If someone contacts you out of the blue and says I’d like to send you to shoot historic Mudejar architecture (which I love) in Andalucia (where I lived all too briefly) would you think it was too good to be true? I kind of did. But it wasn’t! I’ve just returned from there, had a great time and I think some rather good results!
Notes to return to:
Normally, when architectural photographers talk about their work, it is to share information like the sort found on this page:
The technical how to stuff.
Normally, when academics talk about photography, it is to share thoughts about their areas of study: post-structuralism, feminism, marxism, the standard isms. I doubt there is any need to provide a link to any of the well known, well explicated never dry well that is the brilliant work from the 70s and 80s, to which we still return, or the more recent and equally wonderful updates from Mitchell, Batchen, Bates, Cotton, Frosh, Klein, etc.
The reason I write now – and the fundamental reason why I decided to undertake the doctoral research exercise in protracted masochism – is that I believe there is an important space in the middle of those two voices, two camps, two fields, two schools of thought, two ways. Something like the critic as artist, or the artist as critic. I see a need for a translator, diplomat or liaison. Someone with a stake and foot on either side of the divide. Because the two sides are not listening to each other at the moment. They are each preaching to the converted, and with a medium and practice like photography that seems an unnecessary two-culture binary, since photography is itself made up of those two key parts and should not be looked at as one half by one half. I can give two examples of why the divide is problematic.
Commercial and amateur photography makes up most of the images we will ever see in a life time, and a small percentage (ever growing in number?) of people ad to that fine art photography. I would say, however that most of these practitioners do not read what theorists write about photography. I would also guess that many would reply, like Andreas Gursky, if they did start to read what academics say about his practice, that much or all of that writing is irrelevant. So academics often write about photography as though it were an excavation into a pit filled with ancient Gujarat literature, legible only to a small panel of trained experts who think and write about that distant culture cut off from but still an antecedent to the world we live in. Or its a bit like science fiction writing: you make up a world to write about in order to reflect and critique the world you do live in. This point is important because it means that there is a total disconnect between theory and practice. Because on the other hand theorists are not really interested in how photographs are made.
This point was driven home the other night. I was having a lovely conversation with a professor about photography and architecture, during which we discussed the possibility of doing a keynote together, each taking a different position on architectural photography, the third space (emergent from collaboration) etc. But soon it became apparent that the points I wanted to articulate were ineffable. I was told as much.
I said it was important to state that images look the way they do in large part due to the conditions of production. Each theatre I was shooting for a book project (which we were discussing) was willing to give me only 1-2 hours to shoot. They were not willing to let me alter the lighting. They were very difficult to gain access to and had to be contacted repeatedly over the course of several months via mutual friends and colleagues. In short, the practical and mundane issues of phonecalls, emails, coercion and ical had far more to do with the end result (what the pictures look like) than either my ideas, her own or the book publishers. Added to that, none of the funding for the project came through, so that means everything has to be done on a shoe-string which complicates planning, adds to stress, and limits the amount of equipment it is feasible to travel with.
None of this mundane stuff should be discussed, she said, because in the end, what you are left with are the images. And I can relate to that sentiment up to a point. I constantly tell my students I am interested in results not excuses, and that they should centre on the work not themselves when it comes to overcoming difficulties along the way. The trouble is, since no one talks about these things, they become the naked emperor elephant in the room. These key determinant factors are eschewed in favour of discourses about discourses, so part of the reason for why things are the way the are is overlooked – because it is uncomfortable, embarrassing, irrelevant to talk about them. Theory not practice. Business as usual in academic life, far away from the petty concerns of businesses? I think that is a big mistake.
For that reason, I am writing this blog. I hope to produce a body of texts by the end of this year that will be engaging to read. I hope to have ready a volume of images that will dialogue with those texts as well as merit contemplation on its own. I hope both appear professional, original, worthwhile. But without this back story they are not only a lie, they are a complicit part of the problem. I could go very conspiracy theory here, but in short, there is a gap between talking about technical excellence, equipment, practices, aesthetics or writing about photography as a part of culture, discourse, power, communication, belief.
