Where are you based? by ellie berry


Where are you based?


Recently, a friend from many years ago messaged me about one of my projects. It was fantastic to hear from someone after so long, and as I was writing my reply I typed out the simple line “where are you based these days?”. I then sat there watching the little curser blink at me for a moment or two. It felt like such a ridiculous concept - people no long just “live” somewhere, but they’re “based” there instead, ready to be swept up in a strong wind and fly off to a new location.

The a few days later, I sleepily stood waiting for my coffee to brew, and I thought about this again. So many artists I know use the term “based in X”, and the more I thought about it, the more alienated I was by the word. There is no living, just existing in a place that can be utilised. Comparing the connotations I have between “based” and “lives'', they speak to me of two completely different experiences. If I am living somewhere, I am in that place, experiencing and contributing to it in some way. When I think of the word based I’m struck with the feeling of disconnected globalisation. And the fact that this word is so prevalent within artist’s descriptions feels wrong to me. When I think about what it means to be an artist or creative person, I think I can assume that quite often creative ideas are only born because of lived experience - be that through research, experimentation, documentation, an epiphany as you do the dishes.

So why this disconnect from locality? If we are based as opposed to living somewhere, does that allow us to have an outside or objective viewpoint of that community/society/way of life? Is that necessary?


After a while I remember that I’m supposed to be making coffee, and decide to leave such extensional musings for when I’ve woken up a bit more.


Published work! Autumn 2018 by ellie berry

It’s only recently that I’ve started adding writer to my by-line. It was what I wanted to be when I grew up since about third class (nine years old). My teacher of the time decided that each student was to try and write their own story. Through the unintentional eves-dropping kids go through, I slowly learnt that everyone else's work was very “real life” based - catching a robber who broke into a shop, working on a farm. Mine was about a girl named Rogue who had a (sarcastic) talking horse, lived in a fantasy woodland, and was sent on a quest to find the collar necklace (that was a spelling mistake that mini-me just pretended was intentional. Even now I remember it was supposed to be coral necklace). I’m pretty sure it was heavily inspired by the never ending story and lord of the rings. And I know now that it deeply cemented my love of writing.

Skip forward through many years of amazing English teachers, continued terrible spelling, discovering the magic of creative critical research in college, and we roughly land in Dublin two years ago. I haphazardly wrote this, my personal blog, but was also about to enter the planning stages of Tough Soles. I know that in 2017 I wrote nearly 35k words through that blog, and I’m hoping to break that record this year. It’s not the kind of writing nine year old me would have imagined, but I’ve really come to love it - although I think I’ve exhausted the variety of ways I can say ‘it rained’. I’ve also (tentatively) started letting text have a more interesting role in my personal creative practices; hence the red girls and there is rarely silence while walking.

All of this has lead me to being braver with my applications and ideas, and so over maybe the past month I’ve had my words and work published in places!


1. In The Frame: Fractured Landscapes

In each issue of Totally Dublin magazine there is In The Frame, a full page given over to printing a single image/piece, accompanied by some text explaining the project. This month I got to share one of the images from my Fractured Landscapes series. At the time of publication, this image was hanging in HALFTONE print fair.

In the Frame: Fractured Landscapes in Totally Dublin is now available online.


2. Intrepid Magazine - Issue 6

Intrepid magazine is a pretty cool thing in my eyes. They are the only female-first print and online adventure magazine that I know of, and so I pitched them an article where I talk about The Highs and Lows of Hiking - not the most inspired article title, but it’s basically me looking at the different things that affect my motivation while we’ve been working on Tough Soles. In it, I imagine “the elephant in the room” as three actual elephants that lumber along the hillside behind me as I hike.

Note: If I’m perfectly honest, I haven’t re-read my article since it’s been published, as I’m afraid I won’t like it.


3. Del Norte:
self published photobook

This book isn’t exactly new - in fact, I first started making this in 2016. However, when I found out in October that I’d been accepted onto my masters programme I decided to run a little online sale, and included my Del Norte books. Being the first photobook I’d ever tried to make, it’s not the surprising to me that there are many things I would change about it. And, happily enough, there was one thing I decided I could change: text.

When I published this I first didn’t have any text, but when I exhibited some of the prints back in 2016, I printed off diary extracts and stuck them to the walls. Since then I’ve wondered how I could incorporate the text into the book. I ended up making a couple of different versions - in one copy I stuck the text in on tracing paper between or onto the pages. It almost worked, but wasn’t quite right.

Some of my books were wrapped in large sheets with stamps, so then I included a plain leaflet inside the wrapping. There were a couple of other variations, and the design I’ve stuck with for now is the one shown in the photograph - the text in a little booklet, the cover of which is tracing paper with some of the stamps I collected while walking printed on it. Also mentioned in the image above is the fact that the book is for sale in The Library Project in Temple Bar! Thank you so much to everyone who has bought a copy from me, or from TLP.

The last piece that will be coming out before the new year is a short Tough Soles update in the winter edition of Mountaineering Ireland’s The Mountain Log.

Also, thank you for all the book recommendations. I have 50 books on my To Do list, and probably 100 more that are saved in notes apps or scribbled on mislaid pieces of paper. Reading hasn’t been fast these two months, but I think by the time this is published I should have finished: Photography and Ireland by Justin Carville; Doing Visual Ethnography by Sarah Pink; and The Fifth Season by N. K. Jemisin.

