Michael Wayne Plant, PhD Announcement

When I relaunched this website recently, after my failure of shifting web hosting companies, I mentioned on the about page that I will be starting a PhD in October below is more information and my research proposal.

I am now announcing that I have been accepted to study for a PhD. at the University of Creative Arts in Farnham, with Professors Anna Fox and Judith Williamson.

Anna Fox is represented by James Hyman photography gallery, her web site is http://www.annafox.co.uk

I am really excited about this as it is going to be a lot of work and a good way to move forward with my knowledge of both photography and social aspects of the culture that we live within.

My research proposal is below if you are interested in reading it.


Michael Wayne Plant, PhD. proposal.


Visualising the neo-liberal response to economic crisis:  a use of photographic practice to explore social realities.



The research will focus on the East End of London within the social landscape that will arise from the coalition government’s economic agenda. This will be explored by developing a documentary inspired art practice that will build on historical practices and looks towards formulating contemporary methods of visual narrative.


Research questions

  • How can the contemporary economic crises of Britain be represented photographically?
  • How have documentary photographers previously produced work that addresses economic issues in Britain?
  • In the context of debates about art and documentary, what aesthetic strategies are available for the representation of contemporary economic issues?
  • How can new photographic work made in East London incorporate these political and theoretical challenges?


Research context

The research will explore documentary photographic practice, its evolution and current art based documentary strategies that allow photographers to articulate ideas of the real world in visual terms. For this, I will explore the coalition government’s economic agenda that is currently being undertaken (Radice 2010) with particular reference to the East End of London.

By using the East End of London (specifically the London Borough of Tower Hamlets) an area that has wide ranging inequalities (MacInnes et al 2010), I will be able to work at the local level enabling us to view the impact of the coalition governments economic agenda (Crawford et al 2011) and (Evans 2009). Through this process, I will research how documentary photographic practice has moved towards that of an art practice while visually exploring the social impact of the coalitions economic agenda.

My own practice is that of an artist who is using documentary photographic practices to explore social and economic realities. By utilizing a concept of aesthetic journalism (Cramerotti 2009), I am wanting to create a self-reflexive practice that seeks to get its viewers to ask question of the social processes that are taking place within the United Kingdom.

The research will develop ways of looking at documentary practices and economic agendas. The research will explore documentary strategies within an art context as art can be used to ask questions whereas documentary photography has always sought to tell what is happening, whereas I believe that it is time to rethink what a documentary approach to photography can mean for the extension and generation of knowledge about a subject. Especially one that is not inherently visual (i.e. economics) by developing new strategies as an artist this will let others begin to ask questions that are beyond the personal and examine the structural aspects of capitalism as it is now configured.


Rationale for research

Documentary photographers have embraced art world practices and academics have developed theories that allow for the blending of documentary and art into an aesthetic practice.

One example of this is critical realism, (Baetens & Gelder 2010) and in particular the discourse surrounding that of Allan Sekula’s project “Fish Story”. Changing approaches to documentary within photography beyond the British context will inform the theoretical approach to the research. I will explore aspects of digital imaging, which are allowing the real to be seen from new perspectives. If we conceive photography to be a language, with its own grammar, syntax and ways of seeing that is shaped by the social forces that generate the various art worlds that photographic practices inhabit (Becker, 1982). It will allow us to reshape these to allow for new narratives. The advent of digital imagery in photography has affected how we conceive the indexicality of a photograph (Ritchin 2009). This, I believe will be able to be addressed by the authorial intent of the artist making the work and the viewer’s reception of the image. How, does this affect notions of truth in photography? Is this part of the inherent drift of documentary photography towards that of art? How, does a photographer use an art practice to make social statements that they are concerned with, if all images can be made to lie? If we define the artist or photographer as author, their personal visual language that they use then becomes important. The individual, their history, experiences and background, are all integral to how the photographer sees. From this photographic seeing is generated the images that we ultimately look at and discuss. The resulting images are what then takes the place of language for a photographer.


The research will explore how to develop a contemporary approach to the making of images, that have a documentary agenda to them using an art context of getting images to ask questions,

If we can use art to make us to think, what is happening here? That is, to ask questions and documentary photography, which has traditionally informed us of what is happening and if photography itself with the shift to digital, can no longer be relied on to tell the truth.  What can we as photographic artists do, to create images that have resonance with our subject and tell the stories that we want to? The authorship of the artist becomes paramount that is what I will be exploring though out the research.


The research will focus on the East End of London specifically the borough of Tower Hamlets primarily using:

Heuristic research methods, involving detailed analysis of the processes involved in creating images. Heuristic research because of its emphasis on the phenomena itself, “The focus in a heuristic quest is on recreation of the lived experience, that is, full and complete depictions of the experience from the frame of reference of the experiencing person” Moustakas 2001. This will let me keep the personal perspective in view, while being able to explore the impact the economic policies are having (Schon) on the social landscape

Auto-ethnographical: as my art practice will be accompanied by a detailed journal made while creating the images. As I believe this will be of interest and will help with the development of my thinking with reflection on action being intrinsic to the process.

Phenomenological research, which will explore the social landscape, of Tower Hamlets as affected by the government’s economic agenda.

By combing research methods, I will be able to develop a way of looking at working in the public domain that will enable myself and others to develop new method of working that is both photographic in nature and informs the resulting images with sociological insight that will infuse the resulting images with deeper meanings.



The research will result in a new appreciation of the visual in representing economic issues photographically, being able to resolve conceptual challenges and develop theoretical approaches to making images that allow for the development of new knowledge. The research will be presented in a book format thereby allowing both written and visual components to complement each other, this will enable the images an accumulation of effect on the viewer. In addition, I will also be seeking to exhibit the images and extracts of text in various galleries.

