Thesis Info

Thesis Title
Visual Imagery and Concept Formation About Environmental Issues Through Creative Photography
Iris Bergmann
2nd Author
3rd Author
Number of Pages
Southern Cross University
Thesis Supervisor
Dr John Geake
Supervisor e-mail
Other Supervisor(s)
Language(s) of Thesis
Department / Discipline
Languages Familiar to Author
English, German, French
URL where full thesis can be found
photography, visual mental imagery, cognition, modes of information processing, environmental, kinaesthtic mode, enactment
Abstract: 200-500 words
This study investigated the influence on conceptual thinking of creative photography about environmental issues. A framework for this investigation was provided by a consideration of cognitive processes such as concept formation and visual mental imagery, a review of environmental concepts, and an analysis of the epistemological, ontological and cognitive potential of photography. The application of narrative theory to photographic images as visual narratives further stressed its cognitive and representational facility. The approach to this study was interpretive, employing a case study strategy and a quasi-experimental design. Nineteen participants worked individually on an environmental photography project of their choice over a period of up to ten weeks. They subjected their initial images to further image-manipulating procedures in a variety of experimental ways. Qualitative methods were employed for data collection and analysis. Semi-standardised interviews were conducted at the beginning of the photographic work and after the completion of the final images. The analysis relied to a large degree on latent content and was dominantly inductive. The participants were also involved in participatory research practices. A comparison of pre- and post-interviews revealed a development in the conceptual thinking of each participant. Environmental issues were initially conceptualised as issues of pollution, degradation, violation and death, which were linked to feelings of sadness, disempowerment and alienation. Following the aesthetic work, a notion of optimism and reconstruction emerged. Other conceptual developments included a culmination of the initial conceptualisation, a discovery of multiple perspectives, a clarification of feelings, a consolidation of a personal position and a reinforcement of negative conceptualisations. In general, the constructs became more differentiated, complex and defined. The focus shifted toward a psychological dimension relating to the participants’ own state of being within the environment and the impact of the ecological conditions upon them. It was concluded that in general, emotions as responses to environmental conditions have been underestimated as a driving force for cognition in the environmental context. Findings with respect to modalities of thought revealed that visual and verbal modes build upon each other in a spiral form. The kinaesthetic mode seemed to mediate between the visual mode, the verbal mode and the actual objects and events photographed. The aesthetic work activated such mediation. The involvement of the kinaesthetic mode in the image-taking process, and in the construction of meaning with visual narratives, highlighted it as an essential factor for concept formation. Another intriguing finding was that the developments in the aesthetic and/or cognitive domains were concomitant with the participants’ conceptualisations of the photographic medium. This led to the conclusion that an understanding of the ontological and epistemological potential of photography is required in order to deploy it most effectively for environmental concept formation. The photographic work was an active, self-guided, highly personalised process of negotiating a new position towards environmental issues. It was shown that this aesthetic work guided cognitive processes of constructing, deconstructing and reconstructing environmental conceptualisations. Its effectiveness lay in the similarities between the visual mental and aesthetic representations and processes. It was concluded that the construction of photographic narratives can be deployed as an agent for change towards ecological sustainability, at least in the cognitive domain.