Aims and goals of Documentary

After my last course, Understanding Visual Culture, I am excited to be back on a practical course. UVC is a challenging but rewarding course which unfortunately left me with little time for photography. What it did however was prepare me to tackle academic writing and left me able to recognise why theory is sometimes necessarily difficult. I had previously found myself frustrated by the way academic texts are written and wondered if the authors were being deliberately and unnecessarily obtuse. This is not (always) the case…although sometimes the translation of complex ideas from another language does not help! In ‘After Theory’, Terry Eagleton makes an eloquent and persuasive argument about why specialist language is often necessary in art and cultural theory:

“If pig farmers can find lawyers obscure, lawyers can find pig farmers mystifying. Sometimes it is jargon we need, and sometimes ordinary language…There are many situations in life when we would feel unhappy if we understood what was being said.” (Eagleton, 2003: 76)

Eagleton uses the analogy that a doctor might talk to us about having a ‘dicky tummy’ but if this was written in our notes we would lose faith in their medical competence. Likewise, if an art critic refers to a funny little red thing in the centre of the canvas we would likewise wonder about there credentials. He continues:

“You can be difficult without being obscure. Difficulty is a matter of content, whereas obscurity is a question of how you present that content.”

Grayson Perry has this to say:

“Understanding art takes time. It is not a catchy pop tune or an addictive soap opera. Art needs a lot of looking and reflection…” (Pooke and Newall, 2008:vi)

What I am trying to show here is my current position on how theory can inform and enrich art practice – in comparison to my last purely photographic course, Digital Photographic Practice, my mind-set has changed immeasurably. For that course image aesthetics were my main concern, now reasons to press the shutter and strategies to produce work are what drive me. UVC was like taking the red pill in ‘The Matrix’, once you have seen the ‘real world’ there is no going back…the trick now is to transfer this into something meaningful.

At the start of each course I like to set myself some goals as I find this helps focus me on the course ahead, looking back at the end also provides an interesting way to take stock before embarking on the next challenge. In no particular order here are some thoughts about what I want to gain from Documentary:

Complete the course in one year:

All of my previous courses have taken longer to complete than I would like. I am a reflector by nature but this trait can sometimes lead to unnecessary procrastination. As I begin this course I am fairly confident about my workflow both photographically and in terms of note taking and research. I am determined to demonstrate that I have mastered these skills and the key determinant of this will be hitting my goal for completion.

Experiment with different photographic processes:

I am interested in how using different approaches to photography can affect and inform the different projects I will embark on. This could involve having a specific idea for post production, using a camera or process I am not currently familiar with (for example, I think there would be mileage in exploring polaroid formats), or restricting myself to particular criteria such as shooting at a certain time or from a prescribed viewpoint.

Work within a conceptual and experimental framework:

As mentioned, UVC has had a profound effect on me and I believe it is important that I continue to further my knowledge of cultural theory and attempt to incorporate some of these ideas into my practice.

Blog consistently:

I am terribly guilty of not publishing to my blog enough. Too often I find myself writing notes and hesitating before making these public. I have found that the process of writing is often a good way to work out ideas and I need to do this more and be less worried about thoughts not being fully formed – after all, I can always return to add more at a later date.

Establish a network of fellow students:

During UVC I managed to make contact with a number of students and found the subsequent conversations we had via hangouts and email invaluable and enriching. One of the most difficult aspects of distance learning is a feeling of isolation and it is reassuring to realise that feelings are shared by others. Talking this through has helped me make progress much faster than I would have otherwise on more than one occasion.

While continuing making contact with this group (although we are now embarking on different courses we have agreed to continue ‘meeting’ up and share experience) I also aim to make contact and hopefully take part in hangouts with students studying documentary.

Use my tutor more effectively:

The only contact I have really had with my tutor on my previous courses has been through assignment submissions. I guess I have been worried about bothering my tutors too much outside of this. At the end of UVC it occurred to me I could have saved myself a great deal of trouble if I had talked through my ideas for my final assignment with my tutor – they could then have potentially saved me from having to rework the assignment as much as I eventually had to. With my objective of pushing myself to experiment through this course it is probably quite important that I run ideas past my tutor first – I am looking forward to a catch up with my tutor soon via skype/facetime in order to introduce ourselves to each other and think this will be a great opportunity to discuss and agree ways of working.

Time to put all this into practice and get going with the course!!!


Eagleton, Terry. (2004) After Theory. London: Penguin.

Pooke, G. and Newall, D. (2008) The Basics: Art History. Oxford: Routledge.


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