The Journal of International Photography, a new publication supported by the Faculty of Culture and Creative Industries at the University of Central Lancashire in the UK, aims to bridge what has so far been an intractable divide within the higher education academy, between the practicing creative artist and the critical/theoretical writer on creative outputs. In doing so, the journal will make a valuable contribution to the ongoing challenges many of us have been grappling with for years. Too often, I have witnessed two conflicted communities reflecting a dichotomous view of our engagement with the creative arts. While most within the academy have encouraged and supported the need to bring these communities together into a seamless web, with critical and creative sensibilities playfully interacting and leading to enhanced learning and original new insights, it has not always been easy to find the appropriate platforms, contexts, methodologies and governance structures to sustainably encourage the dissolution of barriers to critical-creative collaboration. However, there is no doubt that across the higher education academy there are some wonderful examples of individual academics, research projects and clusters, and teaching and learning strategies, that exemplify the achievements that have been made over the past couple of decades in bridging the traditional divide between the, so called, practitioner and the, so called, theoretician. The Journal of International Photography is one such example. It has, in a playful and innovative way, brought together traditionally disparate practitioners – the critical photographic theorist, predominantly writing their outputs with words; and the creative photographic practitioner, predominantly creating photographic outputs – into a new synergised forum that, hopefully, will prove to be more than the sum of its parts.
This is worth reflecting on in the context of the broader contemporary research agenda, where transdisciplinarity (researchers from different disciplines working together), interdisciplinarity (researchers deploying methods from different disciplines) and impact (tangible and intangible positive changes for real people and communities) drive funding initiatives and quality assessment. This inaugural publication comes at a time when the 5-yearly Research Excellence Framework assessment (REF2021) is carried out by Research England, in which all the research outputs from most universities are assessed for quality and impact by a number of expert panels. The outcome of these assessments then determines government research funding allocated to universities.
There is a recognition that many of the issues and problems that need addressing, whether in our field or in the wider community, can only be effectively addressed through transdisciplinary and interdisciplinary collaboration – including collaborations across theory and practice. It is also clear from the policies emerging from Research England, the primary funder of higher education research in the UK, and UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), the umbrella body for UK Research Councils, which distribute billions of pounds for research every year, that creative practice and its creative contexts are not only highly respected and encouraged, but are being appropriated by other disciplines such as medicine and health sciences. Not to speak of the recognition by these same bodies that the creative economy, which accounts for 5.6% of the GVA of the UK economy, 5 times the size of agriculture, is of strategic importance to the general economy. Across the globe, no matter whether in a developed or developing country, the creative economy, photography included, not only plays a critical role in individual wellbeing, cultural identity, socio-political engagement and social cohesion, but also increasingly provides opportunities for meaningful work and careers.
As I reflect on the body of work being brought together in this inaugural volume of the Journal of International Photography, I am struck by the intimacy and the personal and how from that personal intimacy, photographer and writer are engaging with wider challenges that ultimately transcend the personal. While the images play a central role in evoking and provoking a response articulated in words, the interacting forms and traditions combine to creating a new form of intimacy: a reflexive intimacy. Nevertheless, through these reflexive intimacies, we are witnessing an enlightened engagement with meta themes and tangible issues, and the interplay between the written critical reflection and the photographic is an essential part of bringing to the fore these themes and issues.
“[…] the strongest work […] found ways of rigorously reflecting on personal experience and/or professional practices, and extrapolating wider significance from these.”
REF2014 Panel D Feedback
In The Shadow of the Pyramids (El-Tantawy/Gartside) brings out from the shadows of a troubled region a photographic body of work whose evocativeuse of an intimate colour scheme and fragmented textural composition is then augmented by the critical contextualisation of the written word; which itself is a consequence of an intimate reaction to the photographic work. The sense of burning, in its many meanings, can almost be tasted on the tongue; itself an evocation of an intimate experience.
In Performance Enhancing Gender (Carles-Tolra/Tierney) the intimacy of the body engaging with a highly physical contact sport and its accompanying performative gestures, traditionally the preserve of the male body, is brought firmly into the politics of gender by the written component, allowing a nuanced perspective to emerge from an intimacy into the light of the public debate on gender and gender roles.
On Forest (Preston/Dukes) presents a fascinating example of how the critically reflexive written discourse, and the powerfully associative imagery, brings to the fore feelings of abandonment; a feeling that strikes me as highly personal and intimate. The written work helps to socio-politically contextualise that feeling of intimate abandonment: trees displaced from their natural environment, separated, refashioned and reshaped, coerced into new roles and transported far from home, ultimately to be enslaved.
I sometimes think of the city as a dystopian disruption of the personal and intimate. The fact that many often leave the city to find peace and tranquillity is, perhaps, a reinforcement of that notion. Yet photography has many examples of imagery that reflects the intimacy of the city, its personal spaces and its opportunities for self discovery. Frame and Fragment (Tierney/Millican/Wood/F. Rodrigues) combines imagery that is almost mirror-like in its performative expression, with a written critical reflection on the fragmentation of the urban. Through this combination, they convey the notion of the city, and its framing, as an intimate performance.
The notion of performativity shines through very strongly in The Movement of an Object (Dowling/Molloy). The written discourse helps situate the photographic imagery in the context of performance, helping enhance the powerful meanings emerging from the performed elicitation. These meanings emerge very clearly from the personal and intimate experiences of the subject/performers, yet through these intimacies larger socio-political themes penetrate outwards from the piece, just like the story of a stage play conveyed by the narrative performance of the actor projecting out to an audience.
The title of Inner Listening (Stawarska-Beavan/Himid) alludes directly to the strong intimacy of this work. And this intimacy is very effectively brought to life by the wise and experience-laden conversation between two artists, whose reflexive sharing of practices through the question/answer/discussion format, helps situate a work which seamlessly moves from the intimate to age old themes of barriers and separations between cultures, civilisations and races, so endemically symbolised by the great city of Istanbul and the Bosphorus.
My reflections on this Volume One of the Journal of International Photography have been through eyes guided by experience, feelings, aspirations and concerns. And the theme that most powerfully came to me was that of personal intimacy and how these intimacies reach outwards from the inner experience to the tangible world around us, yet are also responses to these tangible issues that surround us. From my perspective, it is through our ownership of our own personal intimacies that we take on the responsibility of engaging with the world around us. The Journal of International Photography is a beautifully assembled volume that brings together a number of powerful intimate voices that, collectively, introduce new perspectives on the human condition.
I’m certain that you will see other things, perceive things differently, make independent observations and gain your own insights. However, whatever way you respond to this volume, I hope you will find it inspiring in a way that may help you in your own understandings and endeavours. If this happens, I would suggest that the inaugural volume of the Journal of International Photography will have been a success.