Contextual research

Week 1: The look into other photography careers was extremely interesting, especially as much of the primary photography industry, as far as I can see, does not greatly interest me. As I am now comfortably in my mid-40s, the idea of becoming a photographer’s assistant – whilst certainly alluring in terms of an apprenticeship, may be a little beyond me now. Rather the idea of teaching photography does interest me, having been a teacher for the past 20 years. Certainly, within my current job teaching literature to 16-18 year olds I will look into teaching photography as an after school activity, perhaps starting next academic term.

Scott Grant’s division of professional photographers is also very interesting and something that I will bear in mind as I proceed through this course. At the moment, the idea of working as a photographer for clients is fairly alien to me, which is not to say that it is something that I would discount entirely – far from it. It is just so far outside my comfort zone that it may take quite some time to assimilate.


Week 2:  I found the content this week both fascinating and somewhat threatening: other than a not-particularly-successful 18 month foray into the world of advertising some two decades ago, my life has been spent entirely in, and at one end or the other, of education. Thus the idea of the business world can be a bit frightening.

The three photographers mentioned interested me greatly – I found Harley Weir‘s work highly stylised and incredibly beautiful; Maisie Cousins‘ work made me a little uncomfortable in its physicality. Richard Mosse I had come across before – my initial response being (and as such indeed underlining the point that the vodcast made) that his use of infra red photography in war reportage was a gimmick designed purely to make him memorable; however, on reflection (and on further reading) I began to see the point of what he was doing. And, indeed, the undeniable beauty of the images. Though there is still a remaining question of whether or not they trivialise war. Or whether or not their unusualness forces us to stop and look at an image amongst the bombardment of war images in modern media provides. Definite food for thought there. And something I have taken from that is to try and consciously develop a unique aesthetic as I progress as a practitioner. Currently, my favoured aesthetic of start, depeopled, unsaturated landscape images is very much after the fashion of  “Remote Americana”  (often large format) landscape photographers such as Edouard Sepulchre, Jason Lee and Scott Behr. So what is it that makes the UAE feel different from the Western states of the US? And how might that show?

The idea of the business mind still scares me though. I ended up putting off the exercise regarding the mission statement for so long that I didn’t actually post it. And that was because I didn’t even want to think about it… Especially in an unremittingly business-tinged country like the UAE. Which also brought the question that as a photographer in the UAE, where do I stand in terms of fine art or documentary photography? The few photographers I have met out here are fashion or product photographers. There is no university offering fine art degrees as far as I can find. There is only one gallery specialising in photography as art, rather than purely as saleable product (by which, again as far as I can see, involves Athena-like poster prints of skyscrapers at night and camels and their bedouin owners in pristine deserts).


Week 3: This week was by far the most interesting and exciting so far. The viral image challenge was great fun, but the supplementary reading resonated on a different level. Apart from already enjoying Kieren Hebden’s music, his interview with Jason Evans reminded me of what I love, not just about photography, but about art in general, and artistic thought in its broadest sense. In particular: “The kind of photography I like was never intended as art. The kind of music and artwork you’re describing were never intended as art” (1). I immediately ordered the photobook under discussion; sadly I won’t be able to get to it until I return to the UK in late December. However, what interested me here was the idea that the traditional forms of and markets for photography are rapidly changing. I loved the concept of photography that interacts with music (OK, not a mind-blowingly original concept) and that one project could take several forms – in this case interacting in a physical book with written text and digitally with music. As a keen writer of both words and music, this is an avenue I very much want to explore.

My own Instagram feed is entirely photography based, but fairly scattershot in its approach. Having read more this week about the idea of site-specific content, and having seen the effect of this week’s challenge, I will consider starting another (more aggressively promoted) Instagram account once I have more clearly defined project content.

The extract entitled Into The Digital (2) was interesting again – along with the idea of non-traditional forms of creating and displaying photographs, the idea that we should no longer consider the photograph as its analogue precursor, but instead a digital and thus infinitely reconfigurable construct is not a new one, but it is also one that up to this point I had not considered relevant to my own practice. Now, I wonder: can the idea of a reconfigurable construct of reality have any kind of role in documentary photography? Would the melding of the two necessarily then become fine art photography? And, perhaps more importantly, given the ripped-up-rulebook nature of how we consume photography, do such generic delineations really matter?


  1. Between Analog and Digital: Jason Evans in conversation with Kieran Hebden (Four Tet) from The Photobook Review supplement to Aperture Magazine, Spring 2013.
  2. Ritchin, Fred. After Photography, London New York: W. W. Norton, 2010.


Week 4: The genres I have always felt most comfortable in are travel and, more recently, documentary photography. I also have an interest in developing my fine art photography ideas. I have always enjoyed shooting travel images – my love of photography stems from my love of travel – but have feared taking pictures of people. Consequently, I have tried to look out for the more unusual places, both in terms of actual cities or countries to visit and areas or aspects of cities or countries, to give my photography some difference from the photographic karaoke of the many, many (often technically excellent, but nevertheless) uninspired postcard shots. However, the more I have traveled, the harder I have found it to tell a coherent story about a place without photographic its people. Pretty obvious stuff, I know. The ship-breaking yards of Bangladesh are fascinating, even without people in the shots; but the whole families that live there are much more interesting. Part of the reason I wanted to take this course is to learn how to combine two of my interests – photography and art. I have no educational background in either, but am keen to learn and apply what I learn about fine art photography. The idea behind my project is that of psychogeography – something that seems to have lent itself most to writing, but which has its roots in the Letterist and Situationist International art movements of 1950s and 60s Paris. Ideally, I would like to see my work in published form, preferably alongside written content (another keen interest, only this time one in which I do have an educational background). Even more, I’d love to do something that combines personal interests of photography, art, creative writing and even music.


