FOCUS Summer School 2015

In 2015 I along with three other academics (Julia Davies, Lisa Procter and Abi Hackett) established Focus Sheffield in order to deliver advanced visual research training for doctoral students at the White Rose Universities. This is a post by Caroline Claisse about our first advanced visual methods summer school.

In September 2015, members of CSCY ran the first WRDTC Advanced Visual Methods Summer School. The summer school was part of the training the White Rose universities (Sheffield, York, Leeds) offers to its doctoral students, and the ideas and concepts were the culmination of ideas, thinking and exchange around the visual and spatial which have happened through CSCY in the last few years. In particular, CSCY convenes a visual methods interest group (convened by CSCY Co-director Dylan Yamada Rice) and a space and place interest group (convened by Lisa Procter and Abi Hackett). Lisa, Dylan and Abi, along with Julia Davies, devised and ran the Visual Methods Summer School.

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The content of the two day summer school covered the breadth of the visual within research and took a particular interest in the fragmented nature of understandings and applications of the visual across different fields of research, arts practice and industry. Key note speakers reflected this spread; Farida Vis opened the event with her presentation entitled ‘Analysing Social Media Images’. Farida emphasised the ubiquity of image sharing via social media, and the need to understand this at different scales, from a single image, to images within a wider social, cultural and historical context. Sharing of images through social media encompasses both the everyday and the exceptional, often from the same posters, so it is also important to understand the interaction between everyday and exception digital image sharing.

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Dr Adi Kuntsman, from Manchester Met University, was the second key note speaker, talking to the title ‘Citizenship in the Age of the Selfie’. Challenging the audience to consider whether they themselves post selfies, and whether they see this practice a superficial and egotistical, Adi focussed on the use of selfies within political protest and identity practices. Her research has charted the changing nature of selfies used in political commentary by Israelis on the occupation of Palestine. Presenting the work of artist Zach Blas, Facial Weaponization, Adi also offered the provocation that there is a relationship between use of the face for political statement, and use of facial recognition technology for citizen control and surveillance which we need to seriously consider.


On the second day, Solomon Lennox from Northumbria University, provided the third keynote of the summer school. Sol’s presentation ‘After Images, in search of spatially, somantic, sensuous performance ethnographies’ combined theory with performance vignettes from his research in boxing clubs. Performing boxing warm up routines, whilst playing video footage or reading fieldnotes from his fieldwork, Sol invited the audience to consider what is reproduced, relived or lost when embodied experiences from the field are performed to new audiences. To emphasise this point, Sol invited a member of the audience to don protective boxing equipment and re-enact with him moves from one of the fights he took part in during ethnographic research. By re-enacting and re-imagining previous lived experience, the point was made that experiences are lived and remembered through the body.


In addition to the key note speakers, students could select from a series of hands on workshops to explore different aspects of the visual, sensory and spatial within research. For example, Lisa Procter with artist Simon Wrigglesworth ran a sculptural workshop, in which students were invited to make sculptures representing emotion and experience. In the second part of this workshop, students wrote sonnets to their sculpture. Chris Bailey of Sheffield Hallam University ran a workshop focussed on his research on Minecraft, exploring the range of approaches to capturing and visually exploring the complex online and offline data elicited from such a study. In another session, Lisa Procter and Abi Hackett invited students to ‘put space first’ by taking up a series of spatial challenges around the building, and reflecting on how a spatial perspective offers an expanded perspective on the meaning of the visual.