At the moment I’m having fun taking part in one of those social media sharing posts “post 7 book covers for 7 days with no titles or descriptions”. To be honest, most of the books I’m reading have all the information on the cover, so it’s not all that secretive or mysterious.

Seeing as this post has turned into just discussing writing; my dad wrote a book - The Dangerous Book for CEOs! It’s just words central right now.

Also, I’m officially 6 weeks into my masters programme, and a lot of things have happened in that time. I think I’ll leave this blog post just to writing for now, and do more recapping in maybe the next post. I do want to mention that Carl and I did some amazing training with Leave No Trace Ireland, and I’m very excited to write my piece discussing it (that piece will probably come out on the Tough Soles blog).

Finally, I wonder would nine year old me be disappointed or relieved to know how bad I still am at spelling.

Space, Place and Obligation by ellie berry

botanic gardens.jpeg


I’m standing at the spire, waiting for Walking in the Eire to finish her incredible 6 month trip walking the coastline of Ireland. It’s a part of Dublin I never visit - it’s reserved for tourists, no “Dubliner” would put themselves through this stressful street (not that I’m sure I can claim that title). Over to my left there’s a guy literally standing on his soap box, preaching to his un-co-operating congregation that Jesus Christ can forgive them, and they can find their immortal life. Even with his small speaker hanging from his elbow I don’t think many people can hear him. There are hundreds of buses, thousands of conversations, and one busker playing drums pretty well but also pretty loudly, and it echoes up and down this wide thoroughfare.

But it’s not as uncomfortable a place as I was expecting - since coming back to the city I’ve had the opposite experience of most outdoor people I know, and find the mass movement of strangers so energetic and energising. I’m still wrecked at the end of a day, it’s still over whelming, but I think the city gives me as much life as I find in the outdoors.

There’s no immediate sign of the inspiring walker I’m here to congratulate so I start jotting notes for a blog post I’ve been meaning to write for weeks. I know how loose time is when you spend all your days walking. I pick a pole wrapped in bamboo and lean against it. I watch old friends collide in screeching hugs, and first dates ask each other what food they like. There are just so many people. I look around me and wonder who is here for what.

There’s a lull in traffic, and my preacher friend across the road can be heard shouting for us all to trust in our Jewish saviour. Saviour seems to be his favourite word. Then the drummer strikes up a powerful tempo, and a swarm of teenage students pour across the road.

So far I can confirm that standing is harder than walking, but I’m enjoying getting the time to write. I’ve been meaning to write something for my own website since I got sick a month ago. When you’re sick and can’t do anything it’s easy to build to do lists of things that don’t involve going places, but still involve more mental energy than you actually possess. But I’m back on feet, so here we are. Time to do a big general update.



A quick summary of my life this year would be - I walked 1,446km this summer, and then took a short break which resulted in my immune system crashing. In my anti biotic stupor of the past month I; moved back to Dublin, attended a conference, built IKEA furniture, took part in a feminist internet workshop, got lost learning my new corner of the city, more artist takes, and finally, I was accepted to do a Research Masters in IADT Dun Laoghaire!

So lets start from the beginning of this month.

I moved back to Dublin after my immune system crashed and I had to go through a whole series of antibiotics. There are lots of strange things that happen to you when you drastically change life style and living places, so I think I might just say I’m still acclimatising and leave it at that.

The conference I attended has actually inspired the name/grouping of this post. The title of the event was Space, Place, Obligation (An interdisciplinary inquiry into creative practice in contemporary Ireland). Organised by Niamh Campbell in Maynooth university, it was an intense day of artists sharing their artistic practice in relation to the title topics, while also discussing themes of home and sense of belonging. It was still probably too early in my antibiotic days to be attending such a full on event - I hadn’t yet bought a bed so I was camping in my room. My printer stopped working when I tried to print the conference notes off, my shoes cut my heels to pieces running for the bus, and at the event my hands took every opportunity to spill coffee on my notes, shoes, clothes, and hands.
But it was a really great event - thank you to Moran for inviting me to attend it with her. Ideas I had while walking all bubbled up, demanding attention after the event.

People always say that living in a tent with someone must be the ultimate test for a relationship. I disagree - building IKEA furniture for 7hrs together will always be the real exam. We now have a bed on stilts.

I am starting a Masters by Research! It’s two years looking at walking, photography, and the cultural landscape of Ireland. Induction is in two weeks, and I am both incredibly excited, nervous and relieved to have been accepted. To be perfectly honest, I’m still not entirely sure how I’m going to afford the fees, so in the next few days I might have a print/book sale.



It feels a little weird to admit this, but this seems like a good section of this post to write about it. For possibly the past 3 years I’ve kept myself purposefully ignorant of a photographers work. There wasn’t anything malicious in my avoidance, it was purely a naive selfish fear.

I started incorporating walking into my practice while on Erasmus in third year of college. Then during the summer I walked the camino. Arriving back in Dublin to finish my degree, I showed my friends what I’d been working on while I was away. And there was one thing everyone told me: while I was away a photographer had been in to talk about his new work on walking and photography. He’d also made work in Spain. So I looked him up, saw two of his images and immediately stopped. I thought that if I looked at his work before really looking at my own I wouldn’t be able to see mine without seeing his - and I was afraid that if I compared us, I would think his work was far better. Such a scared artist I was. And so I have avoided this other Irish photographer who also works with walking and the landscape for almost 3 years. Now, it’s not like I’d see his book in a shop and frantically jump behind the nearest postcard stand. But I never engaged with his work. Until this conference.

