Tag Archives: visual methods

Emotions and sonnets to gravel #focussheffield

I have just been to an intriguing conference held at the University of Sheffield on Advanced Visual Research Methods.  I am not going to review the whole two day conference, but just pick on a small part of it.  On the second day we spent a lot of time on one session, we had the choice of which session it was and I chose one called Making Emotions: materiality in visual research.

We began by drawing designs and patterns on paper in charcoal.  We had been discussing emotions and I thought I would try and capture my social awkwardness and insecurity when I am at conferences and talking about my academic work.  This is what I drew-

Original design

Original design

We talked briefly about the designs as a group (it was a nice small group, only about seven of us) and voted on the 21 designs to pick two to make into sculptures.  Mine was one of those picked.  We split into groups to make the gravel sculptures and I was told that we shouldn’t work on our own designs.  I was handing over my design to people I didn’t know and people who didn’t know what it was all about.  What would they do to it?

During the next part I worked on someone else’s sculpture design. I wondered what the story behind it was as I made it, my hands were shaking at times to make sure I was pouring the coal dust accurately.  The gravel sculptures were made from limestone chippings and coal dust.   I kept glancing over to the other, “my”, sculpture to see what they were doing, but I was really aware that I couldn’t say anything. Between the artist and the other delegates they had taken out the lines and only left circles.  However, there was a discussion going on about the lines. To my relief they had put some lines in.

Gravel sculpture

Gravel sculpture

We discussed the production process of the gravel sculptures together, and the acts of co-producing work.  It occurred to me that just listening to someone describe emotion is not enough.  The extent of their feelings is incredibly difficult to capture and so easily misinterpreted or overlooked.  Using materials and creative process such as gravel sculptures provides an additional conduit for communication.  Then, it was taken a step further – we were asked to write sonnets to our sculptures.

Here is mine, to the sculpture above (apologies to poets as it is not quite right):

Your concept makes so much sense to me now
Circles and lines so clear and curved
I understand the why, where, when and how
The stark contrasts of black and white reserved

I worried you were in the others hands
Would they understand what you were about
Could they do you justice made out of sands
Or would they miss parts of you out

But the end result made me see as new
How my research and participants will
Allow me to get a different view
And make me aware that others will fill

My research with some unique perspectives
There is no need to follow directives

It is cheesy – I am aware of this – but in the process of this I realised that I had to think quite hard about the right words to describe things and maybe think around them a little to make them fit in.  I realise I might also be quite late to this party, but it has shown me that methods can be varied.  Being able to actually take part in the methods and not just be spoken at for an hour at a time was also invaluable.  I look forward to the next one!


Leave a comment

Filed under Conferences, Methodologies, PhD, Visual Methods

Enthusiasm about museums

After Christmas and a slow start to January, I think I am getting back into a routine with my dissertation. I have made myself try and review a journal article every weekday. On top if this I have been busy organising my museums. I think I have cracked it now! I decided I needed to actually go and speak with some people to help me get on with it, so I took a day trip to Oxford. This was the best idea ever!

Meeting my contacts at the Ashmolean and Pitt Rivers, not only helped me plan the logistics of the study, but also helped me to articulate the project and my goals. It gave me the opportunity to explain in person what I wanted to do, how I thought I was going to do it and that I wasn’t entirely sure of the exact outcomes yet, but that was part of the design. The feedback and discussion provided an opportunity to highlight some of the gaps in my plans and create a constructive platform to fix them. I found that discussing the project gave me more confidence in it. My main worry is now that the photos actually come out!

The trip to Oxford also gave me a fun day out. I spent about two hours in the Pitt Rivers Museum and four in the Ashmolean. As it was a Thursday and not a holiday, I had some of the Ashmolean galleries to myself. I went on a tour and had a chat with the museum assistants too. After a tough day (very tough on the feet anyway) I met a friend in the Bird and Baby and had a filling dinner. I am looking forward to going back for a few days and getting the interviews done.

Since I completed what could be termed as a site visit, I have had a surge in enthusiasm, ideas and focus. I now have an excellent selection of fee charging and free museums, run by local authorities, independently or nationally, and my first test subjects visitors are taking photos on Saturday. I have even got a rough plan of the structure of my dissertation. However, I am now not sure that 30,000 words is going to be enough…

Leave a comment

Filed under Dissertation, Museums

The story so far…

June 2012

I originally came up with the broad plan for my dissertation while reading this article:
Clark-Ibáñez, M. (2004) ‘Framing the Social World with Photo-elicitation Interviews’, American Behavioral Scientist 47(12): 1507-1527

The author’s description of using photographs taken by the respondent and then discussing the feelings, reasons and meanings behind the photograph struck me as an interesting method of research and one which could be used to study visitor experiences at museums.  I have also previously heard of some research which was conducted by giving children cameras and recording their viewpoint of museum visits. http://www2.le.ac.uk/research/festival/meet/humanities/kirk/poster.pdf

I will need to mention this to the course director as I am hoping it will not influence the research I hope to do.  I am going to try and use different methods to do this and the project will not take as long.  

I have been reading about Grounded Theory as a way of developing the project.  At the moment I am not sure on what the exact questions will be so using the photographs in the first instance and then developing the research questions from this point would be ideal.

I emailed the museum today (15th June) to see if they would be open to me conducting my research at the New Walk Museum.  I will have to wait and see what the answer is…

20th June 2012

I went to Prof Sarah Pink’s seminar on Visual Methods for Organisational Studies today.   The talk gave me some more ideas about how I could make my dissertation more dynamic.  She spoke about movement and using video to get a better experience of the participant’s point of view or help the researcher have the same or similar experience.   I think there may be some possibility to working this kind of method into my dissertation.  It will need some thinking about as I have never used a video camera and would need to get some practice.  Or indeed, think about how I could get the best use out of it.

 The thoughts on filming someone’s visit through the museum made me think about how the different people in the museum use the space.   Museum workers might see things differently to visitors.  It might be worth filming museum workers moving about the museum during their day or a few hours, and comparing it to the visitors view.  It might also be worth getting museum workers to take photos of things around the museum in the same way as the visitor will.  This could then be compared. 

26th June 2012

I received this reply from the museum his morning:


I am sorry for not responding earlier. In principle I would be happy with this, however there may be some issues with photographs in all galleries as we have copyright issues with some of the objects. Please can you let me have a detailed proposal with potential dates?

I think it sounds like a good way to research customer experiences and would be really interested in the results.

If you wish to discuss further please give me a call.


This is brilliant news.  As I develop this proposal I can take this into account.  I might go and visit and have a chat about it as it might be easier to speak to them directly and see how I might have to change my proposal in relation to any copyright issues they may have.    As I am not intending to publish all of the photos, it may be a case of restricting the photographs of the copyrighted objects and not being able to give them to the participants.   

27th June 2012

I have been thinking a little further on the copyright issue.  I am wondering if I could get permission to publish the photographs.  I will have to look into this further…I work in the law school so there should be someone here that can help me on copyright issues too.  

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized