Photographic practice: where do I start?

Newbury and McCauley claim that little attention has been paid to photographic practice, with much theoretical discourse revolving around the images themselves rather than how they were produced. For Newbury (1997), this means that the ‘doing’ is missing from the discourse while for McCauley (2008), it is the complexities of the ‘labor’ involved which are lost.

In 1997, Newbury’s argument about practice in an educational context raised an important point around the intentions of young photographers: They were taught the ‘dominant photographic genres’ so that they could become professional photographers in fashion or advertising. They were not concerned with the meaning of the dominant imagery nor did they question the social value of their photographs. There was no room for reflective photographic practice – it was about glamour and emulating the work of David Bailey (Newbury, 1997).

I have always loved taking photographs, for as long as I can remember. I had a Kodak instamatic with flash as a child and a Pentax SLR as a teenager. I used to take pictures of anything and photographs of photographs I found interesting. I used to re-photograph images of Robert Smith in music magazines and VHS footage of The Cure straight off the TV screen; Charles Baudelaire’s portrait, Arthur Rimbaud, flowers, album covers… I was lucky to have my own black-and-white enlarger kit – my bedroom had turned into a dark room. It was fun. I had all those negatives of Robert Smith and other famous people. I used to double them up and come up with some odd prints: Smith superimposed on Baudelaire or Man Ray would produce deformed and ethereal faces. It was enjoyable. I was creating a world of my own with my bespoke imaginary heroes. I never had any desire to photograph glamour as a profession. In a way I was already photographing it.

Photographic education has moved on since Newbury’s call for the ‘development of new kinds of photographic and cultural practice’ (Newbury, 1997). Yet, there is still a dichotomy in the approach to photography, with the ‘doing’ on one hand and the ‘reading’ of photographs on the other. In other words, the production and the contextual analysis of the image are still, in the main, being thought of separately.

McCauley, A. (2008), ‘Overexposure: Thoughts on the Triumph of Photography’. In R. Kelsey and B. Stimson (eds), The Meaning of Photography (pp. 159-162). New Haven: Yale University Press.

Newbury, D. (1997), ‘Talking about practice: photography students, photographic culture and professional identities’. British Journal of Sociology Education, 18 (3), 421-434.

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