I was sitting on the floor, staring in frustrated disbelief at the pages my printer was spitting out at me. How can it print something without black ink? Why does it have to do this now?! It’s the night before a conference, and my whole body is still fighting me with flus and infections. I haven’t yet really read the conference pack, and because staring at a screen had been hurting my eyes I thought that printing off the sheets would help me. But instead blank pages were being gently washed up against my sock. I sigh as I cancel the print project on my laptop. However, before the new command gets through to the tiny printer brain, the images at the end of the document are being painted onto my the cheap tesco paper, and they look so psychedelic without black ink that I don’t know what’s happening. I smile at the mess, and go to my inflatable bed, falling asleep reading the notes on my phone.

And so at the conference the next day I had the very surreal experience of listening to someone introduce and discuss their walking work that I had selfishly avoided. They went right from that first project 3 years ago, to now. It was a really amazing experience, and I’m glad it was such a surprise to me. I got to see all the similarities and differences in how, what and why we create. I think 3 years ago I would have seen the differences in our work as pit falls in mine, but seeing the development of their practice, and how things changed or didn’t change through each project reminded me how fluid and ever-changing everyones work is, and how impossible it would be for our work to be the same. The fact that I am genuinely excited and like my own work and creative process right now probably helps.

And so here we are.

Most of my writing this year has been for a personal journal or for the tough soles blog. It’s a little odd to remember what and how I usually write on my own site - going back and reading my old posts would be too easy. I’m hoping to use this space as a online visual research journal going forward.

In this post I’ve only talked about a handful of things I want to talk about, so just so future me doesn’t forget:

  • I went to the Sugar Club and heard artists talk about their practice/how they’ve come to be successful. The one that really stuck with me was by Craig Oldham. I think he managed to give a talk about himself and his practice without it just being a slideshow of his life. He was the most eloquent in sharing how and what he learnt from mistakes, and how different choices affected him.

  • The Feminist Internet and Mariam Kauser of Wrk Wrk Wrk collective hosted a workshop in Rua Red as part of the Glitch digital arts festival. I’d like to learn how to think of questions during an event as opposed to just absorbing and then processing at home. The workshop group itself was very small, and so lead to interesting discussions as opposed to working on the exact tasks, which I think I benefitted from more.

  • The Arts Management Ireland site is a wonderful resource and I wish I’d known about it sooner.

  • The botanic gardens are always a good place to go to.

The red girls by ellie berry


This land felt cold, and never ending. It was worked for a purpose, and this was built just for passing. It was fen and fey and wild. It was wet. 

I heard the story of the red girls the second evening of the walk; they lived out here in the bog. We would pass their stretch of land soon, and we'd know we were there when the canal rose up above the wetlands,  showing the dismal greys and rich deep browns of the ground swallowing the horizons.
They had all lived together, these red girls, out in this empty place. They were called so for their burning bright hair. I was told they used to do their washing in the waterway, or just walk here, waiting for passers. The made others' journeys pass quicker, with wit and charm and chat as they wandered the banks. 

As we walked these long, open sections in a constant rain I thought of them, in such a monotonous and lonely place. My clothes were slowly being soaked through, drops rolling down the sides of my hood, falling off the ends of my sleeves. Yet after a while my lips dried out. The air tasted of damp acid. I thought of the red girls, and I daydreamed of leaving this banal place, of colour, of dance, of dried lips, and then of lipstick. I imagined colouring in this unchanged landscape, mixing it's textures and masking them with others. 




90 days later - the connection project by ellie berry


This number game started a few months ago.

I'd moved back to Dublin after fracturing my foot while walking 4,000km around Ireland, and was delaying finding another part time job as, well I couldn't really walk for starters, but I also kind of just wanted to "try being an artist" for a while. With almost no money, and limited mobility I was struggling to leave my room and feel creative. Any creative sparks I did encounter I would quickly blow out in my hasty rush to catch them, my flailing, snatching hands overwhelming these fleeting moments and ultimately extinguishing them. 
The walking project wasn't finished, and after many physio sessions we set a date to return to life on the road. I made a wall calendar to count down the days, and counted them out.

90 days. 
Such a satisfying round number. What could I try to do for 90 days? 

The year before I'd put out an open call for people to send me words, the theory being that I would send them an image in return. Final year college plans changed, and I just put this project in a folder on a hard drive and mostly forgot about it (it's only purpose to make me feel guilty every so often for never getting back to it). 

If I just started making images and posting them somewhere, no one else would know what I was working toward, or was possibly going to happen in 90 days. I went through the images that I'd started making for the project in the beginning and picked out the ones I liked. It was enough to give me some time to shoot some more images - I'd decided to shoot film, just because I enjoyed it. 
The "somewhere" to post was also pretty easy for me to decide;  I'd created a second instagram account for my "Photography", so that I could use my regular one for just posting videos of me messing around in the climbing gym. In reality I'd just ended up with two out of sync accounts, so decided I might as well put one of them to use! 

