Contextual Research Informing Contexts


The Body and the Land

The first person I asked about imagining the land as feminine was Drew. Being a Transman who had lived in a female role for the majority of his life, I thought he would have an unique perspective on this theory that we as males dominate the landscape. He didn’t see it that way.

‘I don’t think I do actually gender nature… I’m thinking about those stereotypically “feminine” aspects of it, such as particular colours, flowers, smooth rock formations or delicate animals and structures and even then, I don’t get any feeling of gender.’ Drew H.W.

In Bright’s 1985 article she says

 ‘Merely supplementing the limited canonical notions of landscape photography with an-Other, equally limited and ahistorical, may have the short-term effect of populating the walls of “women’s spaces” with a certain easily identifiable style of work, but as was the case with the first phase of feminist painting in the early 70s, it will only serve to create new sexist stereotypes or entrench old ones more deeply.’

Combining both Steph and Jesse’s lecture videos, I found these two stunning adverts from the tobacco industry. First the male structure of land and power signified in a packet of cigarettes and the strap line ‘Big Flavor’ and the almost patronising image of a female face on Mount Rushmore with the strapline ‘You’ve come a long way baby’

fig 1. R.J Reynolds and Phillip Morris Tobacco Companies 1973

Growing up in the Scottish Borders, it always intrigued me that nearly every small hill has a folly built on it mostly by men to remember themselves or significant others. ‘Baron’s Folly’ was built in 1780 by Baron Robert Rutherford as a summerhouse and it’s claimed also a meeting place for him and his lover of the time. It’s perhaps inevitable that men have dominated the landscape historically simply because of how it was used with landowners like the Baron inheriting vast tracts of it.

Fig 2. Baron’s Folly Image by Borders Ariel Photography

Yesterday’s follies are today’s works of art perhaps. Antony Gormley’s Another Place in Crosby, Merseyside. 100 larger than life sculptures of himself stuck in the sand staring out into the Mersey Estuary. All male, complete with ‘details’ as my two young companions in the below photo remarked.

Fig.1. Another Place, 2015. Antony Gormley. Photography by Douglas Stenhouse

BRIGHT, Deborah. 1985. Of Mother Nature and Marlboro Men, by Deborah Bright (1985). An Inquiry into the Cultural Meanings of Landscape Photography. Available at: htt (Links to an external site.)Of Mother Nature and Marlboro Men, by Deborah Bright (1985) | by exposure magazine | exposure magazine | Medium (Links to an external site.) [accessed 22 February 2021].

Fig 1. Smoke gets in your eyes: 20th century tobacco advertisements [online]. Available at: [accessed 23 February 2021].

Fig 2 Borders Ariel Photography

Fig 3. Douglas Stenhouse

The Social Photo on Photography and Social Media

by Nathan Jurgenson

The language of photography has always intrigued me.

I take YOUR photo but it still belongs to me, unless of course you buy it, I still own the copyright although again this too is becoming a grey area as seen in the court case of Cariou-v-Prince. (Boucher 2014)

In the dance world where I work, the social photo is well established. I spend each week travelling from event to event (before lockdown), and have the exclusive right to photograph dancers on the floor. My images are markers in a dancer’s short career, beginner to champion. A new costume, a first final, a trophy, all leading up to the one of the biggest dance events of the year at Blackpool tower ballroom,

Fig.1 DKKQ Blackpool 2019

As well as my dance action shots, dancers can be seen taking selfies with their friends, making Tik Tok videos, parents finding space to show off their child with a new costume or new make up and hair. The dance world is a one big ready made social photo experience.

My events photography could be seen as social image business reliant on quick sales. I have often stayed up late after an event to start the upload in the knowledge another event will begin in 5/6 days time and I only have a small opportunity for the images to be seen and decision to buy made before the dance parents start preparing for the next event.

