Introduction to Photographers and Research- Shirley Read and Mike Simmons

The Role of Research in Contemporary Photographic Practice


Wittgenstein said ‘A man will be imprisoned in a room with a door that’s unlocked and opens inwards; as long as it does not occur to him to pull rather than push.’ 

(Read & Simmons, 2017, p. vi)

Wittgenstein’s metaphor makes two profound statements- if it is applied to knowledge and growth.

  • We are all free to gather knowledge or grow.
  • If we draw open the door or pull knowledge to us, we will be set free and grow. If we push knowledge, we will always be captured within our own reality.

It is immediately Peter Kennards follows with the view:

“Research is the pull that allows me to get out of the room and into the street, into what’s actually happening in the world (Read & Simmons, 2017, p. vi).”

“There are as many ways to research as there are artists (Read & Simmons, 2017, p. vi) .”

Research methods in the creative world are as unique as the person doing it. We can learn from other researchers, but in essence, the creative practitioner need to develop and refine our own from past experience, books they read, experiences we had and the context of the research task before them. Refer to Eliasson’s work in my reflection Research is either an unconscious or cognitive process, we all do it.

In the introduction the authors indicated with the limited sample that at least between them “it became clear early on that the ways we understood the term research within the context of photography often overlapped and resonated with recurring themes, shared understandings, experiences and opinions” (Read & Simmons, 2017, p. ix).” Thus, challenging the diversity observed by Peter Kennard. This Directed Reed and Simmon’s research intent “to see to what degree individual practices differ and what parallels could be drawn across those practices.”

Reed and Simons then continue to describe their intended objectives, approach, and the outcomes were shared in this book.

Their findings, strangely presented in the introduction, were:

 “What became clear quite quickly, though not unexpectedly, was that although there were some similarities and common approaches to research, each of our interviewees had, over time, shaped and adapted their experiences and methods to suit their particular needs or circumstances, which they applied across most of their projects  (Read & Simmons, 2017, p. x) .”

The italics I added to highlight the fact that, according to them, each researcher develop their own standard and method; confirming Kennard’s observation. But it adds the premise that there is a common starting point or foundation that all share, backing in a way their own comment.

It may also be observed that their initial research lead them to focus on aspects not initially intended.

“We then recognised that our survey exists to describe possible research routes, to ask questions and open up ideas about research but that it could not in itself come up with a definitive analysis or roadmap which anyone can follow. This is because the options and variables within the research process for photographers are broad and because practice is so particular and dependent on the habits, needs and preferences of the individual as well as the purpose and audience for the work. (Read & Simmons, 2017, p. xi)”

If research makes things relevant, then it is as if they want to make the statement that the paradox in the research itself relates closely to the nature of photography. While we like to describe the research process, the intent to express by individuals doing the research seeks not to be limited by a formal method. This is precisely the paradox in modernity between Empiricism (Natural Laws), Rationalism (Classification, characterisation, ordering i.e an Ontological order for Research) and Romanticism/existentialism (experience and the wish to express that), the modernist trinity from which photography was born, which in my view lies at the heart of modernist photography. Postmodern photography may only seek expression.

“What makes photography relevant lies in its paradoxical nature and the ability to both describe and express (Read & Simmons, 2017, p. xii).” And capturing it using the natural laws of physics.

They then conclude the introduction with an interesting note:

“We see this book as a research project in itself, bringing together examples of photographic practice for you to consider and absorb into your own ideas, processes and projects Read & Simmons, 2017, p. xii).”

My reflection:

One of the primary purposes of the MA course in Photography is to develop my research methodology to elevate my practice which will culminate in a final research project. What I found liberating was that in terms of the research for an artistic/expressive practice such as photography, a considerable amount of myself needs to be embedded into the method. But it also requires a strong foundation in research to leverage from.