I received 40-odd words for original project so I knew that I'd be posting a mix of old, new, related and random. I found it really enjoyable to slowly wade through old hard drives and find stuff I'd shot previously while at the same time make new photographs - I got to see some developments/shifts. In the end it took me over the 90 days to publish all the photos, but they're now all out there on that instagram account, if you're interested in the full 90.
One of the only struggles I had with this project was remembering that this was just to be fun, and not to worry about there being any deeper meaning. I am allowed to create work for fun, and when I do it gives me the breather to look at bigger topics with fresh eyes. But now I'm meandering, so let's get to a point. 

Below are the 40+ images that were responses to words sent to me. This small project is called Connection. 




"You send me a word, and I send you a photograph"

This project originally started two years ago when I put out a request for people to send me words, and in return I would send them an image. The project had to be put aside for a while, and I never managed to get back to it. 
I then recently had an unexpected few months living in Dublin, and I looked for a playful way to reengage with photography. Finding the old list of words, I went wandering. 





Chapter 1: The Poetics | Representation and National Geographic by ellie berry

This is the second part in a series of mini essays - here's the introduction

I: The National Geographic Society

The National Geographic Society is chartered in Washington D.C. as a non-profit scientific and educational organization “for the increase and diffusion of geographic knowledge.” Since 1888 the Society has supported more than 9,000 explorations and research projects, adding to the knowledge of the earth, sea and sky.[1]

For many people issues of The National Geographic Society magazine were shown to them as a child, the bright vibrant colours alluring. It was, and still is, marketed as a scientific journal – words which in English carry the ideas of “truth” and “fact”. The articles and the images of far-flung places contained within its pages are continually absorbed by millions of people every year, and have helped form views of the world today.[2]

The quote above can be found as a standard introduction paragraph in a vast majority of National Geographic’s physical publications since the turn of the century. Founded in 1888 as a scientific journal, The National Geographic Society was not an illustrated publication until 1905. Set up as a scientific institution, the Society is a private body that relies on sales to continue running as a company. There are plenty of theories as to why National Geographic became successful, with most claiming it to be a combination of the following ideas. Firstly, the end of the nineteenth century saw the start of mass journalism in the form of monthly magazines (which would not have been possible before the completion of America’s intercontinental railway system in the 1860s) and the start of advertising within said magazines. Secondly, the Spanish-American War in 1898 caused American citizens to become more interested in foreign lands and America’s colonial expansion.[3] Skip forward to 1905 and a ‘revolutionary’ editor goes against the managing board and publishes eleven full-page images of Tibet, increasing membership to the magazine by over 7,500 in that year alone.[4]

Whether such claims are true or not make little difference because it reads as an exciting success story. The company’s mission statement proclaims to be an “organisation driven by a passionate belief in the power of science, exploration and storytelling to change the world.” National Geographic presents itself to the world as a storyteller. The articles and photographic content the magazine began to produce at the beginning of the twentieth century were designed to be consumed as small samples of the places and ideas they represented.[5] It was the idea that these small representations have considerable power to create a specific worldview when viewed as a whole that intrigued me to begin researching this thesis topic.

II: Ideas of Representation


Stuart Hall is a writer who has worked extensively with the idea of representation. The quote below is taken from his book Representation: Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices,[6] outlining the power that representation has on the everyday.

In part, we give things meanings by how we represent them – the words we use about them, the stories we tell about them, the images of them we produce, the emotions we associate with them, the ways we classify and conceptualize them, the values we place upon them.[7]

Human communication through language reaches far further than the words we speak. Our language encompasses music and objects, images and emotions, body language and written word - all of which allow us to share our opinions, ideas and feelings.

There are two prominent forms of representational analysis for photographic work: the poetic (semiotics), and the political (the discursive – the effects and consequences of representation). Semiotics is a form of communication; it is a study of sign processes and cultural codes. As Stuart Hall writes “It is we who fix the meaning so firmly that, after a while, it comes to seem natural and inevitable. The meaning is constructed by the system of representation”.[9]

This quote is an example of how through the repetition of a specific notion of representation, the representation becomes an accepted truth or assumed reality without further proof. And these meanings we affix are produced in a set way. To develop this train of thought, we must discuss representation on a fundamental level. To do this, we turn to Ferdinand de Saussure, the Swiss linguist who is known as a father to modern day linguistics. His ideas about representation and language also helped construct semiotics.

In interpretations of Saussure’s work, it is said he believed that the production of meaning depends on language; if things such as words and photographs are used to communicate ideas, they are part of a protocol. His theory centered on a sign (the protocol) being two parts. There is the signifier (word, photograph, etc.) and the signified (the thought of the object, person, etc. that then pops into your head). These parts of the sign are not separate, but create one idea. According to Saussure, this sign or idea doesn’t exist if it doesn’t have an opposite (or binary). As with traffic lights, the red you see does not hold the idea of stop; it is applied to it through its inclusion in the sequence. It would also hold no meaning without it’s opposite colour, green to ‘tell’ you to go. Of course this categorizing of things into simple opposites and binaries completely ignores the fact that there can be finer details than black and white. But it was this work that lead to Saussure’s “proposition that a language consists of signifiers, but in order to produce meaning, the signifiers have to be organized into ‘a system of differences’”.[10]

Looking again to Hall’s Representation, it discusses a specific example of the power of language in the 1960’s. [11] Discussing how an advertising phrase changed representations of black people during that time period, Hall argues that simply because of a popular slogan, ‘Black is Beautiful’, the signification of the word ‘black’ changed. While the word (signifier) black remained the same, social connotations changed around the word. This clearly presents how signifier and signified are not independently affixed meanings, but come from a hierarchy of social conventions specific to places, cultures, and historical moments. Meaning is not freestanding, but comes from the society.

