Simon Green – Research Proposal
Provisional Title: Approaches to teaching photography. What makes an effective photography teaching provision?
This project will explore approaches to teaching photography to identify what makes an effective teaching provision for the subject in Further Education. It will examine the development over time, of photographic teaching provision as it is being designed and implemented.
With the aim of listing transferable skills across creative subjects, photography education, in further and higher education is rapidly being homogenised into visual arts curriculums. Photography long seen as a vocational, technical subject, somewhere between science and art, photography is quickly being absorbed into generic courses such as creative media or visual arts. The franchising of University courses to Further Education establishments has driven a “shift in syllabus…away from practice in favour of research and debate” (Smith, 2016). This move away from the technical aspects of photography is leaving a gap in essential knowledge and an argument could be made for the need to expand the breadth of approaches to photography to facilitate a closer relationship between theory and practice (Harper, 2015).
There have always been issues with categorising photography in both Art and Academic worlds, Figure 1. Shows the interdisciplinary nature of photography. For me the standardisation of ‘Creative’ subjects, particularly photography is flawed. The world through the eyes of a photographer is very different to that of an artist of any other subject and that homogenisation is producing work that looks at the world through similar viewpoints regardless of the medium. Photography is defined by the frame, as much by what is excluded, as by what is included. The choice to include only what is wanted or necessary in a painting for example, is often not available to the photographer. A photographer’s palette is restricted largely by the real world.
Photography helps to democratise not only art and media, but also society, its role, in every element of life from the mundane and vernacular to the scientific and political, has allowed it to become so commonplace that it as almost inseparable from everyday life. Yet, the importance of photography seems to be lost in education. It is largely being swallowed up to be insignificantly distinguishable from any other form of art, to be discussed and critically analysed as any other part of the art curriculum or to be used as an artist’s tool.
Photography is distinctly different to other art forms. It is technically full of compromises and limitations. Depth of field, for example, an inherent flaw from the use of lenses, is only evident in photography and so photography has its very own language and disciplines. Without knowledge of those quirks of photography, it is difficult to have a discussion about photography, to critically evaluate or to understand the contextual issues surrounding it.
At the time of writing (July 2022) the qualifying bodies are rapidly removing vocational level qualifications from their offerings, City & Guilds have already removed all of their photography certifications, NCFE and UAL (University of the Arts London) are removing their photography specific qualifications as of the end of the 2022 academic year and other bodies such as EdExcel have already removed lower level qualifications. This leaves a very limited photography dedicated progression route.
In April 2022 I began a role as a Photography Lecturer at Houghall College in Durham. When I arrived the college had no photography provision at all. I have been tasked with designing a full photography programme, starting with part-time introductory courses and progressing to a full range of photography courses. There is an opportunity to research, document and to respond to the teaching and learning as it takes place.
Although there is a wealth of information on teaching Arts subjects in a more generalised sense, there is much less literature specific to the teaching of photography. Although I have identified some thirty texts, even the most recent of it is dated. The following texts are the ones that relate the most to my research:
In Talking about Practice: photography students, photographic culture and professional identities (1997) Darren Newbury of the Birmingham Institute of Art and Design describes how “despite the social and cultural importance of photography…photographic education is an area that has inspired very little in the way of academic research” and little seems to have change in the intervening years. Indeed, even the quintessential handbook for many photography courses Langford’s Basic Photography, the most recent 15th edition (2015), dedicates as much of its content to film photography and darkroom editing as it does to digital photography despite film camera manufacturing having being reduced to niche and specialist areas.
The most significant literature that I have identified is from 2016 or earlier (Horner, 2016; Rand et al, 2015; Borge, 2014 ) and although of use, are outdated, partly in educational terms, but particularly in terms of the technological aspects of photography.
Teaching Photography (Rand et al, 2015) is a comprehensive piece of literature and works as an excellent starting place for the project. It explores in broad terms an approach to teaching photography from the philosophical aspects to the use of taxonomies in the design of curricula. However, there are elements that are outdated in teaching and photographic terms, for example the use of learning styles, which have been widely criticised (DfE, 2019 p20) and the technological aspects that have changed in the time since the book was published, both in photography and in teaching, such as the use of virtual learning environments.
I found that the book veered too far from the photographic and into more generalised teaching methods. In narrower terms however, Rand stresses the importance of subject specific knowledge. He identifies the difficulty in maintaining the “flow of knowledge” (p36) and that students ask questions to “clarify, impress, quarrel” (ibid) and without that subject knowledge it is difficult to to respond to those questions if teachers are only “two weeks ahead of the students” (p37).
