The End of the Snapshot

by New Idiom


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Former New Idiom editors Jordan Fischer and Alex Cheek have been keeping busy in their last semester at ID with an independent study project that focuses on their shared love of photography. The two wanted to do a project with photography after noticing that people’s pictures from user research weren’t so useful in giving them the results they sought. People were taking pictures in the “snapshot” aesthetic: not well thought through and which end up not expressing anything clearly.

Jordan was particularly inspired after being a TA last semester for John Grimes’ Introduction to Photography class, realizing the value of one line tidbits like “repetition with variation”. “It started growing out of that. What if there were a lot of tips for doing photography and incorporating it into your practice in a more useful way?” “We wanted to create a useful guide for people that use photography for design research” added Alex.

The two created a journey map of the design research process and interviewed experts in different parts of the process of each phase about how they use photography (e.g. talking to Robert Zolna of Gravity Tank about using photography to communicate design research findings).

They began pulling apart photographs and creating a more methodological way of taking pictures with a list that researchers could use in the field: First, take the “portrait” by using the camera to take a picture of what catches your eye. Then, “zoom in” on the interesting parts. Follow with a contextual shot by “zooming out”. A “photo story” tells little more context in time with different people and settings. Alex and Jordan are in the process of refining the list and see it being adaptable to the researcher’s needs.

The two had first thought to convey their ideas through a book, much like the one written last year by former ID students David McCaw and Zach Jean Paradis, but specific to photography. Chris Conley, the advisor for the project also suggested that they produce a series of bi-weekly video podcasts, an idea that was abandoned after they realized podcasts were not “the format that we were best at communicating in” because the insights couldn’t be delivered as discrete pieces of information.

The possibilities for the project are endless. Right now, they are thinking of teaching a workshop, prototyping cameras that would integrate some of the principles they have developed, and “we’re thinking if it gets an actual method- what it would be called.” Perhaps even in the near future ID students will be taking a class on photography methods from Alex Cheek and Jordan Fischer.