Roland Barthes took Saussure’s theories a step further. As each sign develops in a culture, with its signifier and signified, this sign becomes the signifier for the next iteration or a deeper cultural reference. In the constant building of signs and meaning, each sign is returned to the beginning and the meanings continue to deepen and evolve. See (fig. 1) below.   

( fig.  1.1)  Roland Barthes, ‘Introduction to Semiology.’

(fig. 1.1)  Roland Barthes, ‘Introduction to Semiology.’

This meta-data that structures culture, and forms what societies are built on, is the structure through which people witness themselves, and recreate themselves for consumption. In Orientalism by Edward W. Said, he foregrounds his work by discussing how this constant evolution of signified becoming signifiers of further representation have lead to todays representation of the Orient.[12] 

The idea of recreating for further consumption and representations developing naturally within culture is reiterated in Peter Osborne’s Travelling Light[13], where he discusses Dean McCannell in reference to tourism in the modern age. The creation of tourism imagery allows us to constantly review our existence. Osborne discusses the roles that tourism fills: its offer of ‘escape’ from the disassociation and pressures of modernity. The same can be said of the role of the National Geographic photographer. As specified earlier, National Geographic include in their ethos: “We believe in the power of science, exploration, education and storytelling to change the world.”[14] It is such sentences where similarities between National Geographic and Osborne’s writings of photography’s flirtation with representation are drawn. Both pieces reiterate this blurred line of fact and fiction. On one side, touristic imagery is an enabler for fantastical daydreams, while holding onto visual realism.[15] Be it their own imagery or photos taken for brochures, tourists see these images as both proof of events and circumstances, while accepting that the situations depicted in this imagery are constructed ideals, fabrications. Taking a quote from Jonathan Culler:

The tourists are fanning out in search of
Frenchness, typical Italian behavior,
exemplary Oriental scenes, typical American
thruways, traditional English pubs.[16]

There is this concept of searching for the perfect touristic image, and an act of detachment with this process. Between you and what you are witnessing there is the camera, a machine built to put order on what one sees.[17] What Culler is observing is the tourist or traveller’s search for ‘authenticity’. If they can capture the assumed culture of the area, on their return they will be hailed as having experienced the ‘real’ place.

In an earlier section of the book, Osborne referred to Zygmunt Bauman describing the tourist as a modern day pilgrim. The word pilgrim invokes the idea of people travelling to a place in search of a special power, and that by reaching this place the pilgrim is given a new identity. As a tourist, it can be read that travelling for the touristic image, the pilgrimage to key sites, are all towards the formation of identity. However, while constructing this identity relies on the tourists immersing themselves in a new element or experiencing something different, the tourist is still disconnected from the activity. Whatever is being partaken in must be ‘wash-off-able’ – something that they can leave at the end of their time off and return to life as they left it. The imagery in National Geographic is styled to offer such escapes, with the text also following a storyline that arches through a beginning, middle, and end, so that the reader may leave with a whole and resolved experience while never leaving the comforts of their own home. To give these theories a context, I am looking at the print edition of National Geographic Magazine from February 2009, specifically at the piece made around the cover image, “What Darwin Didn’t Know”. Split into two articles, the first broadly looks at Darwin and how he came about his theory of natural selection.

The piece starts with four double page spreads, each spread depicting four contrasting landscapes; a green rainforest, a frozen bay with snowy mountains, sheer sea cliffs with birds, and tortoises bathing in misty murky brown hot springs.  Each image is accompanied by a quote from Darwin’s journal, which became the travel book The Voyage of the Beagle.

The article accompanying the imagery is written in a familiar manner, with a clear progression. It opens informing us that the story we know of Darwin and his discovery is more myth than fact. Written in a tone that suggests personal insight and connection to him, the piece goes on to describe Darwin as somewhat an underdog in his field, someone with “intense curiosity … talent for close observation, and … instinctive sense that everything in the natural world is somehow connected with everything else.”[18] This portrayal of Darwin sells him as someone anyone could imagine himself or herself being. The story highlights escaping the boring life of a small town, living for fun and adventure, while skimming over any serious details of his work. When interpreted as such, the text works as a reiteration of The Society’s ethos.

After the opening large landscape shots to the article, the subsequent five pieces of imagery are illustrations of maps and bones. They are all tinted yellow, giving the impression of being aged and ‘otherworldly’. The final imagery is contained in a timeline of how evolution as a theory developed in science. Throughout the article, there is always at least one image per double page spread.

