Work in Progress

Having written the first draft of my final essay I thought It would be a good time  reflect on my essay writing experience. As outlined in my last blog I had set out a very detailed essay plan , which was supported by in-depth research material.   When I initially noted that the essay requirement was 6000 words I felt that I was not going to be able to find enough research material to meet the word count. Once I began the research process I realised that the subject matter I had chosen was so broad, suddenly 6000 words did not seem enough. I found having undertaken such in-depth research invaluable as it made the essay writing  process  so much easier.Before starting the writing process I re read my essay plan  reflecting on the content I wanted the write about, in each chapter, and ensured that I had the correct reference sources and supporting photography that I intended to use for each chapter.

To support the critical arguments in the essay I wanted to provide examples and quotations for some of the key essay arguments. When I began writing I was aware of the limited numbers of words I could use so held back on elaborating on some of the points. As part of the learning path for this module I had to submit a 500 word essay draft to my tutor. My tutor felt that the draft required more examples to support the critical point. I reflected on her comments and agreed with her observations. I noted that the reason for the limited referencing was  my concern on the word count.  I managed this challenge by researching some more examples to support the chapter I was writing . I also set out a plan to reflect on my initial essay content and omit some of the minor points to allow me to elaborate more on the key debates and provide more examples to support my argument. I re submitted my essay draft with the additional examples.

One of the challenges that I faced was writing about subject matter that was still relevant today. I was ensure If I should write in the past or present tense . In the context of the essay I was discussing the past but the behaviour/practice is still relevant today. I overcome this issue by choosing one tense point of view and used that throughout that chapter.

I am now in the re editing stage the essay process. I am finding this aspect challenging as I need to remove some content as I am over my essay count. I am also conscious that I need to make sure that I have enough examples my argument. On reflection I think I have elaborated on some points too much and have used a lots of words to cover one point . I think this is just my lack of confidence that what I had initially said was not enough. I have therefore started the editing process by eliminating the duplication or over explanation on some of my arguments.

I have really enjoyed the research process for this essay and I have been able to read some really interesting essays/books by academics and writers of photography. I found the most challenging part of this process was structuring my arguments. I spent weeks trying to set out each key argument into subsections. As outlined in my last post I managed to overcome this issue be returning to the the mid map that I had set out to structure my research into headed segments. This process enabled me to see clearly how I could structure the argument and the logically flow of the essay content.

I think the key learning I would take away from this experience is plan and plan again it makes the process of writing and essay so much easier.




Supporting critical arguments, visually

My final degree essay has to critically argue two questions.

Has documentary photography become just a manipulation of the truth?

Should documentary photography be a record of the truth or a platform to influence change?

To critically debate these arguments I have deconstructed each questions into chapters, each addressing key elements of each argument.  To support some of the important debates I felt it was important to add visual references to the essay which  reflect each key facts being debated.

The critical argument for the first question is that contemporary documentary photography is not an manipulation of the truth as photographers have re invented documentary narratives to build a trust relationship with its audience.  To visually support this argument I have debated the work of photographer Abbie Trayler- Smith





 Trayler-Smith. A.( 2014),Shannon,Sheffield, The Big O, C-Type Print.
© Abbie Trayler-Smith.

Using this image from her 2014 series The Big O enabled me to debate the new approach of documentary photographers which included documenting the story from the subject matters point of view. I was also able to discuss the professional practice of the photographer which enabled me to showcase how her professional practice had altered to become less influenced by editorial influence which could be perceived but the audience as being manipulated.

The support the critical argument for the second part of this essay, should documentary photography be a record of the truth or a platform to influence change?  I used another visual reference to illustrate the essay critical arguments.



 Ferdous I. ( 2016), Rozina, Saju and Sanjida ( A Family Ordeal) , C -Type Print, © Ismail Ferdous 2016

The critical argument for this question is that documentary photography should be used as a platform to influence change, as there are stories of injustices that are not being heard in  mainstream  media, which need to be reported to influence change. The example used to illustrate this point is the portfolio of photographer Ismail Ferdous, who photographed the 2013 Rana Plaza factory collapse that killed over 1000 workers. Ferdous felt compelled to return to the scene to document the lives of those affected by this tragic accident. He published these photographers world wide to influence the change in legislation to protect the lives of factory workers. This publicity of a story that was not being reported world wide, empowered others to instigate change.

I have learnt that using visual examples to support your essay arguments, is a very powerful tool as it connects the essay argument to illustrated examples.


Essay Planning

To be begin the process of setting the narrative theme for my final degree essay I set out some subject ideas using a structured mind map.This process was invaluable as it allowed me to structure and focus the detailed research I needed to undertake to develope my initial theme ideas. During my studies I have found using mind map an integral tool to use to structure essays, research and photography project planning . Mind maps can be in any format but have to be legible and be clearly categorised so it is easily translated into a more detailed plans. I find using a very formal and typed plan the best format for me to use . This is because I find it a more legible and logical to transcribe into a more detailed plan .