This fits in with Jurgenson’s assertion; ‘Our contemporary documentary vision positions the present as a potential future past, creating a nostalgia for the here and now’ page 7

What I was intrigued with was his chapter on the use of filters or what they really are, layers, to make modern day smartphone images look aged or more authentic to create nostalgia for a time gone by. This is not a new idea, I remember the oldie world family portraits on Blackpool Pier printed in a mucky sepia. We have enhanced photographs through printing technics and camera filters for decades. We all have used an UV or ND filter right? A Polariser to bring out the blue sky and fluffy white clouds. I use Photoshop layers to convert my studio images to black and white for effect just like Ansell Adams used the zonal system to get detail into the shadow areas that the camera and film with his exposure could not see by his use of dodging and burning in the darkroom.

“You don’t take a photograph, you make it.” is a famous quote of his. (Adams 2019)

Is it any different to modifying pixels in Hipstomatic or Instagram? Jurgenson points out that is in fact a lot easier (Page 9) . Look at these two images I took of dancer Estelle, one is the original image, the other filtered using Instagram, which one will the customer like better?

The World of Selfies

‘The Impossible science of the unique being’ Barthes (30)

Selfies are great aren’t they? There, I’ve said it. The ultimate Punctum Barthes might have added had they been around in his time. It has basically brought millions of people back into the world of the photography. People who could not be bothered with cameras, exposure, running down to Boots to drop a film off. It has totally revitalised an industry which was running out of ideas. In my earlier life in photography, one of my customers had a chain of 160 independently run minilabs. All gone, as are countless others throughout the world. Digital selfies must make up a huge proportion of the billions of images on phones, clouds and hard drives. I see some of the ideas the young photographers of today are using and utilising and think it’s magnificent.

‘O would some power the giftie gie us, to see ourselves as others see us’

Robert Burns 1786

The selfie can be your looks, an experience or a wander in the snow , it defines you as you see yourself as a person. My research project following Drew’s transition is a great example. Drew’s selfies are all different but all taken at the same angle. You never see one of his ears, taken slightly to the side and upwards, each image he published he seeks to define how he sees himself.

It’s interesting some of my peers on this course would rather take a photo of their feet or where they have been to define themselves. Portrait Selfies are definitely a generational thing

It is developing fast too. I recently had a Champion Irish dancer in my studio to shoot for one of her sponsors. Lexie -Leigh is well known it her dance genre winning many trophies and well respected. However, she is now what is known as a viral influencer with Instagram, Tik Tok and Snapchat channels. Her Tik Tok channel alone has 245 thousand followers and some videos have over 800 thousand views. She receives free products to promote on her channel and is a prolific poster. She’s now famous for being famous. ( I said this to my 25 year old daughter and she replied what’s wrong with that?)

fig 4. Champion Irish Dancer Lexi-leigh

it all adds weight to Jurgenson’s theory about the social photo being not about the subject but about their experience, the lifestyle, even the fame. Look at me isn’t what a selfie is about, it is look at my life, look how i define myself, look at where I am now; perhaps it should be look at where I am going.

‘The so-called Zuckenberg law of information sharing – that each year we will personally share twice as much information as the proceeding year’ Jurgenson (p60)


Adams, Ansell [accessed 23rd Jan 2020]

BOUCHER, Brian. Landmark copyright Carou vs Prince is settled: Avaialble at {accessed September 2020]

Barthes, Roland & WELLS Liz. Extracts from Camera Lucida: Routledge 1980

BURNS, Robert 1786. To a Louse: Available at [accessed 24th January 2020]

JURGENSON, Nathan. 2019. The Social Photo: On Photography and Social Media London: Verso.

Figure 1: Douglas Stenhouse Tower Ballroom December 2019

Figure 2: Douglas Stenhouse. Bridges Photoshoot July 2017

Figure 3: Drew HWJ. Selfies at home August 2020

Figure 4: Douglas Stenhouse, Dance ON Tan Photoshoot July 2020