Book Review: Behind the Image – Research in Photography by Anna Fox and Natasha Caruana

by Suzy Walker-Toye

basics creative photography 03 behind the image research in photography book cover I’m not sure why this book even got put onto the reading list. To me it seems to go from one obvious and belaboured point to the next. The first two chapters could have been condensed down into one or two good introductory paragraphs and a bullet list of ideas. For example do we really need to be told to visit galleries on a photography course? Do people in the modern age really need to be told what a bookmark is and how to use one? I was expecting to flip to the front and see that this had been written in the early ’90s but its actually from 2012.

It starts off nice and specific, ie you have something to research or you want to do a specific project which would need a proposal then it gets a bit wishy washy and seems to be suggesting places that arnt really specific research places as such. Galleries for example are great for inspiration and interesting exhibitions but unless they happen to have one on your topic it’s not really targeted research for your own projects.

The book is split up into 6 chapters, Planning, Development through research, Practice as research, Compiling your research, Research and practice and the Impact of research.

The first part of the chapter on planning was quite interesting, the idea of making a research proposal (or brief) is one which could transfer into one of those useful skills that all clients need but newbie freelance photographers often lack the practice in. This chapter brought to mind the recent Miss Aniela Creative Live workshop (which I recently blogged about here), and her concept of making a pitch document for the client and supplementing it with mood boards once the time comes for shooting. In fact several times while reading this book her workshop sprang to mind.

Basically a research proposal comprises of a title, a topic or theme, target audience, suggested practical approach to how you intend to carry out the work, any details of local access you might need (and other organisational details and permissions), funding proposals, summary considerations for social media, timetable & budget and proposed research references.

As much as this is important, I can’t help to think it sort of sucks the fun out of the creative photographic process, nailing down details up front might put some people off doing the project entirely, especially if its a personal project where you are your own client. It seems like it would be very easy to have a method of working which overanalyses things and loses that spark of spontaneity that some projects need to get off the ground.

The idea behind the approach and methods section reminded me of what I was doing (unofficially) with my pdf learning logs. Basically giving myself a history of where the ideas where coming from as they evolved. A useful exercise if a bit long winded for normal (non-assessed) work.

The Being Informed parts of this chapter I think could have just been summarised into a few interesting bullet list of ideas. Looking at photographers histories, books, magazines, journals & gallery visits all seem pretty obvious if you are researching something photography based.

I thought the case studies were interesting, they gave a good context to what the book was trying (and often failing) to express and keep the reader engaged with.

Unfortunately, the second chapter almost made me put down the book in exasperation. As I’ve already mentioned, no one in this day & age needs whole sections on why the internet is useful and what to do with bookmarks. There really was no need to go into that level of detail in stating the obvious (again). Its almost as if the publishers had given a page count and the authors felt some padding was needed (that apparently the generous whitespace and photos throughout didn’t give already)? Do yourself a favour and skip over this chapter.

Chapter three, “practice as research” started off seeming a bit random, touching on a few main places where you might take photos (the studio, street photography) – So? Eventually it got to its (very long winded) point of trial and error photography as a journey to new ideas or finished work. The same with Post Production and the types of things you could decide to do to your image. The self-evaluation form section was mildly interesting (we basically do this in the course at the end of each part anyway) but I think this whole chapter was a bit outside the scope of the book, long winded and not very well written. Sorry, just my opinion.

Chapter four, is useful if you read this at the beginning of TAOP course but with a bit of trial and error you come up with your own ways of organising your research materials (most people use blogging and personal workbooks for the course).

Chapters five and six see the book winding down and concluding by repeating fairly obvious themes and conclusions from earlier chapters.

In conclusion, read the contents page and imagine what each (very interesting sounding) heading might talk about. Expand on that logically in your mind. Close the book, reading no further.

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One Comment to “Book Review: Behind the Image – Research in Photography by Anna Fox and Natasha Caruana”

  1. Thanks for the review. I’m down to chapter two and experiencing the same frustration. Nice reason to not spend time on it anymore :-) I’ll check out the workshop as well!

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