That being said puts the responsibility of this education on my shoulders. Firstly I need to see if my foundation is not flawed and secondly, I need to be able to rationalise my individualistic research approach and methods in a way that it is understood by those that will be reviewing and marking my project and endeavouring to develop me. However, the success of my research can only be measured by me, in how it helped me to express my photographic vision and expression.

It will be well worth my while to read the cases contained in the book and mindfully consider absorbing some of the relevant learnings in my own research method.

What I won’t do is to look for the orthodox or best practice way that some of my research in theology (rationalist research) and engineering (empirical research) requires. Merely include methods that make sense within the context of the Photographic Practice.


Reed, S. & Simmons, M., 2017. Photographers and Research: The Role of Research in Contemporary Photography Practice. 1st ed. New York & Oxon: Routledge.

Should I get a a Degree in Photography? By Ted Forbes

Ted Forbes has been a great inspiration to me in the past. I came across his site when studying the history of photography. I was delighted to see him being used as part of recommended listening. I have not listened to this podcast before and found it a confirmation of my motivation to studying for a degree. He starts out stating that a degree is not essential to become a successful commercial photographer. But if you do you will find benefit but you need to asses whether you are suited to such a study, whether you are prepared to commit to the time required, and whether you are prepared to financially invest into it.

Forbes asks what would a photography degree provide for you and proceeds to answer the question.

“A photography degree would actually provide a very special environment. If you choose the right school with the right instructors you’re going to have a very focused environment where you’re going to be with other people who are doing exactly what you’re doing. That you’re going to get to know. You’re going to get to bounce ideas off, going to provide an environment for you that is full of critiques and peer reviews, assignments that you’re going to do large projects and it’s going to be very focused kind of thing for a while and if you are willing to put the work into that you could get quite a bit out of it and I think that is pretty exciting and if you’re at a point in life where you really feel like that is something special that would work well for you. Highly recommend going for it now (Forbes, 2015). ”

The second motivation that “If you wanted to teach photography in a university one day they certainly are going to ask for your degree (Forbes, 2015) .”

Ted ads to the benefit . “it says that you finish something in life people look at that and it says that you were able to finish things.The ability to finish projects, the ability to work with other people, the ability to follow instructions by an instructor even the ability to learn a little bit about politics and just how everything works and these are really hard to explain (Forbes, 2015).”

My main motivation for doing the degree and therefore the masters is two fold. My highest qualification is a Higher technical diploma in Electrical engineering. At the age of 60 I wanted a way to keep my mind sharp and develop my intellect. I felt the need to study something in the humanities and art For the level of thinking I wanted I could not identify something that will keep me interested and challenge me. There was nothing I could do part-time and I thought what I would like to do after my retirement from information technology. And her it is: I discovered that I wanted to teach Photography. I wanted to share my passion in photography with a younger generation. And I knew that even if I thought at a rudimentary level I needed a way to prove my capability. merely showing your work does not cut it if you have seconds to prove it on the internet. And a Degree in Photography would do it for me. I also aspire to teach photography either on a part-time or full time basis at a higher education. Ted confirms that this is exactly what I need to do if I want to get into there. (I have tried to get in without it and have had no success in that.)

The second benefit is one of the great surprises. In the 40 years of my photography I never felt the need to collaborate. I worked on my own and have very few peers to share my passion. I hate photography clubs that I visit as I disagreed with the their approach. it was more about boasting than teaching. I discovered my peers in the degree. I believe that this is the part that this weeks education is about. Why we are encouraged to participate in common assignments. Share our thoughts in forums. build relationships….

I need to reflect on one other aspect. I love research work. The contextual and focused reading is a benefit that is not mentioned. For me I am now dealing with issues that I did not think about or dealt with in detail in the 30 Years. This work is going to greatly influence my direction and abilities in my practice. Add to that the ability to look outside my rigid box after 40 years in the industry, finding encouragement from others and to be able to dream. If I find another younger version of myself, I will encourage him to make the investment and get a degree in a subject that really interest you. While a commercial value needs to be attained, it should not be the primary driver for one that seeks a higher education. It should be an enabler to open the door into a wider experience and knowledge which should be translated in a real world ability afterwards. Such an education is priceless … The cost is high but the benefits looks to outshine this. Jarid Polin in a nother podcast recommends it for the colaboration, and the building of a network of peers and advice that this is better achieved through a longer study period.