That gap is where I fit.
Isn’t there a third space for practitioners with academic training to reflect their dual position back to each of their two camps? I guess I hope to be a sort of cultural liaison, but more and more I think the role of translation is what I have to offer, since these two sides are not listening to each other because neither it seems is willing to take the time to learn the others language. I guess it is because they don’t have to. But for some odd reason, I do.
This shows the importance of several things:
- the building must be in a fit state to photograph
- the client must specify their interests and needs in a detailed brief and verbal instructions
- a physical walk through with the client does wonders
It may sound as though I am contradicting myself, hence the need for clarification.
The third space is what interests me. Not my individual interpretation alone, nor the standard conventional recipes that architects stick too. The third space is what comes from collaboration and can produce, I believe, the most interesting work. Both artists and client need to be receptive and able to work that way for it to be a success.
In this instance, a third space is not really what the client is asking for. Rather, they have very specific needs: exact ideas of content and vantage points. Deviation from these will not be considered. So it is a disaster for the photographer in that situation to be left to their own devices. A total waste of time and energy for everyone involved. That said, once the check list is completed in a situation like this, you can still go through and shoot whatever interesting additional things remain. Quite often that procedure produces what they like to call the money shot, which is really just a minor surprise within acceptable boundary lines.
Latest versions here:
Older versions with critiques, here:
Feedback from colleagues is useful information so included on pdf above and in text (from different colleagues) below. Page numbers refer to slightly different preliminary version of pdf, which include yet another set of post-its (so there are 4 commentaries in total spread across 2 pdfs):
p3 the two big pillars in the foreground are not quite straight. Can you correct this or have you done it already and this is as good as it gets? If so, then we think best to lose from portfolio
p8 picture on left looks a bit out of focus or whats in focus is not very obvious. Whereas in the pic next to it, the selective focus really works!
p16 lose images of kid immediately! Unless your aiming for IKEA
p17 we think the images are not particularly strong so if you need to cut a page, this would be a good place to start. Also, this building is repeated on p 19 no?
p19 left image looks a bit strange on its own on the page. We think either lose it or include in previous spread with the other three. Perhaps have the image on the right as a 2ble spread if it fits
p20 Not sure these are ‘architectural’ enough to be in this portfolio, you have much stronger work to show! Unless we are being too old school, your more down with the kids these days so perhaps this is the latest trend?
p38 and p41 these are beautiful images but do they both need to be included if this is a portfolio aimed to get you architecture work?
Same for p43.
Sequence is fine, perhaps some captions either adjacent to the pictures or at the back would be useful so that we know exactly what we are looking at.
Is it only your most recent work to show? Because there are some stunning pics on your website that could definitely go in. Ida likes the Coventry pics in particular. I really like Pen&Hammer, Sipo
1st version: 14 may article
2nd version: 30 october article
4th version: 12.november.article.text.only
6th version: 4 feb 2014 9 facts
Notes on the all important back story (making of) which ultimately reveals far more than the convincing narrative we eventually submit. I believe in transparency as more than just lip service.
Goodwin Marc kirjoitti 4.11.2013 kello 15.37:
I have shown this paper to both supervisors: Antti Ahlava and Merja Salo, and both have ok’d it… So you cannot imagine how helpful your feedback to keep me from moving forward with blinders on.
At the level of my dissertation, context is covered in a 45 page literature review, where Ceferin’s excellent book is dealt with. But it is good to know that I should include it here. Concise precise writing is obviously the order of the day, but leaves lots of questions about what to include and what to leave out. All of which I believe you have answered.
OK, that’s great! Try to picture all your articles that will compose the final dissertation as sides of the same solid each of which can only be seen one at a time. Each side (article) will have a unique viewer (reader) who knows nothing of the other sides (articles). Each side should be a perfect geometric form, a unique miniature masterpiece, but only when you put the whole thing together (the dissertation), one could get the big picture and realise how each side links to oneanother and add to your great composition.
