Tag Archives: workshops

SWOCA group – Matt White on the research process

Notes from SW OCA meeting 12 January 2019
Tutor – Matt White (moving Image)


Matt presented a fascinating lecture on the research process. He is an enthusiastic and engaging presenter.

What is research?

  • Collecting
  • Analysing
  • Synthesising
  • Everything you do around the subject is research – any creative, systematic activity. E.g. making is a form of research (yay!)

(When writing his songs, David Bowie used to write a load of works on pieces of paper, and then throw them up in the air to see what patterns appeared when they fell).
Research is a cycle with three parts:
Inspiration – action – review. One then returns to inspiration. Most students tend only to go through this cycle once, but the more you do this, the more your subject becomes refined and the better the end result is likely to be.
Let go of your original idea – by using the above process, you are highly unlikely to end up with the same concept as when you started.

Types of research

  • Primary – original sources and artefacts
  • Secondary – other people’s writings
  • Internet
  • Surveys/interviews
  • Theoretical research
  • Other artists

You don’t need to go far to find subjects for research. Sian Bonnell did a whole body of work on staying at home with her young kids.

What stops you doing research?

  • Fear of failure
  • Not knowing where to start
  • Fear of looking stupid
  • Fear of making mistakes

Don’t worry about mistakes – your best teacher is your last mistake. Leave in the mistakes as they show where not to go again. Use them as learning points.
Erwin Wurm made a whole art career out of looking stupid. When you enter your studio (or creative space, whatever that is), you should feel free to play and be silly and try out mad ideas. That is where you learn.

Process and Product
Artists tend to be more interested in one than the other. Neither is right or wrong. The process is the making, experimenting, reading etc. and the product is the outcome.
John Hilliard – pioneer of conceptual photography. The process was the product.  (Also Thomas Ruff)
Jeff Koons – all about the product. Also Damien Hurst.
Look at Julian Germain
Francis Alys – When Faith Moves Mountains – no product at all.

How research works
It does not start with a clearly stated problem. This is art, not science. The purpose of the research is to identify the question that you want to explore. Be imaginative, creative, and inquisitive. Don’t be bored or derivative.

Look at work of
David Nebreda, who was a hermit and lived without any outside influences, but still produced work (very dark work)
The Enigma of Casper Hauser – film –
Elizabeth Gilbert’s Ted Talk on genius –
You have to find your own way of researching, but this is a good starting point.
Matt then went on to explain in some detail how he made his project From the Wing of a Fly.
It started out as a project on how capitalism started and ended up as a fiction piece/travel documentary/experimental film/conceptual documentary on finding the location in Turkey where the first cultivated tulip originated from. Very difficult to position for arts festivals as it doesn’t fit neatly into any one category.
We went through the whole process, which took a couple of years. Most of his work is about quests for identity and place and it was interesting to see how the process unfolded over time.











Analogue printing workshop

This weekend, fellow student Kate Aston and I slogged off to Bristol for a workshop on analogue printing at the Bristol Folk House. The six person group was led by Chris Waller, whose 30+ years of experience made the two days interesting and fun. Chris has made his career in teaching darkroom processes, and has a series of excellent videos on YouTube at St Pauls Photography, beginning with this one on cyanotypes.

We were asked to bring along a reel of 36 exposures on Ilford HP5 black and white film to develop. I made mine with my mother’s old Olympus Superzoom 100, which has not been used for probably 20 years. Prior to loading the film, I gave it a bit of a clean, but otherwise it seemed in good condition.

For those who know how to develop and print film, this will be old hat, but I have never done so, and the process of putting the film into the developing canister in the pitch dark, and then washing it with Dev, Stop, Fixer and finally to produce a useable set of negatives was fascinating. By the end of Day 1, we had made a set of contact prints, which we were asked to take home and to consider, ready for the full printing process the following day.

On Sunday, we learned the basics of making a 10×8 print in the morning, and my first attempt produced this, of which I am inordinately proud.



In the afternoon, we looked at altering contrast and dodging and burning and had a go at making a couple of other prints under supervision. My final product was this.


and for the sake of completeness, here is another from the same negative, but processed in Lightroom via a mini film scanner (one of my recent purchases). To me, the analogue version has a depth of tone which is missing from the quickly processed digital version, but which could probably be recovered with a bit of work.


Comments about the process and how it compares to digital photography

As I had never used an SLR before, making the initial images was a shot in the dark for me. The viewfinder on the camera is much smaller than I am used to, and the autofocus does not appear to be as accurate. I worried about wasting film, and taking pictures of rubbish subjects, but on the whole, I was pleasantly surprised at the subject quality and focussing on the contact sheets. There is of course an obvious disconnect between taking the image and knowing how it looks which benefits people who already know a little about lighting and composition. I was also fortunate that none of my negs were ruined during filming or the developing process, unlike some of the other participants, but that was more luck than judgement. The focus was not prefect on my images, but that might have been because of the light or even camera shake, as I have no idea of the EXIF infor each image would have produced.

The initial production of the negatives is largely scientific – X amount Dev for X minutes, followed by Y of Stop, etc. and the only point where there is scope for individual judgements is deciding from the text strip how long to expose the contact sheet. The arty bit comes in the printing section, with personal decisions to be made about the length and depth of exposure to achieve the desired effect, and any processing alterations such as dodging (lightening) and burning (darkening) various areas of the print. Also one needs to be very precise with focusing during the enlargement stage. There are also considerations about paper type to be made, resin-coated or fibre-based, and contrast grade.

The whole process is completely different from digital processing and printing, taking much longer and requiring a good degree of patience. However, there is something magical about turning a little reel of film into prints the old-fashioned way, and watching the final image appearing in the Dev bath, which is missing from our quickfire digital processing. Analogue photography seems to require thought and consideration at all points of the process, which makes it slower but the end result is consequently all the more satisfying.

Kate and I are now looking at potential ways of enabling us to use this newfound knowledge in our coursework, and whether it might be possible to either set up a small home darkroom, or to access one locally when we need it. I have several other reels of different film to develop now that I know how it is done.