Visual Documentation: Practice Makes Perfect?

Leah Gelb

While exploring the various methods of gathering qualitative and quantitative information for my thesis topic, it has become apparent that visual research through photography will most likely inform and compliment my written data. My thesis is mainly concerned with the visitor experience in art museums while utilizing digital interactives, and photography will illustrate the visitor observations throughout my evidence. Through examining the way that Steven Litt incorporates photographs (taken by Lisa Dejong) into his article, “The Cleveland Museum of Art’s Redesign emphasizes Cultural Diversity: CMA 2014,” published in the local online newspaper (Cleveland.com) on March 28 2014, one can easily note the way photography can compliment and illustrate a story.

This written piece discusses the redesign and reorganization recently completed by the Cleveland Museum of Art. The previous arrangement of the collection at the museum is similar to many other traditional large art museums, demonstrating some sort of narrative while maintaining an order based on place of origin and/or timeframe. The museum decided to break apart this order so as to rid the arrangement of any kind of hierarchy. The photographs that coincide with this article are of a professional and high quality caliber. They successfully illustrate the newly arranged galleries at the Museum, while highlighting the works from the collection. Additionally, the photographs demonstrate the wide range of culturally diverse works the museum houses, and allows for them to “speak for themselves” through use of focus and camera angles. The captions paired with each image fully describe each piece and their placement, further substantiating the text from the article. Some of the photographs include visitors interacting with the works and the gallery spaces, demonstrating how the spaces successfully engage their audience. 


In an effort to utilize my own photography to illustrate a process as a class exercise, it became apparent that my photography skills are lacking, and I am in desperate need of practice. I decided to photograph the experience of eating a soup called Hue Style Beef Noodle Soup at a Vietnamese restaurant in Philadelphia. Nam Phuong Restaurant is located in a Vietnamese shopping center on Washington Avenue. It boasts an extensive Vietnamese-style food menu, and is popular amongst many patrons, whether of Vietnamese descent or not. I wanted to incorporate the experience of being in the restaurant as well as eating and enjoying the cuisine.

The restaurant shows demonstrates a casual ambiance and ethnic décor. 

Despite a crowded and busy space, patrons are focused on their meal.
 

 

The cuisine is rich in flavor and ingredients. 
This soup, called Hue Style Beef Noodle
Soup is spicy and full of flavor. It is best
eaten with a spoon and chopsticks. Pairs
well with the house tea. 

While delicious, the soup can be difficult
to eat and the process requires concentration.

Slurping Required.
This form of documentary photography quickly demonstrates what little control I had over my composition. While I was attempting to consider framing, angle/perspective, and lighting, I quickly realized that there was little I could control in that atmosphere with my amateur photography experience. The lighting in the restaurant was bright and intense, yet it was difficult for me to crop the bright lights out of the photograph. The restaurant was busy, and my immediate subject was moving. While I think it important to include movement in a photograph encompassing the restaurant experience, perspective and angles were therefore difficult to control. Nevertheless, I now know the challenges I will face throughout the documentation of my thesis evidence, and that I must begin practicing this instant.