Contextual Research | Felicity McCabe

Today i watched the lecture with Felicity McCabe and on reflection I am really pleased that I was able to find the time as the last couple of days have been hectic to say the least. Monday 5th Oct I tested positive for COVID which meant great upheaval as I needed to quickly prepare remote learning for some 70 A level and vocation FE students, get feedback so that they could move their projects forward and face minimal disruption to their already affected education. The home life wasn’t much better as I have three step children all of which were abruptly pulled out of school in addition to my three year old Daughter who was in Nursery. As a result my family is back to self isolating, everyone is pissed off as they see others going about their normal lives. 

I found the lecture to be incredibly informative and it was interesting to listen to McCabe discuss her work in addition to getting an insight on her journey through photography and it was heartening to hear such a success story. At this stage of the MA I am used to listening to other professionals speak about their work and the understanding that the photographers concerns and motivations are equally as important as the work itself. I find this quite amazing as I discover work, then in researching the intentions of the author the work is transformed into something powerful and moving. 

My initial research draws me to the project ‘Dryland’ as I am currently working on a project for Oxfam. It was interesting to see how other photographers have interpreted a brief working with a charity. There are a number of elements that I like about this work, the starting point being the high key aesthetic McCabe utilises. Whenever I see work of this nature I engage with the detail of the work and I respect a photographer such as McCabe as she has the confidence to light the whole frame opening up the photograph to close scrutiny by the viewer. It takes a confident photographer to do this especially within the context of documentary or environmental portraits. 

McCabe, F (2015)

Secondly, listening about the philosophy in terms of sequencing was really useful as this is something I really struggle with in my own work. McCabe was quite up front when discussing how she takes advice from others and probably something I need to take on board further. I find the image below a quite amazing sequence of photographs, the union between the tree stumps and the legs of the young boy illustrates the talent and intricacy of McCabe’s work. The posing of the legs to mirror the tree stumps makes for an image to be looked at and looked at again and at this stage, the more I look the more I enjoy it. Coupled with the high key tones serve to contextualise the image and place it as a photograph with a powerful message about inequality. The introduction of colour would usually dominate such a sequence but in this case McCabe uses the vibrant tones as a supporting act to the legs and tree stumps. 

In conclusion, I feel that this is a supremely confident image and representative of a confident photographer who has a firm command of their craft in both a technical and philosophical sense. The outcome of bringing together multiple elements to convey both tension and peace. 

When listening to McCabe discuss her work, I took many important pieces of advice however what the advice that i find most pertinent is the idea the photography is one big concern or vision and each project is a chapter within that vision. Read (2017) confirms such ideas ‘Looking back at the concerns that form the backbone of the work and the interests which fuel it, with or without input from others, will serve to provide evidence of where they have been and point the direction for the future.’ Having listened to McCabe in the lecture I take her concerns about time memory and fragility to be the most important motivations behind her work and more importantly I see and feel these concerns throughout her photographs.

McCabe, F (2015) Dryland [Online} Available at: (Accessed) 7th Oct 2020.

Read and Simmons (2017)  Photographers and Research, The Role of Research in Contemporary Photographic Practice. Taylor and Francis, New York.

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