Indicative Study List and Bibliography.

At this stage of my research, a lot of what I would like to research on current economic spending and agendas will be written by think tanks, inter-governmental organizations i.e. IMF, OECD etc. as it is still rather current to have much written in the academic research literature due to the nature of academic publishing. In addition, the nature of the coalition governments polices, as they evolve and the time taken for the effects to manifest themselves in the social landscape, will affect the sources for my research.


Abell, S. (2008) The Life of a Photograph. Washington: National Geographic Society.

Baetens, J., Gelder, H,V, (2010) Critical Realism in Contemporary Art. Leuven: Leuven University Press.

Bal, M. (1996) Double Exposures: The Subject of Cultural Analysis. London: Routledge.

Bourdieu, P. (1990) The Logic of practice. Cambridge: Polity Press

Bourdieu, P. (1993) The field of cultural production; essays on art and literature. Cambridge: Polity Press

Brandt, Bill. (1936) The English at Home. London: B. T. Batsford.

Brett, D. M. F. (2010) The Uncanny Return: Documenting Place in Post-war German Photography, Photographies, 3: 1, 7 — 22

Browne J et al. (2010) The distributional effects of tax and benefit reforms between June 2010 and April 2014A revised assessment. Institute for Fiscal Studies BN108, 25 August, accessed on 8-7-2011 from: http://www.ifs.org.uk/publications/5246

Burgin, V. (1986) The end of art theory; criticism and postmodernity.  London: Macmillan.

Cramerotti, A. (2009) Aesthetic Journalism; How to Inform Without Informing. Bristol: Intellect.

Crawford, R., Emmerson, C, Phillips, D., & Tetlow, G. (2011) Public Spending cuts: Pain Shared? Institute for Fiscal Studies.

Dorling, D. (2011) So You Think You Know About Britain. London: Constable & Robinson.

Elkins, J. (1998) On pictures and the words that fail them. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Evans, M. (2009) Cameron’s competition state. Policy Studies, 31: 1, 95 — 115, First published on: 22 July 2009

Foster, H. (1996) The return of the real: the avant-garde at the end of the century.  Cambridge, Mass: MIT.

Foster, H. (1998) The anti-aesthetic; essays on postmodern culture. New York: New Press.

Frank, R. (2008) The Americans. Gottingen: Steidl.

Graham, P. (1986) Beyond Caring. London: Grey Editions.

Harvey, D. (2011) The Enigma of Capital; and The Crises of Capitalism. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

James, S.  (2009) Photography’s Theoretical Blind Spots: Looking at the German Paradigm. Photographies, 2: 2, 255 — 270.

Jameson, F. (1991) Postmodernism: or the cultural logic of late capitalism. London: Verso.

Killip, C. (1988) In Flagrante. London: Secker & Warburg.

Klein, M. (2007) The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. London: Allen Lane.

Knowles, C. & Sweetman, J. (2004) Picturing the Social Landscape; Visual Methods and the Sociological Imagination. London: Routledge.

Krauss, R. E.(1985) The originality of the avant-garde and other modernist myths. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.

Moustakas. C. (2001) Heuristic Research Design and Methodology in Schneider, K. J., Bugental J. F. T., & Fraser Pierson, J. (2001) The Handbook of Humanistic Psychology: Leading Edges in Theory, Research and Practice. London: Sage.

Lister, M, Ed. (2005) The Photographic Image in Digital Culture. New York: Routledge.

Parr, M. (1986) The last resort: photographs of New Brighton. Stockport: Dewi Lewis Publishing.

Plant, M.W. (2008) What is British? Blurb self-published.

Prosser, J. (1998) Image-Based Research: A Sourcebook for Qualitative ResearchersLondon: Falmer Press.

Radice, H. (2010) Cutting Government Deficits: Economic Science or Class War? Capital & Class 35(1) 125–137

Ray-Jones, T. (1974) A Day Off: An English Journal.  London: Thames & Hudson.

Ritchin, F. (2009) After Photography. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.

Shore, S. (2007) The Nature of Photographs; A Primer. London: Phaidon.

Sepp, H. R. & Embree, L. (2010) Handbook of phenomenological aesthetics. Dordrecht: Springe.

Szeman, I. & Whiteman, M. (2009) The Big Picture: On the Politics of Contemporary Photography, Third Text, 23: 5, 551 — 556

Tagg, J. (2009) The Disciplinary Frame: Photographic Truths and The Capture of Meaning. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Weski, T. (2006) Click Doubleclick; The documentary factor. Koln: Walther Konig.

Wilkinson, R. & Pickett, K. (2009) The Spirit Level, Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better. London: Allen Lane.

Zurbrugg, N. (1998) Critical vices; the myths of postmodern theory. Amsterdam: GB Arts International.



Schuman, A., Cotton. C. Whats Next. Accessed on 8-6-2011 from: http://www.seesawmagazine.com/whatsnextpages/whatsnext.html

OECD. (2011) Economic Surveys of the United Kingdom. Accessed on 15-6-2011 from: http://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/50/37/47319830.pdf

MacInnes, T., Kenway. P. (2009) London’s Poverty Profile. London: New Policy Institute. Accessed on 11-7-2011 from: http://www.londonspovertyprofile.org.uk/downloads/LondonPovertyProfile.pdf

MacInnes, T., Parekh, A. & Kenway. P. (2010) London’s Poverty Profile Reporting on the recession. London: New Policy Institute. Accessed on 11-7-2011 from: http://www.londonspovertyprofile.org.uk/LPP%20recession%20report%2029%20Oct%202010.pdf

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