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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Being Against Disappearance : a photographic inquiry through an a/r/tographic lens Smith, Blake Elizabeth


In this dissertation, I seek to understand how creative engagement with photo-based memory work might evoke meaningful experiences of teaching, learning, and making and provoke critical, contemporary conversations on ethics in photography and art education. Drawing on my experiences as a photo educator, art teacher educator, curator, and photographer, I situate this study as a photographic inquiry through an a/r/tographic lens, considering the ways photo-based memory work might be generative as an artistic, emotive practice and a pedagogical possibility with ethical implications. I explore my research question alongside a creative community of practice, a group of artists and educators who came together after a course I taught at UBC in 2015, EDCP 405 Visual Arts for Classroom Practice: New Media and Digital Processes. To consider the potential of photo-based memory work and visual lifewriting, we participated in a group exhibition entitled Against Disappearance: A Photographic Search for Memory, an exhibit from May 20th – August 25th, 2016 at UBC’s Liu Institute Lobby Gallery. This exhibition offered thirty-six photographs and one sculpture, highlighting a series of juxtaposed viewpoints on the concept of disappearance from eight unique visual perspectives. As a/r/tographic artifacts, I studied closely the artwork and writing from the show and a series of generative conversations from focus groups and individual interviews for their nuance and narrative. Threading together my poetic observations, our artwork, artist statements, and conversational excerpts, I present the data in the creative form of a lexicon: a fragmented, alphabetical whole that gestures towards an emergent a/r/tographic language for photography. In an extended act of tracing pedagogy beyond classrooms, my research suggests the vibrant potential of a/r/tography for bringing artists and educators together beyond coursework to engage in collaborative art making projects that materialize as significant experiential learning events. New a/r/tographic understandings emerge from this study in a series of artful propositions based on offerings around the notion of trace, expanding vocabularies of possibility for photo-based memory work. This study illuminates the lexicon and exhibition as promising artistic forms for photographic theory, practice, and creation and highlights the potency of a/r/tography as a creative research methodology of potential.

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