Both Ted agree that 1) Its not essential for success, 2) that you need to know what you want to achieve, and 3) that they recommend it if you can motivate the financial and giving yourself to the required studies, assignments and collaborative engagements that such programme offers.

Ted add that one should select an education path that include a institution that offer capable staff, and ample opportunities for this. Jared Polen also encourage practical shooting and engaging with you educators to get the maximum benefit from this opportunity. “So, take the photography classes, but also get involved with anything photo-related, call the president of the school and so you want to do a photo shoot with them, do a project photographing all the professors, doing video of the professors, getting their opinions and capturing that for a project. Just do it, you pay to go to these schools so use that to your advantage, you ask for things because you’re paying the school to allow you to do that stuff, so take advantage of all of that that you have in front of you (Polin, 2019).” Unfortunately as a distance learner I will miss out on that opportunity, however, his comments does encourage me to make the most of every chance to engage. I see the Falmouth flexible as the best remote study programme for this and I commend them for setting up an remote study environment that encourage collaboration, common discussions, peer review opportunities through conferencing and engagement and group challenges to encourage this.

There is a another point I wish to make, which speaks to higher education. When I was younger, our educational opportunities was split between College, Technikons and University. Training was done in a continuum ranging from the practical hands-on rules based education (college- certificate), engineering/technical level education for industry (Technikons – Diploma level) and research, academic and scholarly education in Universities ( Graduate degrees, and post graduate education). The commercial orientation to higher education seems to be focusing modern universities on commercial employment making them more aligned with the Technikons. It may be because of the lack of research opportunities and value in art and humanity education. Photographers, artists and other visual practitioners can and should be educated at all three levels.

If the changing trends indicate that a Degree in Photography intend to prepare professional photographers for business ventures then I need to agree with Polin that he “would go into business, branding, and marketing with a minor in photography, with a minor in advertising, with – what else do I have here business marketing, audio/video, anything that has to do with being creative that will allow you to step out into the world and be able to take on multiple roles. I would go into business, branding, and marketing with a minor in photography, with a minor in advertising, with – what else do I have here business marketing, audio/video, anything that has to do with being creative that will allow you to step out into the world and be able to take on multiple roles (Polin, 2019) .” Or it is merely a confusion created by selling of higher education programme’s. I joined the course to go beyond the aim of merely pursuing a legal tender. I can currently generate higher earnings in IT and business. I believe getting a return of ones investment is less financial than it is to value that you can unleash through growth in your intellect, creativity and out of the box thinking. The techniques for this is best obtained through studying for a graduate and post graduate degrees. A value the world won’t be able to acknowledge until you serve that purpose. And yes, you may achieve it on your own, but this is very rare.

Forbes, T. (2015). Should I Get A Degree In Photography?. Available at: [Accessed 13 Oct. 2019].

Polin, J. (2019). Should You Go To College To Become A Photographer? The Truth About Photography. [image] Available at: [Accessed 13 Oct. 2019].

Shirley Read: Finding and knowing

Thinking about Ideas

Reflecting on the Essay By Shirley Read contained in a chapter within Photographers and Research.

Brief abstract:

Read starts her essay with two questions: “How important is it for artists or photographers to find a subject matter that is particular to them?” and “What do we (curators) mean when we talk about the central concerns of a photographer’s work?” She then attempts to answer the question; ” I am is looking for what is at the core of any work. What I am looking for will carry with it the sense that the work is powered by the authentic concerns of the photographer, that it is in some way heartfelt and has the integrity to its approach to the subject.”

