Positioning Practice (Week 10 Reflection)

One challenge of working within the context of a large and complex project is the feeling that it is necessary to map out the context (the overall objectives and structure of the larger project) whenever presenting current work. Doing that means that you spend a lot of time talking about what you are not presenting (the other parts of the project) rather what you wish to focus on. One of the things I have learnt from the activities this week is to focus on the work in hand, and to find a succinct way of conveying a sense (but not the detail) of the larger project. Here are some initial notes.

My project explores community engagement with urban regeneration in east London. The overall objective is to use photographic image making to explore how regeneration is impacting on communities and how groups and individuals can influence these developments to ensure that they benefit the people who live in regeneration areas.

To achieve this, I am: (i) working with residents to explore their experiences and understanding of and aspirations for development of the areas in which they live through their own image making; (ii) working collaboratively with community groups to produce photographic images to be used in campaigning and advocacy; (iii) developing my own photographic work to explore the relationship between community and environment in the light of regeneration and gentrification of areas of east London.

These are discrete, but inter-twined, bodies of work which act to inform each other. I am strongly committed to seeing photographic practice as diverse in form and purpose, and shaped by context. I don’t see what I do as photography, but as a range of related photographies.

My work-in-progress portfolio for this module relates to the third strand of the project, and presents my own response to the practices of the urban planning process and their consequences. It is informed and enriched by my photographic exploration of the lived experience of residents and activists in other parts of my project, but It does not attempt to represent the experiences or perspectives of residents and others involved in this process (this is part of my longer term plan for the Final Major Project). This gives me the opportunity to experiment with making images. In this work, I am using photography not so much as a means of representation, but as a heuristic device. Making and juxtaposing images enables me to explore and learn about the impact of regeneration on communities and on the environment.

The intent of this work is to explore the tension between the natural and the built environment in the process of transformation of living spaces/places, and the disempowerment of individuals and communities in late capitalism. It arises from working with community groups and other organisations involved in urban regeneration in east London, and a growing concern for the entrapment of disadvantaged groups in the conflicting agendas and strategies of the regeneration process. These concerns are explored alongside a consideration of longer term and broader environmental issues, informed by a critical engagement with post-humanist theory and object oriented ontology. This entails invoking a sense of time that is not linear and directional, and which demonstrates interaction between the built and natural environment, and human agency. This has led me to explore the creation of composite images using photographs from particular regeneration projects in east London.

Prior to starting this module, my practice fell firmly on the ‘hunter’ side of Jeff Wall’s hunter/farmer distinction. The hunter, as Cotton (2014) observes, pursues and captures their images, whereas the farmer cultivates and constructs. Ethical concerns about the potentially intrusive nature of street and other covert forms of photography, led me towards a more collaborative approach which draws on the practices of both hunter and farmer. Wall himself, though associated primarily with elaborately constructed images, sees his own practice as a form of hybrid (Wall, 2012). The work presented in my WIP portfolio, taking the definition provided by Smith & Lefley (2015) has shifted firmly into construction.

‘To construct means to build or make by putting together various parts. A constructed photograph is one that is formed by bringing together discrete elements to create a final picture’ (Smith & Lefley, 2015: 113)

Each of the images is constructed from three other images. The initial images are my own photographs (though I am also experimenting with the use archival images, drawings, maps, CGI and other source material). As I become more adept at using the process, I achieve a better sense of what images will produce the effects that I want, though there will always be an element of chance and serendipity, which can act as impetus for further experimentation. Although I have worked with digital photographs for the portfolio, I am also experimenting with analogue sources.

The challenge at this point is to draw together the photographic work that has influenced the development of this recent strand in my work, and in relation to which I want to position my work. Also, how to weave through this the various theoretical positions, in the arts, humanities, social and physical sciences.


Cotton, C. 2014. The photograph as contemporary art. Third edit. New York, NY: Thames & Hudson.

Smith, P. & Lefley, C. 2015. Rethinking Photography:
Histories, Theories and Education.
London: Routledge.

Wall, J. 2012. Film about the Solo Exhibition. Pinchuk Arts Centre. Online at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lVv6GSpPZ_o [accessed 07.04.19]