Research Methods

For this module, I intend to focus my research into testing a number of ideas ready for the FMP. I have spent the last three modules looking at the idea of community and my connection to it, which has been fairly outward in its focus when actually, my work is about me. My aim is to broaden my reading to consider theory outside of the field of photography. For example, Ferdinand Toiness defines two types of community: Gemeinschaft (family, personal, emotional connection) and Gessellschaft (societal, impersonal, civic connection) (2001). My project has been very much based in the Gessellschaft and I realised during the break that I should also consider more of an emotional and personal connection to the work that I am creating, which could result in a stronger body of work.

My feedback reflected this for the last module in how I need to create more metaphor in my non-portraits, which also create a link between the people and the land they inhabit. My research will center on this and bring in anthropological elements to hopefully make the links I am currently lacking

I also have a number of plans to produce work, either directly from my research projects, or related to the ideas that I exploring in more of a commercially focussed way. As David Campany notes: “The commercial images that survive their principle function are the ones that are better than the principle function required, or deserved” (2020, p. 26), which suggests that it is possible to create meaningful work that exists in both the commercial and conceptual spheres, yet able to transcend the context of commerciality.

Figure 1: Alys Tomlinson (2019) From ‘ex-voto’
Alys Tomlinson

Tomlinson’s work is deeply rooted in research and underpinned by her anthropological approach to her subjects. Her own MA was in the field of Anthropology and it was during that time, which she created the body of work ‘ex-voto’ (Fig:1) Her use of black and white is what drew me to the images in the first place and how she discussed the way that she made this switch from colour from a need to slow down her practice and be more considered. The initial work that led to the switch then became part of her research and informed the final body of work. Tomlinson had an increased awareness of the location she was photographing and how the people were linked to the land, which she was able to consider from all of the initial visits to the location and also the initial images, even if they are in colour.

Figure 2: Bryan Schutmaat (2015) From ‘Grays the Mountain Send’
Bryan Schutmaat

Schutmaat’s approach is based in the first-hand experience of the area steeped in its own mythology (Fig:2). Schutmaat avoids detailed research into the history of a location and instead reads regional literature and works to understand the culture by observation and also by talking with local people and spending time where people are. Schutmaat’s approach is in the construction of the place, which is supported by an overview of the area beforehand. This creates discovery, and as he put it “inventing a sense of place” (Schutmaat in Pollock: 2011) Although, in interview, Schutmaat is trying to steer away from the idea of a research based approach, it is clear that it exists in his images. It makes sense to look at regional literature that might seek to create an ideal when Schutmaat is working to create a mythology in his work.

Applied to my practice

Tomlinson takes a very anthropological approach to her photographic work, clearly driven by her own Anthropological background. When looking at the forum for this week, it is clear that anthropology is an area of significance when considering photographic studies that explore concepts similar to my own research project – connection, identity, community. I aim to bring this area of research into the centre of my reading for this module and start to see how the theory can really underpin and clarify what I am aiming to achieve within my own work.

I find Schutmaat’s approach to researching his subjects quite interesting too. The use of literature about an area and the culture could prove useful to developing my research project. It is something that I did – without realising – during informing contexts as I utilised Junichiro Tanizaki’s ‘In Praise of Shadow’s’ (2001) to support the development of my project during the lock down period. A more focused approach to this could be useful and finding material and literature that is set in the area that I am trying to photograph.


Campany, D., 2020. On Photographs. 1 ed. London: Thames and Hudson.

Available at: [Accessed 22 September 2020].

Tanizaki, J., 2001. In Praise of Shadows. London: Vintage.

Tönnies, F., 2001. Community and Civil Society. Translation ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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