She then proceeds to motivate her answer by sharing her research. These include a practical test to determine in what way unsolicited observers can identify an artist by viewing their photographs and the responses of many successful artists. She determined that “a photographer will have long term preoccupations. These preoccupations may either be in either abstract or material ideas or subject matter, an approach to the world or to the making of the works.”

Read finally concludes that this may initially be developed through taking Input or feedback from others and may also necessitate feeling one’s way through the process of making work.  Not knowing will become a knowing. She reaffirms that she believes “that the recognition of their particular subject matter is crucial to the long-term progression of the work of any artist or photographer. And that this recognition may take time and accumulation of work. …evidence of where they have been and point to the future” (Simmons and Read, 2016 pp 218-222).”


My initial response was sceptical, that as a curator Read wants to categorize and package the creative work of individuals. But reflecting on my body of work I need to admit that there is a line observable and in some cases is not my primary concern in life, but the most dominant. … How I see the world and its people. Mostly imposing my view of myself and the world on them or alternatively how they perceive the world and themselves…

After my initial reading of the essay, I took a break and watched a documentary on Netflix, “Abstract: The Art of Design“ featuring Olafur Eliasson.

At one-point Eliasson describes his creative process which fascinated me. But it is best described in his own words which he repeated in an interview with Rachael Cook for the Guardian. I added photography for contextual alignment.

“You have an idea… an intuition, a feeling, a subconscious thing. It comes in many versions, but when it does it is sometimes better to go back and ask where it came from than to immediately decide where it is about to go. If you know where it came from, you might know why you had it, and once you know why, it’s easier to know-how. The brush or the pencil:” (or Taking a photograph),” they’re just tools. The playing, the fooling around; you need to step out of the macho-driven goal-orientated brutality of today’s success criteria. You need to be confident of the step you are taking, not of where it will take you because the moment you put the pencil to paper” (or make a drawing with light) ” is the moment when you change the world.” (Cooke, 2019)

These ideas can be visual and still require words to form. (intuitive). He realizes that there needs to be a reason for their occurrence and states that as an artist it is his job to find the “why” of the idea and what initiated the idea from information that informed its creation. Once he establishes these answers, he will be able to formulate it into words and hands the words over to the practitioners to develop the “how” and build and model (artefact) that brings the creative idea to life. As Photographers we are both the artist and practitioners. The “why” needs to be answered before the “how”! I believe it is the “why” that is what Read identifies in the work of artists. This seems logical now. The only difference in his approach is that you don’t have to initially verbalise the why but visualise the why. Use your intuition. He added that gets the most creative ideas when he is busy working. (My interpretation from Abstract: The art of Design – Olafur Eliasson, 2019)

While Eliasson’s work seems to have no boundaries and seem creatively free he states: “I don’t think my scope is wide enough. My projects are all connected. There’s a high degree of synchronicity. And I have a lot of confidence in things like abstraction, so it’s not a big step for me to move from one medium to another.”

Read and Eliasson’s comments led me to briefly research how ideas are formed in the brain. The ScienceDaily has an article about a study done at Haifa university on how our brains develop an original and creative idea. In summary, the researchers discovered that “Developing an original and creative idea requires the simultaneous activation of two completely different networks in the brain: the associative — “spontaneous” — network alongside the more normative — “conservative” — network; (ScienceDaily, 2019)

So in a way, our new idea only substantiates when the spontaneous part and conservative part concur. This process is mostly subconscious. Eliasson stated that his creative ideas increase with hard work (Abstract: The art of Design – Olafur Eliasson, 2019), which I take to mean that the “conservative” generated by actual work deliverable or outcomes allows for more “spontaneous” agreements …therefore more creative ideas.

In conclusion: The creative process requires that we look back on a body of work or and we will see how your creative ideas are informed from our previous work. This does not necessarily be a lifetimes body of work. Even an immersive personal project, with creative ideas, can and will develop this. I currently find my current project and the related research both an introspective and retrospective of myself. I did not realize that this is my creative process. All this reflection and reading removed my initial scepticism leading me to the same conclusion that Read came to.

