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DMU academic sheds light on photography research in new book

The Programme Leader for the MA Photography course at De Montfort University Leicester (DMU) has co-authored an ‘illuminating and ground-breaking’ new book which examines the crucial role of research in contemporary photography.

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Dr Mike Simmons, a photographic artist and author, has seen his second major book published just one year on from the success of his debut solo work Making Photographs, which went on to be translated into three languages.

His research centres on the development of innovative approaches to exploring social issues of concern, particular loss, memory and identity through the use of creative photography.

The latest title is the 274-page Photographers and Research, published in January as a hardback, paperback and e-book by Focal Press/Routledge, which has been co-written with photography curator, write and oral historian Shirley Read.

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Dr Simmons, who has contributed to numerous photography exhibitions, conferences and symposia in the UK, mainland Europe, Australia and the USA, first met Shirley Read several years ago when she was an external examiner for DMU’s MA course. Shirley Read has been interviewing photographers about their lives and work for the past 20 years.

In the book's co-written introduction, the authors explained: “This is a book about current photographic practice. The initial premise evolved gradually from a series of occasional conversations between us about the nature of the creative process for contemporary photographers and the role research plays in the development of ideas and the creation of work.

“Later it became a more deliberate attempt to unpick some of the thoughts and themes that emerged from those discussions, to extend them and formalise our exchange of views in a book that would be useful to students and photographers alike.

“Although our individual understanding of research came from two quite distinct perspectives, one as a photographer-turned-academic and one curatorial, it became clear early on that the ways we understood the term research in relation to photography often overlapped and resonated with recurring themes, shared understandings, experiences and opinions.”

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Dr Simmons was just completing his first book with Bloomsbury Making Photographs while Shirley Read was completing the second edition of her debut release Exhibiting Photography when they put a proposal together which was taken on by Focal Press New York.

Described by the publishers as a “ground-breaking book which situates research at the heart of photographic practice” and which “illuminates the nature and scope of research and its practical applications”, it features the thoughts of more than a dozen leading photographers who were interviewed by Dr Simmons and Shirley Read.

Among the contributors are Turner Prize nominee Hannah Collins, DMU alumna Mandy Barker, Edmund Clark, Subhankar Banerjee, Grace Lau, and Tom Hunter, the first photographer to have a one-man show at the National Gallery in London.

In total, the book took around 14 months to complete, from initial commissioning to submitting the final manuscript.

Dr Simmons, who lives in Mansfield Woodhouse, Nottinghamshire, has been at DMU for 22 years. The 59-year-old first joined as its chief photographer in 1996, a role that required him to run a team of technical support staff providing high-quality images across the university for marketing and promotion.

He completed his Master’s in Photography at DMU in 2000 and a PhD here in 2007 before becoming an academic and rising to become Programme Leader in 2010. Prior to DMU, he spent more than 20 years in the commercial photography sector.

It’s an exciting and busy time for Dr Simmons. He plans to host a one-day conference at DMU later in the year on the themes raised in his new book, including visits from some of the photographers who contributed to it, as well as a wider discussion of the subject. This is with a view to publishing a number of papers in relevant journals.

He also has a paper being considered for a July conference at the University of Cumbria’s Institute of the Arts, which explores the meaning of home in society as seen through photography.

Last but not least, he is putting together a funding bid to the Arts and Humanities Research Council for an arts-based research project featuring photographic workshops and an exhibition in conjunction with Professor Del Loewenthal of Roehampton University.

Posted on Wednesday 12th April 2017

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