Landscape · Photography · Research · Spectral Shores · Thoughts & Reflections · Writing

Haunting Ideas

Once upon a time, there was a girl whose family owned a cliff top hotel overlooking the North Sea. In the winters the waves would wash more of the land away; she grew both fascinated and terrified of the shifting landscape. When she grew up she wanted to be a marine biologist or oceanographer and try and understand these incredible forces, however life took her in another direction and she became an artist/photographer, (proving that her mother is usually right about everything and that she should really just shut up and accept this fact gracefully ) however, these same curiosities remained and she still had a desire to understand these things, or at least try to. 

If you hadn’t guessed that girl is me.

Noticing the Void

Last year things stopped. Both literally and metaphorically as I fell off a curb and twisted my ankle badly. This meant I had three weeks of being relatively immobile to sit and reflect on where my life was and how I got there.

Working as a commercial photographer, my life ran to the arrhythmic beat of commissions and unemployment and the constant anxiety that goes with that level of financial instability. Not to say that I don’t enjoy parts of it, but overall I felt like there was something missing in my career and in my life. A Void forming, that I ignored and carried on in spite of it. In December I headed to London for a portfolio review at the Photographers Gallery. Despite a lot a positive feedback the one question that stuck with me:
’but who are YOU as a photographer?’  

This was a question that I have always hated as I don’t have a satisfactory answer. I can’t define myself by the genre I work in, like a fashion or food photographer, as I have never worked solely in one genre. I can’t define myself with a singular objective. Truth be told, I’ve always been very jealous of photographers who can.

Roughly, I work with landscapes, but also objects. My interests are hard to define and a bit nebulous. Time, place, memory and loss all play apart in what drives me; but none on their own can be pointed at to say:
’I am this, I do this thing’. 

This void I’d been trying my best to ignore got more noticeable, and I started thinking about this question. The more I thought about it; the more I was drawn back to revisit a project that I’d started on my masters. The project was about coastal erosion, vanishing landscapes and how these things disrupt our notions of time.

It was a project that haunted me with its incompleteness. However, it was a space where I felt most like I could define my work and why I was doing it. The project felt important. Over the early months of 2019, I began thinking of how to continue it, but never felt brave enough to share it widely. 

Over Easter, I sprained my hip (yeah that’s a thing you can do apparently), resulting in even more time to sit and reflect. I started researching for this project and writing some thoughts around it. What it could be, what might be relevant,  what it could become. 

Then I did something really bonkers and put it into a PhD application. 

Leaping into the Void

Which brings us to the present and here we are. Three weeks into the process and the magnitude of what I’m doing has just hit me.


Currently I’m a strange mix of excited, optimistic and absolutely bricking it. But this begs the question, why am I doing this? What is the point of this process?

Firstly, and I can’t stress this part quite enough, I’m doing this because I really bloody want to. 

I’ve had this ambition ticking away in the back of my mind for a few years and finally hit the point where I confident enough to give this a try. I have a few loose ambitions about where I want to go afterwards, but for the most part this is to satisfy a curiosity that I’ve had for many years, and which I feel could be a useful contribution to my field. It also gives me the opportunity to sink back into the research based practice I really enjoy. Anyway, if not now when? No mortgage or dependents means I’ve got the freedom to follow this so, I’m going to make the most of it while I can. 

Looking back on my academic career so far, this research is tying together a lot of threads that have been part of my past work and it’s incredible to be in a position to bring this all together into a project that I’m passionate about. Yes, there’s a lot of fear setting in, but that’s only natural. 

I’m still trying to find my ground in this process; trying to anchor myself to a routine and find some way to feel like I’m not floating aimlessly. This ground is still evading me but I’m hoping once this first month, the beginning time has passed things will feel more stable. To aid that, I want to write and document this process, to make it feel a little more real and hopefully help out other people thinking about going down the practice-led research route too. 

This will be a space where I document my practice, fragments of writing and reflections on life as a doctoral student; the process of it and the trials and tribulations that define it.

I’m currently going through the registration process so for now, there isn’t much in the way of praxis, mostly theory and trying to retain a shred of sanity while I re-work the same 1000 words for the umpteenth time. 

Here’s to this adventure…