Research and Risk: Knowing Your Stuff

Photographer Cadalpe / Image Source RF

Photographer Cadalpe / Image Source RF

In a fast-changing world, Research is no longer a nice-to-have. Keeping on top of your craft or your business and being able to identify and make new opportunities requires the application of research insights. Here’s an overview of some exciting research-based work we’ll be exploring over the next few weeks

There’s a classic case study from the industrial age of a company investing in research, that’s often forgotten in the excitement around companies like Google and their 20 percent days. The Post-It note was famously the product of 3M’s ‘bootlegging’ policy which encouraged researchers to spend 15 percent of their time working on a project of their choice. In 1968 3M Scientist Spencer Silver had discovered a thin film with a weak kind of stickiness that seemed to have no possible application – even repeated layers of the film didn’t increase the adhesiveness.

In 1974 his colleague Art Fry was singing in a local choir, looking for something with which to stick paper into his hymnal…the rest as they say is history and is probably on a chart on your office wall, or marking the pages in one of your books. The Post-It note was commercialized through 3M’s bootlegging policy and  a founding example of the ‘intrapreneur’, a neologism credited to Gifford Pinchot III and Elizabeth S. Pinchot from their 1978 paper ‘Intra-Corporate Entrepreneurship’.

It used to be the case that only large companies could afford to do research. Now, in a highly competitive globalized economy, whether you are large multi-national company, or a freelancer plying your trade in the Creative industries, research is essential to survival. As an image-maker or designer it’s a way of extending your craft, a catalyst for developing new thinking about what it is you do, and is a tool to spot opportunities and gaps for your business – the latter is the big challenge of research. We are surrounded by so much ‘churnalism’, the same images and stories circulating, getting an original take, a new usable insight is the crucial value we need to extract from research.

Over the next month we’ll be looking at some pioneers doing original research, gambling on the value, creativity and productivity of their research. Research, properly applied, inevitably involves some kind of experiment, some moment where we move our work into unchartered territory. This is where research involves short-term risk both creatively and financially – there is something at stake. We interview Rachel Taylor and Jody Daunton the editors of Another Escape, (strapline, ‘A Creative Exploration’). This photo-driven magazine is research into creativity and craft, craft in the sense of any activity (from bee-keeping to kayak-making) with a highly developed skill-set. Craft is also a feedback system in that craftsmen and women know how to learn from their practice, from their environment and the materials they are working with. The crafter learns how to work with difficulty, how to use difficulty as a resource.

Another Escape Magazine

Another Escape Magazine

Travel photographers Matt Dutile and Phillip Lee Harvey discuss the importance of researching an environment and that learned skill, which Philip Lee Harvey says “knowing when you are lucky and maximising that opportunity.”

Photographer, Philip Lee Harvey, The RM Signature Collection. A group of ring tailed Lemurs, Berenty Reserve, Madagascar. Rig Tailed Lemurs must sunbathe in the mornings in order to raise their body temperature after the cold night.

Photographer, Philip Lee Harvey, The RM Signature Collection. A group of ring tailed Lemurs, Berenty Reserve, Madagascar. Rig Tailed Lemurs must sunbathe in the mornings in order to raise their body temperature after the cold night.

We hear from award-winning wildlife photographer Lou Coetzer one of whose favourite books is Charles Darwin’s Origin of the Species – reassuring if you are looking for a photographer to capture an epic and unsentimental view of the natural world.

Photographer Lou Cotzer

Photographer Lou Coetzer

Erin Spens from Boat studio, who have re-written the guidebook for Travel magazines with Boat magazine gives us an insight to the process of putting together a magazine. Research for each issue involves transplanting a team to the city they are exploring. It began as an experiment in in magazine-making, when in a slow month in the studio they decided to book a month in Sarajevo gathering research, closing down their other projects. They are now on issue 7 on Lima, and getting some serious attention from around the web.

Photographer Allister Ann. Boat Magazine, issue 7 Lima.

Photographer Allister Ann, Boat Magazine, issue 7 Lima. Kids play in the Shipibo community of Cantagallo, Lima.

The extraordinary Jason Persoff AKA the ‘Storm Doctor’ gives some striking reflections on the world of the stormchasing photographer. Aside from being a talented photographer, Persoff’s main job is as Assistant Professor of Internal Medicine at University of Colorado – he needs no remind of the dangers of lightning. One of his stormchaser friends and his friend’s son were killed doing scientific research on a chase.

Photographer Jason Persoff

Photographer Jason Persoff

Ashley Jouhar visits the Robilant + Voena gallery in London to explore the inventively experimental show from David LaChappelle, Tom Laybourne collages his research from his shoot in Italy and we take a look at a classic piece of research into skill, Douglas Harper’s ground-breaking Working Knowledge: Skill and Community in a Small Shop, which used photography to examine a dying breed of skilled and innovative repairman. Originally published in 1987, it was incredibly innovative in its use of photography. In 2014 when the culture of make and mend is undergoing a revival, we revisit this photography classic that demonstrated the vital importance of research and imagery in understanding the detail of everyday life.




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