Wow! And I initially thought this essay had little value for me.


Simmons, M. and Read, S. (2016). Photographers and Research. Focal Press.

ScienceDaily. (2019). How does our brain form creative and original ideas?. [online] Available at: [Accessed 10 Oct. 2019].

Abstract: The art of Design – Olafur Eliasson. (2019). Netflix.

Cooke, R. (2019). Olafur Eliasson: ‘I am not special’. [online] the Guardian. Available at: [Accessed 11 Oct. 2019].

Conhar Scott: Collaborative Working

Environmental resistance: Art and change

Reflecting on the Essay By Conhar Scott contained in a chapter within Photographers and Research.

Brief abstract:

Within the context of discussing research and how it aids photographers, Scott defines himself “as a photographer interested in documenting Industrial Pollution. He describes how he progressively developed a method of working in order to situate his photographs within a cultural context where the photographs contribute to an advocacy process which eventually enabled him to be instrumental in instigating environmental remediation alongside the environmental science community and activist.


I can associate my current attempts in my project with Schott’s first attempt. He illustrates that while his intentions was good, “he did not photograph the mine with an clearly defined ethical stance towards the subject matter” and “conducted no protest”, ” appealed to no-one” and only had ” a flawed objectivity” without a “coherent understanding” (Simmons and Read, 2016 pp 230-234 )

He then described how he had partially gained success as an individual collaborating with a activist organisation but finally discovered his method when he fully immersed himself within the task and identifying collaborated with all the stakeholders involved and structuring his team in a way that he could provide a service that focuses and aligns with their mission and fits within their needs.This obviously require significant research by him and his team to know and understand the context of his work, the audience they need to focus on which informs the the photographs, the way they are presented and the languages it needed to use to present the case for advocacy. The research also informed them on how his team need to structured and how they will engage with the collective of activist with the passion for the cause.

This is a very proactive approach. The essay does not seem that indicate that he was asked to be commissioned but rather sought to proactively engage with the parties and pitched to participate in their en devours.

This essay is a beacon of light in the way I think about how I need to consider engaging with activist groups.

This essay reminds me of the about AFRAPIX, a collective consisting 40 activist full-time and part-time photographers, who committed them self in resistance photography to find ways of getting there photographs seen. All with the main purpose of affecting change.

However, there is an alternative point of view. Photographers like David Goldblatt, Nina Berman, and Stuart Franklin this type of as breaching the ethics of their role as photographers. Their approach is different and no less effective. However, documentary photography is more than photojournalism. Franklin believe It’s the documentary photographer’s “interest in capturing a living record of extraordinary people, places and stories that emerge from creative treatment of actualities (Franklin, 2014, p. 9). Not the actualities.

David took a dispassionate approach and focused on the human factor on all perspectives of the problem. He warned that we should not confuse our role as photographers and politics, (Politics can be replaced with activism). He aimed at informing the whole picture through collaborating with all the parties some times identifying other parties that endured hardships. He made no judgement and allow his viewers to look at themselves in the context of the situation. He collaborated and engaged with Afrapix, the mine owners, the apartheid Government, the Afrikaners, the black communities and while it can be debated whether his work was less influential than those of the Afrapix collective his work is fully acknowledged. For more context read my Introduction to my project proposal (Nagel, 2019)

David’s work remains relevant even after the actual “goal” of the activists were achieved and was honored both within South Africa and Internationally with various prestigious awards. After the end of Apartheid, Afrapix lost it’s purpose and was dissolved. Some of the Afrapix photographers started up an alternative collective called South Light which he joined in 1993. (, 2019).

