History as a Field and Method of Photographic Research

Historical research can be interpreted in many different ways, specifically in this lecture we focussed of history as a field and a method of photographic research.

As a field, history can be looked upon as its own collection of people, peers, when and where and the material used. It can also be looked at through the period in which it was created in. How the styles interacted with one another and also how different movements came and went, how did they effect each other?

When looking at history as a field of study you can also ask different kinds of questions:

What exactly happened in a period x–y? (Descriptive account – say, the order of events in the early days of photography: who really achieved what results and when?)

Why did it happen? (Seeking the objective causal background of some event/s – say, the forces and events that ultimately led to the announcement of the daguerreotype in the way it was done in 1839.)

How was it possible that it did happen? (Seeking to explain the occurrence of what might superficially seem like an unlikely event – say, the importance of women practitioners in photography.)

Why an individual/set of individuals acted in a certain way. (Seeking to explain individuals’ intentions, motivations, influences etc. – say, why exactly did Stieglitz allow Strand to publish a basically anti-pictorialist article in Camera Work?)

We were however only given these questions as examples of the principles we could use when doing our own research into history as a field. These are starting points to get us thinking on how we can view images in this way in our own research.
This form of research can help discover hidden aspects in an image that without the knowledge of the history, the time it was taken can create a whole other meaning to the image itself when viewing it.

As a method 

All photographs are produced within a context. A photographer works with materials (camera, computer, prints etc.) within a definite social place and time. These materials and the choices the photographer exercises over them, whether conscious or not (i.e., not ‘thinking about it’) organizes the look of the picture.

(Bate, D. 2009, p.16.)

Every photographer and artist, conscious or not is interwoven with the history’s context. You can only take an image in your own time, and it reflects this in it whether we recognise it or not.
History as a method can be linked closely to the previous question ‘Why did it happen? (Seeking the objective casual background of some event/s/)’ This method of research photographic work can take a long time as it takes a lot of reading and visual research, making connections in timelines and concepts.
It may take a long time to do the research but by doing this we can get a very detailed analyse of why the image was taken the way it was. Being thorough could also lead to a unique perspective of the photographic image that others had not considered, changing the understanding of the image for others.


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