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Informing Contexts – Why do I carry out contextual research?

My non-photographer friends always ask me why I carry out research into photographic practice?  After all, “don’t you just take photos?”.

My explanation is usually quite straightforward.  Research helps me to understand what the photographs I look at actually mean.  I can then apply this to my work and ensure that I can produce images that have meanings that are understood by others.

But there are other reasons for it. Research also enables me to see what everyone else is up to! I can see what the latest trends are and also draw on historical sources to better information and progress my work.  I find it useful to see how others approach subjects and how their work is received by the viewer.  I can see what appears to work and what doesn’t so that I can apply that to my practice.

I am beginning to understand, thanks to research, why I like what I like photographically.  I am also now in a better place to appreciate work I don’t like and can now verbalise why that is.  Since starting the MA, I have looked at more photographs from different genres than I have ever done.

But it doesn’t stop at photographs.  My research includes sources that cover a multitude of areas.  I study art and sculpture; architecture; film and cinema; theatre; literature; science and so on.  I also look at where and how work is presented, whether it be physically, printed or online.  My horizons have been widened and I am taking more risks in my work, often working outside my comfort zone.  It’s great, if a little scary at times.

During this module, I have been able (thanks to research) to start to make sense of the craziness in my head when I think about what my photographs may look like.  I am learning to interpret the ideas and make them work as images.  I find that in a session, I will take several images that on first glance all look the same.  But one will stand out.  It could be the eyes are wider or closed or a hand is slightly differently placed.  The research I have carried out so far is helping me make the editing choices I need to.

So, in answer to the question ‘why do I carry out contextual research?’, my answer is ‘because I want to be a better photographer than one who just takes photos’.


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