Research and Development

Last week there was a Skills For Art School Session that I missed attending live due to having a backlog of work for my day job after being off with the dreaded SarsCoV2 (Covid 19).

Sarah and Lauren hosted it and when I watched it back on MS Stream I thought that the subject “What’s the point of research?” was well explained and I found it extremely useful, especially the explanation of “Interrogating the work of art” (Marcia Pointon’s diagram) as to how you prompt yourself to think more deeply about the reasons it exists and why it’s considered art.

Other sections dealt with how you can use this research into making your academic writing sound more professional and consider points, gather evidence and explain rationale behind my interpretation or feelings as a result of viewing the art.

The biggest learning point I came away with is that Research isn’t something you do before, during or after a project but a constantly evolving process that is running in your mind at all times. Makes perfect sense and if you can make notes on things that you think of, read, see, feel then these will come in handy when it comes time to articulate your feelings around your work and others.

Many years ago I did a Pacific Institute course at work for four days where Lou Tice’s organisation trained us to aim for goals and once you have a goal then you’ll see opportunities open up for you to help you achieve the objectives. Pacific Institute called it a “Reticular Activation System” and likened it to why before you chose to buy a bright pink Mini car, you don’t see many of them, then once you own one, you see them everywhere… It was explained that this setting of a goal allowed to see items of interest along the path that will aid you in the quest. This is how I feel with research and projects, if I start thinking about a project and consider other inputs then things in books, internet pages, news, and calendars stand out more obviously.


As a final part of the Skills for Art School session Sarah and Lauren set a task to investigate my own bookshelf / music collection etc to see what these might mean to me and my practice as a photographer / artist. (Weird, calling myself an artist seems a bit pretentious). It’s kind of similar to how you gauge your opinion of other people when visiting their house and seeing their interests.. We were tasked with four photos of items:

  • Front cover of an inspiration book
  • Image of an inspirational TV Show / Film
  • An Album Cover of music I listen too
  • A picture of what I do in my free time

Here we go then.

Front Cover of an inspirational book:

Book, Batman: Arkham Asylum, Morrison and McKean 1989

This was the second Batman Graphic Novel (not comic book 😉 ) I bought in 1989 as I began collecting Batman memorabilia and it remains one of my favourite books of all time. It tells a very dark story of Batman trying to deal with the inmates of Arkham Asylum and the often gruesome artwork is outstanding and a long way away from what would usually be considered as Comic Book art. The darkness of the images with light playing a big part in highlighting some disturbing details was mind altering for me at the time. It remains one of the reasons why I like long exposure, night time photography where it almost looks like Batman might step out from behind a corner, or the plague ridden near-corpse of Clayface might fall onto you as you walk through an alley. The adult nature of the story telling suits my preferences for stories without a happy ending and often rooted in reality, even though it’s obviously a fantasy story.

Inspirational Film

Film, Leon, Luc Besson 1994

Talking of stories without a “happy ending” and gritty realism, Leon (The Professional) from Luc Besson is the story of an unlikely assassin and his very complex and often worrying relationship with a young orphan.

Again, the film is dark in subject content and photography with the actors all having huge flaws and not one character being perfect, either through choice or bad happenstance. (What a word!!!) I’m not going to give away any spoilers but the film relies on shadows, darkness and light again to build up the atmosphere and many of the scenes have similar feel to Bladerunner (1982) even though Leon is set in present day and the Ridley Scott film a science fiction movie set in 2019. Again, low light levels in both of these films are a reason I gravitate to dark, murky mysterious images when I go out with the camera. Landscapes on a sunny day don’t really do it for me but a Manhattan nightscape from Empire State at midnight is right up my alley.


Music, Computer World by Kraftwerk 1981

Back in the late 80’s and 90’s when I started listening to music properly I was into Simple Minds, U2, Rainbow, Dire Straits, Def Leppard etc but did like listening to Jean-Michel Jarre and his out-there electronic music. After a few years without JMJ I started picking up some Electronic music again, Depeche Mode, Stereolab, Moloko, Portishead etc and I find that it helps me concentrate with work.

Listening to Kraftwerk is very relaxing for me, and I can zone out and let the weird beeps and farts of synthesisers and odd vocals wash over me as I continue my work. There’s a bit of nostalgia there as some of the tracks take me back a long time, and some of them are linked to movies in my mind from recent times also.

It feels like it might feed into my art/photography as it’s very structured and I feel like “an engineer” when listening to it. This engineer personality is how I approach problems methodically and take notes to improve each time I replicate the work, the beats, beeps, and Boing Boom Tchak’s of Kraftwerk help me when I’m sorting through images on Lightroom.

That’s not to say I don’t enjoy listening to some heavy metal, rock, musicals, movie scores and even classical when I’m working, and depending on what I’m listening to, it does make a difference in how I see images in front of me.

Free Time

Free time, “Socially responsible graffiti”

My day job as an IT analyst and project manager keeps me busy and my free time is usually taken up by photography but I still find time to get up to mischief. This picture above shows myself and my daughter, Cerys, on a late night (1am) mission to erect a massive poster of Peter Egan above a graffiti tag left by someone with the handle VEGAN. More info can be found at this link to another post in this blog, but we basically used the pre-painted VEGAN and altered it using completely removable material, we replaced the image above three times before the council cleaned off the offending VEGAN tag.

Again, I’m not sure how this reflects in my art but the word sprayed on the bridge column was catching my eye on a regular basis and my mind started wandering as to how I could use it to do something daft and make an anecdote out of it as something I did with my kids. Despite how dodgy it appears.. It’s also something to do as I don’t like watching TV much, movies I can watch all day but prefer to do something more creative with my time..

If I had to put my finger on how this relates to my photography I’d say it was the humour side of it and thinking outside of the box to find a subject that makes me laugh and hopefully other people might find funny too. Some pictures I make with my camera when a-wandering are because I’ve seen a humorous poster behind the subject, or a contradiction of subjects next to each other, or even just people being weird.


By way of explaining my aversion to TV and a creative streak I also include the following image which was my largest cosplay challenge to date at the Birmingham MCM Comicon in November 2016. I still go to comicon with my offspring and sometimes we cosplay but this particular costume was by far my biggest challenge.

Bonus, Bob in ED-209 Cosplay

A link to other posts in my blog can be found here regarding the building and wearing of this monstrosity. In case you’ve no idea what it is, it’s based on the ED-209 Enforcement Droid from the 1987 Paul Verhoeven film Robocop and was made from plastic pipe, cardboard and paper mache along with a few broomsticks. It was bloody hot and heavy carrying it around the NEC and trying not to knock over small children.

The hard work I put into this costume and the design goes back to my “engineering” side again and was followed up with an artistic flair to try and create something instantly recognisable and something that people wouldn’t expect to bump into at a “con”.

It’s more of the same again, a dark comedy, vicious sense of humour with a strangely political message in the movie and the characters I’ve cosplayed as in the past have all been on the dark side. They include Richard, Anthony’s Brother from Dead Man’s Shoes, Travis Bickle from Taxi Driver and Batman which are all tragic characters in their own ways. Again, it goes some way to influencing my art and the brutalist architecture along with some street photography all appears to be influenced to an extent by my interests and likes/dislikes.


Thanks Sarah and Lauren for getting me to think about these aspects of myself and how it might be affecting my creative output, now I need to consider how other photographers/artists are impacted by their surroundings, experiences and interests and the impact on their work.

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