Practice-led research is often theorised in isolation from the more traditional theoretical discourses surrounding the particular studio practice that is leading the research. The result of this is that comparisons and analogies are drawn from areas that are fundamentally different in nature from creative practice, such as science. These analogies are designed to assert some validity for creative research practices that is based on a presumably previously unrealised similarity with traditional research methods. While this kind of argument, at its core, addresses some important issues for creative researchers, it does so through an ontological compromise. The core purpose of the establishment of a research paradigm that is led by, or based in practice, is to assert those practices as sufficiently intellectually rigorous so as to be understood as research practices in their own right – otherwise why would it be needed?
This paper looks at research practices in photography in the context of a critical analysis of the existing claims for photography as a research method. These claims most often rely on assumptions about the photographic medium, its relationship to nature, and also its perceived mechanical objectivity. Such points are themselves the subject of extensive criticism in the theoretical discourse of photography, but these spheres of thought never intersect. As this paper will demonstrate, however, there is much to be gained from such an intersection.