→ Project: Postcards from Practice (ongoing)

Submission to CA2RE+ Conference Intersections 2023

Postcards from Practice was inspired by the paper “The Ground the Walk On” by Diane Ketelle, in which she combines snapshot photography with a narrative enquiry approach. In Ketelle’s study interviewing headteachers, she takes a Polaroid portrait and asks them to write a description of who they see in the photograph on the back. The result of her study is a powerful account of the challenges facing headteachers. Using Ketelle’s methodology as a basis, I am interested in using a practice-based method inspired by the established ethnographic approach, photo-elicitation. Usually, in photo elicitation, photographs are used to structure an interview with the participant - that is, the photographs are used to “elicit” responses related to the research themes. I plan to combine this method with an artistic research approach to portrait photography. In fine arts photography, the portrait is often used to explore the theme of identity. It represents a powerful exchange between photographer and sitter, where outcomes and reactions can vary immensely between subjects, thus making portraiture one of the oldest and most compelling forms of photographic practice. As part of a practice-based research approach, photography can be understood as a medium capable of transmitting a totally different non-verbal set of meanings and emotions. It also provides the researcher or artist with a new set of “eyes” to look on the world, bringing with it a new and revealing perspective.   

The first stage of my investigation will involve seeking consent from 10-15 master’s graduates from the last five years to be part of the project. Having provided the project abstract, we will look for a suitable date and context for a 30-minute photo session and conversation. The context for the portrait would ideally be a typical and everyday work situation, for instance, the office or building site, but it could equally be another context related to the background above, depending on the specific person and their circumstance. This could be discussed in a briefing session or via email before the session. 

After the session, I selected and edited the most suitable image for the project. This image was then be printed A6 postcard format and mailed to the participant at their workplace. Each participant should fill out the backside of the postcard with a short text. The portrait should serve as an impulse for this text; is your job what you expected, and how well did university equip you to do it? These completed postcards will be returned to me and compiled with the other responses, along with a short text relating to our conversation on the day of the sitting and a reflection on the ability of this methodology to produce new insights on the “practice-gap” between university and practice.

Postcards from Practice Portraits
© Matthew Crabbe 

Thanks to: Miranda Rigby, Jonathan Lewkowicz, Kateřina Marečková, Lisa Kolbinger, Miriam Attallah, Svenja Binz, Linda Gehrenbeck, Jessika Voth, Max Hinz

Reading List:
Collier, John, and Malcolm Collier. 1986. Visual Anthropology: Photography as a Research Method. Rev. and Expanded ed. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.

Giddens, Anthony. 1991. Modernity and Self-Identity: Self and Society in the Late Modern Age. Reprint. Cambridge: Polity Press.

James, Sara. 2017. Making a Living, Making a Life: Work, Meaning and Self-Identity. London: Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315593241.

Ketelle, Diane. 2014. ‘The Ground They Walk On: Photography and Narrative Inquiry’. The Qualitative Report, November. https://doi.org/10.46743/2160-3715/2010.1164.

Terkel, Studs, ed. 1977. Working: People Talk about What They Do All Day and How They Feel about What They Do. A Peregrine Book. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books.