Both David and Brassaii delivered commissioned work that would have been curated by them and their editors but photographed more broadly. Brassaiis personal project “Paris at Night ” was published in 1933, which was done in collaboration with writer Paul Morand way. In 1934 He tried to publish a second book “The pleasures of Paris” which he photographed during the same time. This book was rejected by his publishers being “too seedy”, which he initially self published. He officially published a improved version of the book, “The Secret Paris ” an apt title, many years later in 1973, when the publishers were more ready to accept it. It is possibly the most honest view of a part of Paris in the 30’s and the fall of the society. It is not his work as journalist that is fondly remembered. In a way he these two monumental works works is a major part of his collection that made them immortalized him as a photographer (, 2019) .

So in conclusion, even if one is an activist that involve yourself with the actualities or an independent photographer, influential documentary photography will require vast amounts of research and personal involvement to gain knowledge about the subject or increasing creating a collective that is contextual and knowledgeable collaborators to focus properly on the issues at hand and adding to your team specialists that can assist you. Your success may depend in collaborating with writers, activists, scientists, translators, art directors and publishers. It seems that it is rare that a documentary photographer can merely hang around and meaningfully document and self publish a highly important issue.


Simmons, M. and Read, S. (2016). Photographers and Research. Focal Press. (2019). David Goldblatt | South African History Online. [online] Available at: [Accessed 1 Oct. 2019]. (2019). Brassai: Photographer of Paris Night Life. [online] Available at: [Accessed 10 Oct. 2019].

 Nagel, A. (2019). Introduction to my Project Proposal. [online] André Nagel’s Critical Research Journal. Available at: [Accessed 10 Oct. 2019].

Franklin, S., 2014. The documentary Impulse. s.l.:PHAIDON

Forum – Research Methods

During this week we, the MA students, were tasked to share the research methods we plan to use this term when creating our Work in Progress Portfolio and two photographers whose work is deeply rooted in research. (, 2019) .

What is interesting is that I picked up on this in the time between semesters from the feedback I reserved from my first semesters work in progress journal and I purchased three books that I believe will assist me to in my research….a compendium of Brassaii’s work Brassaii Paris by Jean-Claude Gautrand and a compendium of Davids work called “Structures of Dominion” Both describe their approaches and indicate a research methodology that informed their photographic practice. I also purchased and started to read Fred Lichens book ” Bending the frame”.

Like Brassaii and David Goldblatt, I consider myself an independent photographer.

I have decided to focus on socio-political documentary photography for my MA. The subject of my project is both current and close to my heart as a South African that share a European heritage but I am truly a fourth-generation African. For my project, I want to illustrate this internal conflict and alienating feeling within me by personally investigating two interacting philosophies that are currently shaping the socio-political change, Western modernity and African Humanism (Ubuntu). This in itself is a major philosophic research project. This is discussed more in-depth in my previous blogs. The subject itself requires intense research into theses philosophical tenants for me to translate to my visual images.

My assessment in my first project listed several recommendations regarding my work and emphasize research and practice as priorities for my growth. So I have decided to spend my time in this part of the module to ensure a great start. This may lead me to fall slightly behind and I am ok with that,

According to my assessment, I need to now “find a way to move beyond the ‘record’ of an event, so that it can develop into the far more sophisticated body of work it certainly has the potential to be (Alexander and Clement, 2019) .”

I am encouraged to do “research in more depth and include theory and visual practices around your chosen genre, including typologies and sequencing, as this will be so beneficial for me (Alexander and Clement, 2019) . ” and to “experiment more with my chosen aesthetic and will need to look at other techniques as well (Alexander and Clement, 2019).” My work in itself has to be a research project.