( fig.  1.2) Sourced without text overlay. Text located bottom right corner. Text overlay:  The Atlantic Forest, Carlos Botelho State Park, Brazil “The day has passed delightfully. Delight itself, however, is a weak term to express the feelings of a naturalist who, for the first time, has wandered by himself in a Brazilian forest.”               - The Voyage of the Beagle , February 29, 1832

(fig. 1.2) Sourced without text overlay.
Text located bottom right corner. Text overlay:

The Atlantic Forest, Carlos Botelho State Park, Brazil
“The day has passed delightfully. Delight itself, however, is a weak term to express the feelings of a naturalist who, for the first time, has wandered by himself in a Brazilian forest.”

            - The Voyage of the Beagle, February 29, 1832

( fig.  1.3) Above. Sourced without text overlay. Text located on the black mountain on the right hand side of the image. Text overlay:  Pia Bay, Tierra Del Fuego, Chile “It is scarcely possible to imagine anything more beautiful than the beryl-like blue of these glaciers, and especially as contrasted with the dead white of the upper expanse of snow.  - January 29, 1833

(fig. 1.3) Above. Sourced without text overlay.
Text located on the black mountain on the right hand side of the image. Text overlay:

Pia Bay, Tierra Del Fuego, Chile
“It is scarcely possible to imagine anything more beautiful than the beryl-like blue of these glaciers, and especially as contrasted with the dead white of the upper expanse of snow.

- January 29, 1833

The landscapes at the beginning of the article are all bright in their respective colours. Each image is framed to lead the viewer into the image, with the clear connotation to further exploration, be it the overgrown path in the forest image (see fig. 1.2), or the mountains funneling the reader’s view towards a beach hidden from sight (fig. 1.3). Each picture is also paired with a suitable quote from Darwin’s journal. Through a combination of the vernacular writing, picturesque imagery, and deteriorating illustrations, the piece gives the impression that little to no time has passed since his exploration of the area (or that there has at least been no further development of the landscape).

Here is where concepts of space and place develop. Yi-Fu Tuan introduces this idea clearly in his piece Space and Place: Humanistic Perspective[19], beginning by observing that place has more substance than is commonly recognised. Place embodies meaning and history; it ‘incarnates the experiences and aspirations of a people’[20]. Once acknowledging the substance that ‘place’ holds, its relation to time also shifts. When Western society contemplates distance, tied to the thoughts ‘near’ and ‘far’ are also the words ‘here’ or ‘there’. A distant place (such as a non-Western country) ‘can suggest the idea of a distant past: when explorers seek the source of the Nile … they appear to be moving back in time.’[21] These images of South America give the impression that with the distance between the viewer and the location there is also a transition backwards in time.

The imagery of this article combined with its relaxed text sells the notion that such a journey is possible for almost anyone, and that these places of the distant past are waiting to be viewed. As considered by Osborne, the sight becomes two things for the viewer: a broadcaster of certain meanings and views, and then becoming a magnet for people who wish to immerse themselves in these ideas in physical form.[22]

This theory connects with Said’s discussion of it being our ‘job’ as westerners to go and observe these places – the reason of the place existing is for it to be seen, or alternatively, these places only exist because of our knowledge of them. Said in Orientalism opens his examination of the topic by studying a speech made by Arthur James Balfour in the House of Commons June 13, 1910, titled “the problems with which we have to deal in Egypt.”
To have such knowledge of a thing is to dominate it, to have authority over it. And authority here means for “us” to deny autonomy to “it” – the Oriental country – since we know it and it exists, in a sense, as we know it. British knowledge of Egypt is Egypt for Balfour, and the burdens of knowledge make such questions of inferiority and superiority seem petty ones.[23]

The ‘non-West’ only exists because of the West’s observation of it, and there is no deeper knowledge than what ‘we’ the westerners possess. The ‘West’ and ‘non-West’ are not inherent facts of nature. They are not simply there. They have been constructed. Said refers to the thought that men make their own history, and applies it to geography, and says that ‘both geographical and cultural entities  … such locales, regions, geographical sectors as “Orient” and “Occident” are man-made.’[24] He furthers the debate by saying that both representations of ‘West’ and ‘non-West’ are ideas that have developed a history, and therefore their own specific stylized imagery and set of assumed ideals, ending with the ‘two geographical entities thus support and to an extent reflect each other.’[25] This reflection can be seen as a direct link to Saussure’s work, where one side cannot have a meaning without there being an opposite to compare it to.


In the following Chapter our discussion moves to two major topics; the digital medium as a way of disseminating photographic content, and content analysis.


[1] The National Geographic Society Magazine.

[2] Currently, National Geographic states that, “National Geographic reaches more than 700 million people a month through its media platforms, products, events and experiences” on their About page.

Geographic, National. About the national geographic society. National Geographic Society Press Room.[www document]


(Date Visited: 27 Jan. 2016) (Date Last Updated: 4 May 2012).

[3] Lutz, Catherine A., and Jane L. Collins. Reading National Geographic. 1st ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993. Print. p. 16.

[4] Ibid. p. 27.

[5] During the nineteenth and early twentieth century, George Stocking writes that the Society sold the classical evolutionary idea, where rationality was at battle with instincts, and ‘primitive’ cultures were merely developing to the standards of western nations. It reinforced the mantra of looking at “how far we’ve come”, and reinforced the inequalities towards the ‘others’, be it gender, class or race.

Ibid. p. 19.

[6] Cit. Op. Hall.

[7] Ibid. p. 3.

[9] Op. Cit. Hall

[10] Ibid. p. 32.

