The World’s Most Amazing 100% Awesome Photography Theory

Harper, Sharon P (2015) The World’s Most Amazing 100% Awesome Photography Theory. In: 21 Century Photography: Art, Philosophy, Technique, 5-6 June 2015, Central Saint Martins. (Unpublished)

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The nature of photography in higher education is undoubtedly changing. Not only has there been a general growth in photography courses (HESA data suggests a 39% with a 37% increase in overall enrolment between 2008‐09 and 2012-13) but a concurrent emphasis on industry skills and commercial career outcomes (Edge 2009). What this has entailed has been more nuanced and differentiated approaches to photographic practice amongst the students, with different aims, objectives and creative outputs. Adapting the theory component of courses then (often viewed as the key differential between FE and HE) to suit the new demands is surely a necessity if, as many courses do, stress the integral relationship between theory and practice. But the need is not simply pedagogic. It reflects a general theoretical resistance to new forms of analysis within photographic studies. Indeed the general understanding of photography in all its manifestations continues to rely on a select band of key texts and concepts that have dominated discussion for more than a generation. A few calls for such a re‐examination have indeed been made (Haeffner 2008, Newbury 2009, Edge 2009, Bate 2010). But little has been offered that is not simply a rearticulation of the already dominant theoretical models. Rather than relying on the well--‐trodden models that promote either the view of photographer as visionary or an emphasis on meaning generation, it is proposed here that theory and history in photography should look to the breadth of approaches found in film studies, given that film itself, like photography, spans the avant‐garde through to the highly commercial. Nick Haeffner has initiated this argument in his 2008 article “What’s Wrong with the Primacy of Theory” in the Journal of Visual Arts Practice. In it, he makes a similar case for the wider adoption in creative, commercial of developments in film studies, namely those of what has been termed ‘mid‐range theory’. Here, there is an inclusion of careful empirical research at the heart of analysis and in Haeffner’s words, “mid‐range theoretical approaches usually have the advantage of placing a strong emphasis on the specific industrial determinants of a given film, video or photograph. Their insistence that each object of study is unique and distinct also provides a useful platform for the consideration of practice as well as theory.” (181) Although Haeffner advocates the use of pragmatics in his article, I would propose two other areas of development for theorization in photography, with the explicit aim of developing our understanding of the commercially commissioned sector. The two areas for development particularly advocated here are genre studies and industry analysis in terms of production and distribution. Since most commercially-bound photographers work within industrial structures and constraints, both of these approaches would facilitate an understanding of creativity and innovation in this context. This would open up areas of photographic study that have thus far been largely ignored by academics, and more importantly would facilitate a closer relationship and dialogue between theory and practice in the educational context.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Subjects: T Technology > TR Photography
Divisions: Schools and Research Institutes > School of Creative Arts
Research Priority Areas: Culture, Continuity, and Transformation
Creative Practice and Theory
Depositing User: Sharon Harper
Date Deposited: 21 Mar 2016 11:48
Last Modified: 31 Aug 2023 09:23

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