To Do

Assignment 4: Critical Review preparation


Write a 2,000-word essay (excluding any quotes) on one of the areas of landscape practice you have encountered during this course so far.

The critical review is an opportunity for you to gain a greater insight into an area, theme, debate or other issue relating to landscape photography that is of particular interest to you.

You must choose a topic that’s relevant to your own practice in some way, in order to help you to contextualise your practice and to show that your understanding of landscape photography is informed by relevant practitioners. You should include an in-depth evaluation of the work of key practitioners that you reference in your essay. Where appropriate, also reference your own individual images, bodies of work and ongoing or forthcoming projects.

Your written work should clearly show that you have engaged with theoretical, historical and cultural debates around landscape practice within photography and visual culture, and demonstrate that you have developed academically as well as creatively.
To sum up, your critical review should demonstrate that you can:
• understand relevant topics and issues around landscape practice
• use research skills competently
• analyse appropriate resources
• articulate your own, informed ideas at a level commensurate with HE5 level study.

Remember to include:
• correctly cited references and quotations (Harvard referencing system)
• referenced illustrations
• word counts, both excluding and including quotations.

Finally, make sure that your essay is critical rather than narrative. This means that you should focus your efforts on evaluating, comparing, contrasting and questioning the work and theoretical ideas, and not on recounting biographical or historical information, unless it has a significant relation to practice.

Preparation: Assignment 2

My proposal is to do this around the idea of ‘safari’ – the way that African landscapes have been photographed and promoted, not only by Western tourists, but also African photographers.

– Background to views of Africa in terms of exotic other – from anthropology and colonial accounts. Linked to discussions of the picturesque, but also beautiful and sublime ‘darkest Africa’

– How this image has been and currently is promoted by both private and government-sponsored tourism. Equation of ‘Africa’ with animals and the ‘exotic primitive’ is even more pronounced than for most other regions.

– How have African photographers responded. Many have followed the same trend as urban outsiders in the same way as urban populations in the UK idealise the British countryside. Particularly eg South Africa. Others have been more in the documentary tradition.

– What are the implications for my own photographic practice in my work in Africa – different types of images for different markets? but what are the ethical issues.

– What difference does it make if I ask people from the communities with which I work how they would want their lives and environment to be portrayed?

Working method?

Kander: working method: he does not plan everything in advance. But uses the photographic process as a means of discovering more and more what resonates with him. He went back to China 5 times, taking fewer but more focused pictures each time.

I have started to review internet sites with ‘safari’ pictures, African photographers and my own earlier images of journey through Africa.

Tutor response

Your thoughts for your Critical Review are very interesting – looking at the safari and colonialism. In your notes, there is a lot to examine in the list of things you mention. I suggest that you might be trying to pack too much into the essay, so getting a tighter focus would be better and would allow you to enter into greater critical depth. I would suggest your essay first addresses the topic fairly broadly – proposing the problems / criticisms, and then look at an example of work that fits into the traditionally ‘problematic’ approach, followed by a critique of a practitioner who is making a ‘better’ effort – or perhaps might actually not be making as good an effort as they might think, or their critics might think.

(Sontag mentions safaris fairly near the beginning of On Photography – worth having a look.)

There is also a good book, Photography and Africa by Erin Haney which might be worth looking at

Further thoughts Assignment 3

My tutor thought that my first proposal is too broad (a lot of work!). Re-reading the task instructions I see the possibility of looking at and reviewing bodies of my own work. I would now like to focus much more narrowly on some of the challenges for my own practice, whether and how other photographers may have addressed them and/or any other ideas I myself could propose after this reflection. I want to focus on some issues I became interested in Assignment 2 ‘journeys’ but were left pending. Comparing the ways I might approach ‘journeys’ in UK (supposedly my ‘own’ society’) compared to the way I photograph journeys in Africa. This does raise some of the issues about ‘colonial gaze’ and travel photography in general, but I want to focus more on the challenges of photographing ‘journeys’ revisiting specific sets of images I have taken on journeys in Africa. Drawing on the way contemporary African and non-African photographers have depicted similar landscapes both as studied landscapes and as journeys/journey narratives.

The word ‘safari’ means journey in Swahili from the Arabic root ‘safar’ travel. It was used by colonial powers to refer to game hunts. This is now being changed by African governments and tour companies to refer more to eco-travel to photograph national parks, but also African tourism more generally. I travel a lot for work, but unlike professional photographers am employed to do a job. I do increasingly have opportunities to do documentary portraits – now my photography skills are better. But, like a tourist, I have fleeting opportunities to do more contextual landscape or environmental work. I have a number of series of images taken on journeys from different perspectives taken before, during and since Assignment 2. These include:

  • Journey through Queen Elizabeth National Park, Uganda – taken before Assignment 2 and the closest to common understandings of ‘safari’ though taken as we travelled along the main road rather than paying to go through the national park itself – the normal everyday ‘safari’.
  • Journeys to communities in Rwanda and Tanzania (3-5 series) as examples of a more documentary approach to landscape. I was with both local NGO staff and/or local drivers and had more opportunity to stop, get out and consider ‘shots’ and also to travel off the normal tourist routes and see things more from the local perspective. Including one journey with local people to select what they considered the best photo spot for a picture for a calendar they had asked me to produce. And one journey where I focused on the contrast between my transport and they way local people travelled. One other journey for Gesture and Meaning Assignment 1 I used manual focus to speed up the camera reaction time.
  • Journeys as ‘urban voyeurism’ taken from the car as I returned from rural areas back to the capital city through peri-urban areas in Kenya and Ivory Coast. Looking at how far this type of photography can say something about African urban life – compared to eg Paul Seawright’s Invisible Cities.

This review is partly a way of really taking stock of the photographs I have and how they can be made more meaningful through selection, processing and narrative sequencing. Partly a way of comparing my images to those of professional photographers who have dealt with the same types of images. In order to draw implications for possibilities for my own practice in future. The questions that really interest me in order to make the best of the opportunities I have is:

  • what can one learn from this type of ‘safari’ – are there things that one can do with the idea of journey in terms of understanding and contextualising images that cannot be done through staying and studying one place (as I am doing for example in ‘space to place’ and ‘transitions’.
  • what can these fleeting impressions on the move show? are the issues of photographing journeys in Africa necessarily different from in UK? is one necessarily any more an ‘outsider’ – in UK I am often travelling through new or forgotten places. In Africa there is always the driver to consult and I often travel with NGO staff some of whom are local. Bearing in mind much of the colonial conditioning we all have.
  • what are the implications for different approaches and different techniques? what does this mean for planning my trip?

This means getting less bound up with all the academic literature on colonialism and photography (which I started to read but seems a bit done to death) and focusing more on further investigation of ideas I had in Assignment 2 but applying these to my photography in Africa.

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