[11] Ibid. p. 32

[12] Said, Edward W. Orientalism: Western Conceptions of the Orient. London: Penguin Classics, 28 Aug. 2003. Print.

[13] Osborne, Peter D. Travelling Light: Photography, Travel and Visual Culture (The Critical Image). 1st ed. New York: Manchester University Press, 10 June 2000, p. 75

[14] National Geographic, http://www.nationalgeographic.com/annual-report-2014/, 29.10.15

[15] Op. Cit. Osborne, p. 77

[16] Culler, Jonathan. Framing the Sign: Criticism and its Institutions. Oklahoma City: Oklahoma University Press, 1989.

[17]Again looking to Osborne’s text (cit. op. Osborne p. 82), this time with him referencing Davydd J. Greenwood in Culture by the Pound: An Anthropological Perspective on Tourism and Cultural Commodification:

“We look on or look in through the distancing arrangements of the camera or through eyes educated to see with the same ontological remoteness. The world of the tourist is ‘over there’, in the past-present, in the exotic-ordinary.”

[18] Quammen, David. “Darwin’s First Clues.” National Geographic Feb. 2009: 36 – 55. Print

[19] Tuan, Yi-Fu. “Space and Place: Humanistic Perspective.” Philosophy in Geography (n.d.): 387 – 427. Print.

[20] Ibid. p. 38.

[21] Ibid. p. 390

[22] Cit. op. Osborne, p. 84

[23] Cit. Op. Said. p. 32.

[24] Ibid. p. 5.

[25] Ibid. p. 5.

The introduction: looking at representation in National Geographic's Instagram by ellie berry

Two years ago I wrote a thesis for my BA in Photography titled:

The Poetics and the Politics of Imagery:
National Geographic's representation of place through Instagram. 

Why I chose to write this thesis is largely to do with what motivated me to start photography in the first place; the awe-inducing, colour rich imagery that filled the pages of the monthly magazines my family collected from National Geographic. As a child these photographs were pure escapism - and made me want to create similar work of far off places, abseiling down into million year old caves to capture their hidden beauty. And it was more than just that; I wanted to create pieces that filled others with that same amazement. It was only when I started college, learnt about the coding and implied meanings that are infused within all of photography that I started to look back at those glossy pages with a heavier heart. 

My abstract read as follows:
The gaze of western photography has shifted; while imagery is still produced to refer to the ‘otherness’ of the people from a non-Western society, is no longer the reason the audience consumes the photograph. Exploration and travel photography has now become almost exclusively about the explorer, about the westerner building their identity, and the surrounding country and culture become nothing more than a backdrop.

In this thesis I examine the change in representation of space and place in imagery published online. To do so I analyse the impact of social media on the genre of exploration and travel photography, specifically studying the imagery distributed on National Geographic’s primary Instagram account. I discuss how ‘representation’ develops cultural meaning using the work of Stuart Hall and Edward Said, and reviewing how digital media has evolved. I then conduct a content analysis of a sample of the @NatGeo Instagram account. I draw upon Jane Collins and Catherine Lutz’s previous content analysis of the print editions of National Geographic from 1950 - 1986. Expanding some of the results of the content analysis, I finish my analysis by looking at how the ‘West’ uses images of the ‘non-West’ to construct identity.

While there isn't much of a poetic flow to what I've written above, it does dive right into what I'm going to be talking about. Over the coming weeks I'm going to release each chapter of my thesis as a blog post, (but working on the language to make it a bit more palatable to everyday reading).

My decision to share this now, two years later, comes after reading an article by Susan Goldberg, National Geographic's current Editor in Chief. The piece is part of next months publication - The Race Issue, a special issue of National Geographic that looking at race. I couldn't not click on the headline: "For Decades, Our Coverage Was Racist. To Rise Above Our Past, We Must Acknowledge It."   



“Viewers tend to look through photographs rather than at them.”[1]

In his book Photography and Exploration, James R. Ryan discusses the imagery made around the topic of expeditions and exploration.[2] In the opening chapter he questions how the ‘quest for the unknown’ has created the expansive genre that exploration photography is today - and to answer this, Ryan discusses a series of smaller questions: regarding the relationship between photography and exploration; how and why were photographs of exploration made, distributed and displayed; and has photography impacted how explorers observe the world?[3]

Photography was developed during a time of western colonial expansion. Seen as a science, photography became the key element in whether an expedition had credibility, and gave the explorer higher status on returning home.[4] Giving people the ability to see places that existed thousands of miles away, from the comfort of their own house, was revolutionary. When the viewer looked at a photograph, they were seeing the object depicted as a fact, as opposed to regarding the image as merely a representation. Exploration photography was created with the aim to show the ‘truth’ and document. One on hand, an image can be referred to as an objective record; it reproduces what is put in front of the lens. However, it is also an affective image; the ability to crop certain things out, or to have a specific focus, results in the photographer being able to construct specific views of places. The technical and mechanical process that was involved with photography masked the fact that the person operating the machine held a power over how a space or person was represented, and resulted in its initial audience being woo-ed by it's perfect capture of life, and therefor factual accuracy. 