Screen Shot 2018-12-05 at 21.37.52

This is an example of the mind map I used to collate some of the key research I had undertaken to support my essay themes. I used this plan to begin the process of structuring my essay plan. I found the initial process of structuring the essay very challenging as I was unsure how to begin the process of setting out the critical arguments for both essay questions. To help address this situation I referenced back to the mind map researched resource and began to reflect on the critical arguments and how I could then structure them in the essay. Once I had a basis argument structure I set out each subject into chapters and sub sections, which would support the presentation of the critical argument . Setting out a clearly structured chapter summary with detailed notes on the essay content and essay structure, enabled me to demonstrate to my tutor my essay plan and how I intended to debate the critical arguments set out in the essay. I have found having a detailed and planned essay foundation, which reflects the mind map structured research, imperative to the process of writing the final essay .





Researching an Essay Theme


As a photographer it is important to have an understanding of contemporary debates on photographic practice. This includes theoretical and philosophical critical thinking on this artistic medium. Over the last semester I have to set out the subject matter that I  intend to research and critically analyse in a written academic essay, as part of my final degree submission.  This essay’s subject matter is reflective of my final practical project that I will also produced for the final degree submission for this BA Hons degree.

In my last post I outlined the critical processes that I undertook to set out my essay theme and how it related to my practical project. This process of evaluation and critical analysis lead to me defining the essay’s subject matter and title.

Has documentary photography become just a manipulation of the truth?

Should documentary photography be a record of the truth or a platform to influence change?

I began the research process for this essay by setting out a mind map, of initial topics

and critical debates that I would like to define more with greater in depth research . This process enabled me to identify some of the key themes that would enable me define the critical arguments I needed to debate in this essay.
I chose to predominately find sources of research using online reference centres. This included using Studynet, which is an online library of available academic papers and written works, which are relevant to your area of research. I used this site initially but found that it contained such a broad spectrum of reference material it became challenging to refine the suggested resources to define what was relevant to my essay theme. I therefore decided to use Google Scholar as the reference point for identifying the research sources for this essay. I referenced each topic or critical debate by referring to my original mind map list.   Whilst reaching my theme I encountered some key academic writings and books on my essay’s theme, this research material will provide some important theoretical and philosophical thinking that will support some important context to this essay’s debates. I found that using a online libraries to research academic books enabled me to access more writings of the books author or suggested additional readings on the subject matter.

The foundation of the research for this essay has come from academic books written by tutors on the subject matter or published authors and journalist who specialise on writing about photography.  I have also chosen to research some emotive , inspirational resource material such as the creative thinking of Susan Sontage in her iconic book On Photography.  I wanted to ensure that this essay provided context and reflective the emotional connection between a photographer and their audience. Sontage’s books debates both these points.

I found the most challenging point of this research was trying to find a broad spectrum of research . I found at times that there was a lot of research information of some aspects of the essays debates and less of others. I took a while to decipher what was duplicate research I didn’t need to read again.

My goal for this essay is to critically debate a reasoned argument which is reflective of my research into this subject matter.

Discussing my critical thinking  behind my essay themes with both my tutor and my peers was pivotal in helping define the subject matter and critical debates I have now set out in my essay plan.











One topic different perspective.

Over the last year my photographic projects have been derived from detailed research of the influence new technology has had on the well-being of society and our culture. The research for these projects not only determined its narrative theme but also enabled me to define my creative approach to its final presentation. This research often lead me to use a conceptual visual theme to present the projects visual narrative to the viewer.




Identity 2018

These conceptual photographs were often presented to the viewer a negative reaction to my findings, producing images that challenged the viewers thinking on the subject matter. These photographic essays present to the viewer my own observations on society and its behaviour, challenging the negative behaviours that emerged over the last few years.  Reflection on my work, I concluded that I use my photography practice as a platform for social commentary and also use it as a platform to protest.

The criteria of my final degree projects is to write an academic essay which is akin to the final degree project I will undertake. I therefore chose to explore the concept of using art as a platform for protest and social commentary, which I have identified as being the creative thinking behind my photographic practice. To help ascertain the theme of this essay I undertook a period of detailed research into the subject.

I started this process by reflecting on the history of photography and how it has been used in the past as a platform for social commentary and as a propaganda. To explore this subject in more detail I began to research the history of propaganda photography. This research enabled me to encounter key exhibitions that had focused on the work of social documentary photographers and how they used their work to document society for political commentary. I found that the research information on propaganda photography was documented as being linked to the evolution of photographic manipulation, stimulating a vast amounts of debate on the truth in documentary photography. Historically this manipulation took the form of staged photography or image cropping. The time period of research that interest me is the social documentation of the 1930s depression period and the controversy of the documentation of the farmlands In America by Dorothea Lange and Arthur Rothstein. Both photographers work was challenged for being staged as propaganda photography. The impact of their photographs, even if they were manipulated, did lead to changes that ultimately provided help to the subjects of their photographs. The underlying theme of all of this research questions the truth of documentary photography and whether the use of image manipulation is ethical. In the case of Lange and Rothstein you could debate that their miss representation of the truth lead to the improved well-being of others. Reflecting on my initial research on the contemporary debates on documentary photography practices identified that the miss representation of imagery presented to the viewer can lead to social protest and can influence a chain of events. Analysing this research enabled me to identify how the presentation of the truth has become blurred in contemporary documentary photography. I therefore concluded that I could debate the validity of social documentary photography as a medium to document the truth.