In the forum, I commented that as this is a photography course, my focus is on finding ways to use visual language. To do this I will need the leverage of the fine South African heritage in documentary photography. I could and will use many photographers but the one photographer that seems to be the most “dispassionate” and methodical yet fully involved is David Goldblatt, who unfortunately passed away last year.  His biography is available at I will be investigating his approach, photography and read as much about him to gain insight into his principles as a photographer… His Book, The Afrikaner revisited is the most honest representation of my memory of being an Afrikaner in South Africa to date and I would like to continue that story in a post-apartheid world. But his work also included the other communities and their struggles in the same honesty. In that too I would like to continue his legacy. Which clearly was achieved with a project approach,  consistency and engaging with his subjects. He was by no means a Flaneur. (, 2019)

The second photographer I found in my search for a contemporary living artist in the field is Nina Berman. Her personal website may be accessed at An independent American documentary photographer and educator, that share Davids engagement with her subjects, tenacity and strong work ethic. She has a strong project focus and even teaches her art providing me with access to the material for my research (Berman, 2019).

According to my assessment I ” have demonstrated a positive engagement with my research on an ongoing basis and how this research has driven the progress of your own practice. However, there needs to be more depth to this research to my work, as this will certainly help me to evaluate and sustain your critical reflection from a more informed perspective (Alexander and Clement, 2019). ” I take this to mean that I need to focus on more contextual research and use it in critical reflections, rather than relying on my own point of view which is too prevalent in my reflections. I will be using this blog during this semester to reflect on readings and learn how to bring those reflections when discussing other issues, leanings and research.

One of our tutors, Clare Bottomley, listed surprised me with a list of research methods expanding my view on it. The sheer number of methods require full understanding and an informed selection of the appropriate methods. I will need to identify the methods that will best influence my development at this stage. So my first priority is to research. Do do this I will be critically reading A Practical Guide to Arts-related Research by Maggi Savin Baden and Katherine Wimpenny that she recommends and reflect on it in this blog as I grow in my understanding around the research. In a way, doing the course in this sequence may be very beneficial in informing my research project with at least three semesters in between.

The sheer number of responses from the combined Cohorts have brought a wide range of insights to this forum and the webinars.

Reference (2019). Topic Week1: Research Methods. [online] Available at: [Accessed 9 Oct. 2019].

Alexander, J. and Clement, P. (2019). Andre Nagel PHO701: Positions & Practice: Summative Feedback. [online] Falmouth University. Available at: [Accessed 6 Sep. 2019]. (2019). David Goldblatt | South African History Online. [online] Available at: [Accessed 1 Oct. 2019].

Berman, N. (2019). Nina Berman Photography. [online] Nina Berman. Available at: [Accessed 9 Oct. 2019].

Lydia Pang On Commissioning

Lydia pang image from a Messy Truth (Fletcher, 2019)

What a positive podcast! Reflecting on the interview with Lydia Pang on commissioning. She captivated me from the moment she started and presented a world and attitude that made me wish I was 40 years younger.

However, its never too late and advice like this is invaluable.

I am a “baby boomer” and started my working career where guilds were still around and your path to become a professional was through a strict programme and apprenticeship. You had to apply for work or commissions and submit your certificates/degrees and testimonials from someone in that industry did psychometric testing and had an interview before getting a job or contract that will allow you to be commissioned for work.

The world has changed and Lydia’s description of it is done in a positive way without discounting the problems of our time. She presented how creative millennial and post-millennial engage with a career and get commissions. The internet, social media and professional sites such as Linkedin, number of people trained and able to do the work has changed how all people including creatives find work or commissions or rather get found. the following is my interpretation of her podcast (Fletcher, 2019).

Almost every statement she made resulted in a mind-shift for me. And that is why I list them here for a personal record. My main takeaways from this podcast are:

  • “When starting out, do as much as you can so you can find out what you don’t like doing.” She described how she interned where she could before and after UNI to see where she fit in the visual arts space. She freed herself from being defined as a photographer only by taking on other Photographic Roles and trying things that add to her value as a visual arts specialist such as copywriting etc. It reinforces the fact that we are all individuals that can bring a variety of skills and knowledge to a creative project. We can also use each project or internship to develop other skills or play a different role within that group. This advice is still wise for a 60-year-old starting out on a new career as a full-time photographer/creative.
  • Select the companies you identify with and bring you growth. Lydia identified the companies she wanted to work for and tried to find creative ways to get into them. Even tried to get a job as an account manager at M&C Saatchi Abel which led her to get a job in the ART department. Once I decide on what I want to commit to I need to identify and engage with enterprises that will allow me to grow even as a freelancer.
  • Find your own voice in the industry. We all have something to say visually. It s finding a way to bring that forward and having you heard.
  • Visibility is attained by disrupting to get commissions in the industry where there is so much sameness and is achieved through the adaption to use the new channels and mediums we are now making for, developing your brand, curating your work, and running and show up in a meaningful way in these platforms.
  • Every Link is created equal” so put yourself out there, a good portfolio and work will be seen even if there are many photographers out there. When researching where this quote has come from I discovered a contradiction to this statement that all links are not equal (Shepard, 2019). But it does not take away from what Lydia intended to say. We all have an equal opportunity to present our work. There is sort of democratization of the ability to present your work. The difference is what you post, need to be authentic you, and if your work is relevant, interesting and your content can draw people in the agencies will find you. The contrary article really enforces that you need to know and understand the media channels, how they work and how to effectively use it to channel the potential commissioner or art director to your work.
  • You need to learn how to tell powerful stories on the internet platforms that the brands you need to do work for will use: This important statement was made by Gem Fletcher. These are no longer new platforms. Big billboards are no longer the primary advertising media. I agree with Lydia’s statement that we need to learn how to manipulate and innovate the creative use of these platforms. With reference to her mother, a photographer, she commented on how she at 50 has learned to adopt these platforms to get her presence and voice doing so through observation and seeking out research.
  • Authenticity! Add agencies are not looking for “Rock stars” anymore but authenticity creatives. They are looking for creatives that relate and show passion to the message or story they wish to convey in their projects. So you need to be clear on this in your work. It is important to present your passions, be it woman’s rights, social injustice etc. Your point of view and unique way of presenting in an image is important. It clearly transparent to them if you try and imitate or follow in the footsteps of others. There are some many images to choose from. They always seek something new. Something that shows that you have emerged into it.
  • Together we are stronger. There is a shift in identifying ourselves as creatives and collectives. as many voices with different perspectives…We are not islands anymore, more about the need to be very confident in your contribution to share it. Still, the pressure to attach credit to your work. But creativity doesn’t work that way. its a new learning curve for all of us. Initially, your impostor syndrome will be F… intense.

I discussed this podcast with my daughter that is currently in her second year studying a BA in interior design at Vega. Being a millennial and an active and knowledgeable user of the social media platforms she confirmed the statements above as being very relevant. Their course and assignment promote collaboration and the concept of a collective. They need to engage with each other and finding their voice in those interactions are extremely tough at times as many designers are competitive and want to make their mark. Initially, it went pretty well but in their last assignment, one of the designers dominated the project and in spite of advice from all the others forced her point of view on the others. It turns out that all this ignored advice was exactly what was pointed out by the lecturer as flaws in their project. The relationships are still strained and they will see if the lesson will improve and inform their work in the next collaborative assignment which is starting now.

This blog really motivated the need for me to participate in the collaborative exercise of developing a pitch to the clients as proposed in the course. Every opportunity to engage in a collective and learn to work with other creatives must be passionately pursued as the process cannot be taught but need to be experienced. I feel encouraged to participate fully.

While the context may differ, I believe the information contained in Lydia’s blog will shape how I view my client base, my portfolio and my point of view and the methods I need to use to solicit commissions in the future and I can immediately apply and test it it to my current practice as a wedding photographer and the MA course.


Fletcher, G. (2019). ‎The Messy Truth: Lydia Pang – On Commissioning on Apple Podcasts. [online] Apple Podcasts. Available at: [Accessed 7 Oct. 2019].

Shepard, C. (2019). All Links are Not Created Equal: 20 New Graphics on Google’s Valuation of Links. [online] Moz. Available at: [Accessed 7 Oct. 2019].