Week 5:  Networking. I have long loved the idea of being part of a collective, a group, a movement, whatever you choose to call it. In other creative endeavours, I have always been at my most fecund when collaborating; even when much of the eventual output was mostly my own, the chance to work with and bounce ideas off other people improved that output. I wrote my best songs when I was in a band. I wrote my best prose as part of a workshop. Over the past weeks I have made an effort to meet other photographers – I have joined the Dubai chapter of the RPS, been involved in an exhibition with a local group called the Shutterbugs and taken time to get to know some of the people who work in GPP, the main photographic hub for the UAE. Thus far, though I have met interesting people and generated some interesting ideas, nothing collaborative seems to have emerged. However, a very close friend, the head of Art at a school I previously worked at, has a Bachelor’s degree in photography and is keen to revive her interest. I greatly admire what I have seen of her prior work and we have made tentative plans for collaborative exercises. Whether this bears any fruit beyond joint photo sessions remains to be seen, but already I am thinking about how the differences in our work might effectively show the city that we both live and work in.


Week 7: Very interesting content and, yet again, an aspect of photography about which I had not previously thought. It would never occur to me to look for an agent as I suppose I am not interested in the type of photography that involves being booked by clients for shoots. However, in terms of progress in travel/documentary photography, it is certainly worth looking into. The most promising I have found in my local area is Phocal Media (formerly Arabian Eye) and I will certainly submit my completed portfolio at the end of this part of the course. I have also submitted several shots to Shutterstock. I would have submitted more, but the submission process is (possibly unnecessarily?) convoluted and very time consuming. I will certainly monitor this situation and submit more if I feel that it looks promising.


Week 8: Another difficult week for me, though I did indeed learn about the different aspects of a commercial photographic shoot – having briefly been on the other end (in my previous life as an advertising executive twenty years ago, I attended a studio shoot for Ford motors) it is interesting to see what it all breaks down to. Having never been a studio photographer, what interested me then was how long it took to get the one required shot – a whole day’s studio time and (in those pre-digital days) more time once the processing was complete. I found the coursework challenging as the commercial side of life is one with which I have had limited involvement.


Week 9: Again, a very interesting look at how this aspect of the photography industry works. The only person I have managed to set up a meeting with is the manager of Sum of Us – a coffee shop and gallery. My website needs updating and I will also develop a portfolio in line with my developing work for this unit and my change of direction to concentrate on travel and documentary photography.

My website

My Facebook page

My Instagram account

My social media presence is possibly underdeveloped – I need to update my Facebook page and perhaps be more selective with my Instagram posts. My intention is to start another Instagram account once I have my portfolio complete and a clear direction and identity.


Week 10: I found the material this week much more interesting as photobooks and galleries are very much where I want to be aiming. The interview with Francesca Genovese was incredibly informative and, to me at least, very inspiring. This ranged from the practical advice – how to submit to a gallery and the relationship between the gallery and the photographer – to the aspirational – I love the idea of pursuing projects for interest’s sake rather than with an eye to exhibition or publication. I was also happy to hear her talk about how most photographers have an income from elsewhere. I actually greatly enjoy my ‘day job’ (as a teacher of literature) as it provides me both with sufficient funds and holidays to travel, and it is in travel that I find most of my inspiration and on holiday that I take most of my photographs. This clarified a great deal that has worried me over the course of this unit – I have no particular desire to become a studio photographer, and possibly not even a professional photographer. Naturally, though, I would enjoy a little wider audience than just Facebook and Instagram likes. Thus I am content to continue teaching for the foreseeable future (including, of course, the possibility of a sideways step into teaching photography!) whilst pursuing individual projects. I will also take Francesca’s advice on submission to galleries once I feel the projects on which I am currently working are of sufficient quality.

The other material from this week was similarly inspirational. The article by Sean O’Hagen from The Guardian introduced  me to the work of Paul Graham, Mitch Epstein and Edward Burtynsky, though I was a little disheartened to see the latter’s series of photographs of the ship breaking yards of Chittagong as I myself have a series of photographs encompassing these yards (along with other aspects of life in Chittagong) and, of course, mine are nowhere near as good. Still, looking at the differences between the two was a learning experience in itself and I am quite tempted to go back and take another shot. The worry then, naturally, is that I would be too influenced by the master…

In terms of possible local markets for travel photograph, there are two locally produced travel magazines, Conde Nast Taveller Middle East and Ultratravel. both of which, like much of life in Dubai, are aspirational and, though I do travel a lot, I very rarely stay in 5 star hotels and I have never even been near a private jet. One possible market might be Friday Magazine, the weekend colour supplement of one of the major national newspapers. Once I have discussed submission techniques with my father later this month, and have written up my trips to Bangladesh, Iran and Sudan, I will look to submit work to the travel editor. Of course, I am also interested in travel media further afield than Dubai I have had some discussion with my father who is regularly published by UK based travel magazines and he has identified a few possibilities which I will follow up in more detail when I am back in the UK in a few weeks’ time.

In terms of photobooks, the main local publisher is Explorer, though the photobooks they produce tend towards the postcard-style coffee table publications, though they have published one in a putative series of books by local photographer and master of digital blending Daniel Cheong.


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