Beyond that, expeditions also needed funding. If the imagery from expeditions was boring and did not engage with the public, evoking some sort of emotional response, then sponsorship for further research would die out.[5] What Ryan sheds light on is how necessary the promotion and selling of an expedition was. After an expedition the explorers would give talks, and reproductions of the images from the trip would be made and disseminated in as many mediums as possible. The explorers who became famous from either commercial or state sponsorship championed the marrying of exploration and photography. Their work promoted a language of positivist science – a language and ideals where ‘objective observation could conquer the unknown.’[6]

For an example of the power that imagery possesses, you only have to look to the photos from Robert Falcon Scott’s expedition race to the South Pole in 1911.

(fig 0.1). Henry Bowers, Oates, Bowers, Scott, Wilson, and Evans at the South Pole, 18 January 1912, halftone photograph reproduced in the Daily Mirror (21 May 1913) with the caption ‘Triumph Before Death: The Five Heroes at the South Pole’.

Scott’s team made it to the South Pole but lost the race, with the group dying on their trip home. However, because they and their belongings were recovered some eight months later, the photographs of their trip were returned to England. The photographer from the trip, Henry Bowers, was a skilled technician, and portrayed the men he was travelling with as brave and noble, while still appearing human. Once published, these images turned the team into heroic figures.[7] The photographs were widely published through newspapers, books and lectures, and their images are the main photographic work associated with the first expeditions to the South Pole. The propagation of exploration photography has only grown from here. What Ryan does not state specifically is how travel and exploration became part of the photographic discourse before photography was understood to be part of the travel discourse, never mind before it was accepted as a practicable medium for recording.[8] Therefore, it is unsurprising that photography developed with the assumption that it was a device of recording truthful and exact representations of places.

(fig 0.2). Herbert Pointing, ‘Capt. Scott in his den’, 7 October 1911, gelatin silver print.


This thesis analyses exploration and documentary photography’s portrayal of different landscapes and peoples; how the explorer and the native are portrayed in photography; and how the digital medium has impacted the landscape, the people, and the viewer.

The next section to be published will be, Chapter one, whic opens with the history and ethos of The National Geographic Society. I then discuss representation, referencing “The Work of Representation” by Stuart Hall.[9] I use Hall’s text to create a foundation of what ‘representation’ means, the analysis progressing to Roland Barthes’ work on representation and semiotics. The discussion ends with a short reference to Edward Said’s book Orientalism. Here Saussure’s theory of representation is linked to how the ‘West’ and ‘non-West’ perceive themselves because of the other’s existence.
Ideas of how space and place affect people’s perception of time are then analysed, looking at images published by National Geographic. The article discussed depicts areas of South America with the assumption that they are imagery is faithful to Charles Darwin’s experience of that landscape during the 1800s. 

Chapter two will start with a review of how digital media has affected the production and propagation of images, then taking a specific look at the application Instagram as a platform, and continuing ideas of space, place and time, and how that is effected in the digital age. I then conduct a content analysis of National Geographic, drawing on the writings of Gillian Rose in Visual Methodologies, and that of Lutz and Collins in Reading National Geographic. The content analysis looks at trends in the image content of different areas of the planet. The results are examined and debated, with work by Edward W. Said and Joan Schwartz becoming more prevalent to the discussion.

In Chapter three I will take a closer look at images from National Geographic’s Instagram account and analysis why these images were chosen to be published. The dialogue then turns to look at other Instagram accounts who produce similar imagery as that found on National Geographic’s profile, but are ‘faked’ photographs or misrepresentations.

This series of post will then finish with the original conclusion of my thesis, as well as some of my thoughts on it now that time has passed and I can see it with some distance. 

If you want to stay up-to-date with this series as it's published, and my writing in general, you can now get it emailed straight to your inbox each week as soon as it's published.  


[1] Ryan, James R. Photography and Exploration. United Kingdom: Reaktion Books, July 2013. p. 16.

[2] He defines exploration as ‘the search for, and recording of, new knowledge of undiscovered places, people, nature and phenomena.’ Ibid. p. 8.

[3] “Postcolonial critiques of Western ideas and writing about non-Western lands and people have proved a catalyst for studies that trace the deep involvement of practices of exploration within both the practical and imaginative dimensions of western imperialism; far from ‘discovering’ truthful knowledge of places and peoples, European and American explorers often constructed an ‘other’ which Western fantasies of superiority and justifications of political domination could be projected.”

Ibid. p. 8 – 9.

[4] Ibid. p. 15.

[5] Ibid. p. 16, 23, 24.

[6] Cit. Op. Ryan p. 33.

[7] Ibid. p. 55.

[8] Schwartz, Joan M. “The Geography Lesson: Photographs and the Construction of Imaginative Geographies.” Journal of Historical Geography 22.1 (1996): 16 – 45. Print. p. 19.

[9] Hall, Stuart. “The Work of Representation.” Representation: Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices. Ed. Stuart Hall. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage in association with the Open University, 1997. 1 – 75. Print.

List of Illustrations

Figure 0.1: Bowers, Henry. ‘Oates, Bowers, Scott, Wilson, And Evans at the South Pole.’ Ryan, James R. Photography and Exploration. United Kingdom: Reaktion Books, July 2013. p. 55.

Figure 0.2: Pointing, Herbert. ‘Capt. Scott in his den.’ Ryan, James R. Photography and Exploration. United Kingdom: Reaktion Books, July 2013. p. 54.