With this really dim allegory in mind, you could start re-composing your paper so that the 45 pages of existing literature review is reflected in each of your articles. As you won’t be writing 4-5 similar articles but each has a unique viewpoint to your subject, the literature review should be discussed accordingly. You don’t need to include everything in every paper, but rather, divide your ‘stash of ideas’ into the common ground and the more specific themes that will then build up the theoretical frame for each of your topics. The pdf that I linked has an excellent model for a structure, you could take that as your starting point.
I’m glad if I could be of any assistance!
Your roadmap for this article is crystal clear and helps me to move forward. It is very kind of you to offer me such constructive criticism and specific advice on how to write a better article. I’ve read loads on the subject, but the link you have sent is a much needed additional read, I can see. I shall send it round the department.
Goodwin Marc kirjoitti 4.11.2013 kello 13.19:
Right, I’ll get cracking. I’ve rewritten this article so many times already, I wonder if you could just verify my check-list. I understand from your comments that I should do the following:
- Remove the Spanish frame story
Not necessarily. The point is how you are using it. Currently, it’s a disconnected sideline in a narrative (your words: frame story). What we expect it to be, if used, is as a case-study that points out or explains some of your research questions or methods or whatever.
- Articulate and interprete results more
Yes. But also your questions and your methods.
- Remove double-entendre discussion
Yes. And check your expressions. No ‘sort of’s, cut down metatext (“Now we come to the second question….”.
- Change title to something more like Analysis of Conventions in the Finnish Architectural Review.
Not at all relevant at this stage.
- Better situate research – compare with similar (though I am at a loss at the moment but will investigate)
Crucial! And not just for this paper but for the whole dissertation. Your references don’t mention any of the existing research on ARK or the agendas of Finnish architectural photography. say, Petra Ceferin’s dissertation Constructing a legend (2003). Your article is, in other words, completely detached from what we know already about your subject.
You should start your work with mapping that out, firstly on the level of research on architectural photography / media, and then on the level of Finnish architecture. Then, on the other hand, the Corbin & Strauss book should not be in the references because it is an elementary handbook on research methods = common knowledge to your audience. The Foucault and Eco stuff should be discussed more accurately and more broadly at the beginning of your paper (as your theoretical context). They are so well-known and much-used philosophers that you really should be careful in the way you refer to them. Open up your key concepts, explain your reader how you approach them.
Oulu University has produced an excellent guide for writing scientific articles. I warmly recommend to check it out: http://herkules.oulu.fi/isbn9789514293801/isbn9789514293801.pdf
Strongly advice you to discuss your paper with your tutor as well. S/he should guide you in this, because this is what research is all about: sharing your observations with the research community of your field.
and previous (equally good, helpful feedback) from someone else:
I carefully read your article which is very interesting and significant for any academic publication, especially based on Scandinavia. I suggest that there would be two stages for your publication:
For stage one, you may simply edit and finalize it for a paper of related conference.
For stage two, you may continue to work on your paper for a peer-review scientific journal article, especially with the feedbacks you could have received from the conference.
The following are my suggestions to proposed publications with two stages:
Abstract – please mention journal Finnish Architectural Review, in your abstract.
Keywords – 5 keywords will be good enough.
Introduction – the reference of Compañía de Santa Teresa de Jesús is interesting, and you may find comparable reference directly from Finnish Architectural Review, or something directly related to Finnish architecture, to make your article tight, precise and straightforward.
Materials and methods – usually, it can be part of Introduction. Your six caveats could be denser.
Charts – they could be formulated with the same formatting.
Discussion – the first two paragraphs could be put into your introduction.
1. Your first five caveats could be served as a base for your “qualitative study” to make your argument stronger, especially collaborated with the later section of your significant Discussion.
2. In each of your “quantitative” and “qualitative” study, you may include some specific analyses on few iconic thematic publications, to exemplify your points.
3. You may also include some historical narratives and technological descriptions of “photographing “ architecture and its related publication, to explore the mechanism behind the representation of architecture.
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