worth figuring out whether making might work initially. Day/night is, of course, just one (extreme) way of differentiating between uses of the same space; this multiplicity of understandings and modes of engagement with the same spaces is a common feature of the increasingly intensive use of urban space. And in research, the use of artifacts to facilitate or provoke interaction and dialogue is well established. I need to explore the degree to which these have been explored photographically, and potential for images that illuminate, engage and provoke.

Christian Thompson, Ritual Intimacy

In a recent trip to Sydney, I went to the Christian Thompson exhibition Ritual Intimacy at the UNSW Gallery. Thompson describes his work as ‘auto-ethnographic’. He features (indeed, is the primary focus of) almost every image (and performance piece) in the exhibition, which explores dimensions of identity and relationship with community, culture and language. As part of his PhD studies at the University of Oxford (he was one of the first two Aboriginal Australians to be admitted in the history of the university) he engaged with a collection of nineteenth century images of Aboriginal people held in the ethnographic collection of the Pitt Rivers Museum. As Marina Warner observes in the exhibition catalogue ‘images of non-Western people were collected as ‘specimens’ rather than as fine art objects or portraits of individuals, and were therefore not assigned to the photography archives at the National Portrait Gallery or the Victoria and Albert Museum’ (Warner, 2017, pp. 64-5). From this, Thompson produced a series of images entitled We Bury Our Own. Wary of re-appropriating, and re-vivifying, the troubling, and fundamentally racist, images, he adopted an approach of ‘spiritual repatriation’, in which he engages with and responds to the artifacts and images held by the museum, without reproducing them. For the Week One task, I chose to re-make the image Danger Will Come, a response by Thompson to a daguerreotype of an Aboriginal man from the 1860s. I have incorporated the current exhibition catalogue showing a plate of Danger Will Come in my image. The re-making, I hope (as best I can in a hotel room), highlights the ironic and paradoxical circulation of contemporary images in the gallery system, and the consequent danger(s) of colonial re-appropriation. In relation to the global images theme of the first week, we have three layers of global image: the initial (unseen by us) objectifying anthropological trophy image, bringing news from distant lands, its spiritual repatriation by an Aboriginal Australian (global) contemporary artist and its pedagogic re-making in a task for an online (international) higher degree programme. There are a number of themes to explore further in the development of my own practice. In relation to my MA project, the relationship of Aboriginal people to the land is clearly important to understand, particularly if I am to explore ‘edgelands’ and ‘non-places’ in Australia as part of this work. More broadly, there are issues relating to auto-ethnography, identity, community and experience to explore, and the fundamental challenge to western conceptions posed by indigenous forms of knowledge.

Christian Thompson, We Bury Our Own [Exhibition], Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford, 26th June 2012 – 17th February 2013, (last accessed 5.6.18)

Christian Thompson, Ritual Intimacy [Exhibition], Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne, 27th April-8th July 2017, Griffith University Art Gallery, Brisbane, 20th July-23rd September 2017, UNSW Galleries, Sydney, 4th May-28th July 2018.

Warner, M. (2017), ‘Magical Aesthetics’, in Christian Thompson et al, Ritual Intimacy, Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne pp. 63-76.

Newcastle Beach Ocean Pool

I work in Newcastle one to two months a year. If I can, I try to swim in the Ocean Pool two or three times a week, usually in the morning. Not possible this year, but I thought I’d take a few photographs after work. The day/night transition was forced – it’s winter and it gets dark at around 6.00 pm.  Weather and time allowing, I’ll explore some more. And, maybe, at Mereweather just along the coast – the largest Ocean Pool in the Southern Hemisphere.