Ansel Adams’ An Autobiography (1996) describes Adams’ experience of developing and delivering photography curricula. Adams’ reference to teaching is unfortunately a single chapter in the book, however it does discuss the importance of fundamental skills such as composition and exposure and his approaches to making photography courses an “a short-term, intense experience” (Adams, 1996, p268) and the importance of students “taking command of the medium”. He also describes how other artists at the school “arose in wrath and protest; photography is not an art, they claimed, and had no place in an art school” (Adams, 1996, p269). The idea that photography is not an art is even more prevalent today in the digital age, where everyone is a photographer.
This book is important, because many of the skills and techniques that are now the basis of modern photography were developed by Adams and his contemporaries. Minor White one of those contemporaries who taught alongside Adams at the California School of Fine Art, documented Adams’ approach (White, 1956). He identifies how the photography courses were “as flexible as possible” giving students the experience of a “practicing photographer” (ibid). Adams encouraged students to work by themselves until they reached their own ceiling and only then approached the instructor to have the Ceiling raised (White, 1956, p151-152).
The most recent academic paper that I have been able to access, specific to teaching photography is by the University of Gloucestershire’s Sharon Harper, written in 2016. The paper discusses how photography theory and research has “not kept pace in scale or breadth” with professional specialisations and how, as described earlier, many of the texts used as the “cornerstone” of photography teaching have not changed in decades (Harper, 2016).
Prolific writer on the philosophy of photography, Daniel Rubinsteins’s 2009 article Towards Photographic Education argues that photography education is attempting to “cling to the historical moment of photography” (Rubinstein, 2009, p135) and that it “fails to address contemporary conditions…because it perceives the digital turn in technological terms” (ibid).
The article discusses how Ansel Adams approach to teaching photography may not be appropriate in the digital age and how photography education needs to “become interdisciplinary” as Dimitrios Stamovlasis had described at the Interdisciplinary Theme for Science, Technology and Art Symposium in 2001 (Stamovlasis, 2001). In 2009 Rubeinstein was declaring that “the age of the still image is over” (Rubinstein, 2009, p140) and that “the notion of camera is rapidly becoming a thing of the past”, I would suggest over a decade later the still image and the camera are not dead yet and in my own anecdotal experience, because of the rise of digital photography and its interdisciplinary the demand for high quality photography education, specific to the still image, is higher than ever. By 2024 the UK photo merchandise market (printing) is predicted to grow by 57.9% to a staggering £330 million (Oakley, 2022).
The intended aim of this project is to identify what makes an effective photography teaching provision by researching current literature, qualification specifications and courses at other colleges and teaching establishments, interviewing photography teachers, practitioners and students and documenting the development of the photography programme at Houghall College.
The overall objective is to build a resource that can be used as a reference point for developing photography curricula, schemes of work and teaching programmes.
- Primary research – Interviewing academics in current photography programmes and industry professionals about their experiences of photography education. Questionnaires and interviews with students during and after photography education. The data produced through the development of courses being at Houghall College. Interviewing industry professionals about their experience of photography education.
- Secondary research – Building on the educational and subject specific research that already exists.
- Professional narrative – the project will document my experiences and reflections of developing a photography teaching provision. I will also be using my industry connections as part of my research particularly those within military, community and academic organisations.
The project will be an exploration of opinions and ideas about teaching photography, collation of those ideas and analysis of the reaction and responses of students to the teaching put in place. The project will build on previous photography teaching literature and research and broader more generic teaching literature. The project will document the development of designing a photography teaching programme at Houghall College. The project will not be an analysis of hard facts and statistics, more an exploration of opinions and ideas from people who practice and teach photography and feedback from the students who are in the process of learning it.
How does this project further existing knowledge?
This project will examine photography teaching provision in a specific location while it is being implemented, investigating and revising approaches to teaching photography and analysing the responses to those approaches. With the rapid changes in photography education and photography technology, any new research will have a significant impact.
Previous work in the proposed field
Alongside my twenty two year career as a practicing photographer, I have been teaching the subject across a diverse range of settings and to a variety of students from secondary school children to medical students. I have taught to vulnerable adults, in the community, on private trips and tours, workshops and classes and on vocational and A level courses at college level. I have lectured and talked to College and University students, industry organisations, camera societies and clubs and used my experience to teach on broader subjects, such as mental health, media studies and film production.
|Year One||Reading current literature, identifying approaches to teaching photography Developing a photography teaching programme at Houghall College. Documenting the process. Interviewing academics and professionals.|
|Year Two||Analysing the outcomes of the first year of teaching programmes and interviews and identifying areas for improvement, identifying next steps and implementing them. Continue documenting the process.|
|Year Three||Analysing the outcomes of my research, photography programme development, interviews, questionnaires and evaluating the conclusions.|
|Year Four||Consolidating resources, experience and documentation. Write up.|
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