Looking at Images: A Researcher’s Guide was an AHRC-funded project that ran over 2014. The project addressed the development of skills in image-related research, prompting dialogue between and within the subject areas Art & Design and Media & Communication (concerning both practice and non-practice research). Two workshop events, featuring a panel of guest speakers, were open to postgraduate and early career researchers working in the areas of image studies, visual culture, media and communications, and art and design. The project culminated in a launch event, at the British Library, for a collaboratively produced ‘Researcher’s Guide’ e-book. As a living archive, this publication welcomes new article submissions at any time. See: Contributor Guidelines.
While there has been an explosion of interest in visual culture and imaging techniques over the last few decades (both within and beyond the arts and humanities), support and skills development for Postgraduate and Early Career Researchers remain relatively limited. Training refers to visual methodologies, but often only to prompt caution in dealing with matters of copyright and ethics. What is missing is a more positive and challenging ‘picture’ of the image in and as research. The workshops provided places for a total of 70 participants from around the country to learn from each other’s experiences and those of the invited speakers; to discuss methodological issues; and to work collaboratively to produce the ‘Researcher’s Guide’ as a resource for future use. The idea for the overall project grew out of three main influences:
(1) Marquard Smith (editor of the Journal of Visual Culture) offered a key contribution to Winchester School of Art’s Centre for Global Futures in Art, Design and Media, with a presentation about the ‘image’ of research. Subsequent discussion also informed WSA’s Postgraduate Conference 2013, which identified a need in developing deep-level skills pertinent to understanding and handling the image in and as research across a range of areas.
(2) Approaches to thinking critically about images and image practices while simultaneously engaging with image-making processes has been difficult to formulate. Sunil Manghani’s Image Studies (Routledge, 2013) is one key publication that speculates upon specific research tools and approaches for both obtaining and handling images (relating to issues of access, quality, ethics and intellectual property) and critiquing them (including the use of images as a means of critique). The book includes an ‘ecology of images’ diagram as a proposed research tool, with examples of its use to stimulate and enrich image research.
(3) The recently launched Photomediations Machine (a sister project to the online open access journal Culture Machine) has renewed debates about the form of scholarly work. Curated by Prof. Joanna Zylinska (Goldsmiths), it provides an online space where ‘the dynamic relations of mediation as performed in photography and other media can be critically encountered, experienced and engaged’. As a platform for combined theoretical and practical work, it has led us to think further about the future of image-based, open access research in the field of visual culture.