To define the theme in more detail  I would like to continue to research these themes to identify critical theoretical thinking on the subject of documentary photography and the application of the truth.  Sharing my findings with my tutor has enabled us to discuss the themes and links between the truth in documentary photography and how it can influence change and also how the manipulation of documentary photography can undermine the trust of its audience. I intend to explore these themes in more detail to define my essay theme.



Bronx Documentary Centre (no date) 150 years of posed and manipulated documentary photography,Bronx Documentary Centre . Available at: [ Accessed 20th July 2018]

Bishop. D. ( 26th March 2018) Photographers and Propaganda,Friends and EnemiesPDC, Public Diplomacy Council. Available at : [ Accessed 20th July 2018]

Campion. D. ( June 13th 2017) The Morals of Vision : Susan Sontag’s “On Photography” Revisited part 1, Word Press. Available at : Accessed 20th July 2018]

Coomes. P. ( 22nd December 2011) A Question of Ethics: Photographers in the spotlight. BBC In Pictures. Available at : [ Accessed 20th July 2018]
Gonzelez D. James E, ( February 22nd 2013) A Prize-Winning Ethics Lesson?, Lens Magazine, The New York Times. Available at: [ Accessed 17th July 2018]
Dybis. K. ( October 2nd 2015) Altered Image, Vanished Trust: Photojournalism in an age of digital manipulation . Centre for Digital Ethics and Policy. Available at: [ Accessed 20th July 2018]

Farr. K. ( 30th September 2016) How can Photographs Help Create Social Change? KQED Education. Available at: [ Accessed 20th July 2018]

Grinbaum S. Maimon. V. (October 2016 ) Activestills: How Photography can become a mean of protest, London, Pluto Press. Available at : [ Accessed 17th July 2018]

MoMA ( no date) Witness, Museum of Modern Art, Available at https: //
[ Accessed 17th July 2018]

Myers .C. ( no date ) The FSA Photographs: Information, or Propaganda? BU Arts & Sciences Writing Program. Available at [ Accessed 20th July 2018]

Robinson. L. ( 20th April 2017) History of Photography: Photos as Propaganda, photo focus. Available at: Accessed 20th July 2018]

Skidmore .M. (2018) On Protest Photography, Magnum Photos. Available at: [ Accessed 20th July 2018]
The Independent. ( 2010) Power to the Picture:The evolution of Propaganda. The Independent Newspaper. Available at [ accessed 20th July 2018]

Inspirational Resources

The evolution of digital media platforms  has enabled me, as a photographer,  to have greater accessibility to the photographic portfolios of both historic and contemporary photographers. The broad variety of photographic archive that is online, means that I have been able to seek both visual and creative inspiration from many inspirational sources.

Researching the history of photography has also enabled me to encounter the work of both photographers and art movements that have contributed to the creative development as photography as an art form. This research has both visually and creatively inspired my own creative point of view. I found researching  Dadaism very inspiriting for its use of mixed media and conceptual creativity.  Dada artists such as Hannah Hoche and Man Ray have visually inspired me to experiment with conceptual photographic processes such as using double exposure and photomontage techniques.  I found accessing the archival research of galleries such as the Tate in the United Kingdom and Museum Of Modern Art(MoMA), in the United States, great sources for providing both visual and written references of historic photographers work. MoMA have a dedicated wing in the museum to early 20th century photography. The Thomas Walther Collection of Modern photographs from 1909 to 1949 documents the history of photography  for this period. This includes an extensive collection of influential American photographs such as Walker Evans and Dorothea Lange. I have been able to access this work both online and by purchasing the book at accompanies this exhibition by Mitra Abbaspour titled, Object Photo: Modern Photography 1909 1949: The Thomas Walter Collection at the Museum of Modern Art.

As a student photographer  I am always eager to see the photographic portfolios of new and emerging photographers. I found the best way to access this work is to connect with them through online and published photographic magazines. Dazed and Confused, Nowness and LensCulture Magazines published online daily, the works of many contemporary photographers . I connect with these magazines through social media sites such as Facebook or through magazine online subscriptions. This process has enabled me to interact with the work of a broad selection of new photographers whose portfolio’s have inspired my own creative thinking .  I have used some of these photographers work as visual inspiration for my photographic project include  Ryan McGinley and Gregg Segal .

I find another inspirational resource is to attend exhibitions or talks on photography. This practice enables me to not only reflect on the work of the artist but also their curation of their exhibition.  In 2017 I visited the  Wolfgang Tillmans retrospective at the Tate Modern. He presented this collection using multiple display techniques and supported his portfolio with moving images and written text. His creative approach to his exhibition presentation inspired me to use a variety of presentation techniques for my latest photographic projects.  Attending exhibitions or private views at photographic galleries have enabled me to connect with other photographers. This connection has led to being invited to inspirational talks or additional learning opportunities such as a recent work shop on the manipulation of polaroid film images.

I intend to continue to explore these inspirational resources in the planning and production of my final degree project.