Reflection: Peer feedback on Contextual Studies

After completing my final assignment for Contextual Studies, my tutor Russell suggested that since the final draft is resolved and agreed with us both, it would be good to ask for peer feedback to some focused questions. The reasoning being that both Russell and I have a vested interest in the area of enquiry; East Asian art, and so our ongoing discussions have developed a fluid dialogue that didn’t require much background info. But other readers may not know the photographers I have written about and there is also a chance that the assessors also are not so familiar with Bae Bien-U, Lee Jungjin etc.

The purpose of specific questions was to create a focus point for the feedback rather than broader questioning on something my tutor has already deemed satisfactory. There is also a general problem in discussing CS, in that most writing is kept private, and unlike the learning log for BoW, offline. This was also discussed in the study group as it makes supporting peers and sharing feedback more limited, unless there is a private peer support network that has an established trust. In general this doesn't bother my studies as I have a constructive feedback network of my own to question and proofread my work. I have also used my learning log to research individual photographers for CS which then became useful for sharing with my tutor.

Having primarily asked for feedback through the module email group I received some input from the newly arranged monthly study group and later via email. The two main questions I wanted to get answers for were:

  1. Do you find the subject engaging (with a motivation to find out more)?

  2. Does the cross-referencing of Western photographers help the reader to relate to the context of the Korean photographer?

The feedback I received is listed below.

Andrew Fitzgibbon

“I personally don’t think Korea is excluded from the global. When I think of K-Pop, Kia motors, Samsung etc. the country is very active and leading globally. So I questioned that. If you are focused on a period of time and not the present then perhaps specify it more clearly. But I enjoyed reading and thought it was interesting.”

Anna Sellen

“I like your writing style. It is not too academic but to the point and flows. I think you picked up an interesting (and not overcrowded) area of study, found a unique angle on your subject and made some original conclusions - all of these things are pretty hard to achieve considering the limitations of our brief and the level of study. The cross-referencing was helpful as I could consider the comparative photographer or genre in Western photography history to stay orientated in a subject I did not know much about.”

David Fletcher

“Certainly I find the subject engaging, and it is refreshing to hear about so many photographers I was not familiar with, whereas studying western photography inevitably involves the same names coming up again and again. Comparisons with western styles and practitioners is certainly useful to a western reader for orientating themselves in an unfamiliar field. You have drawn some general parallels with the western move from photo-journalism and reportage to the gallery wall, as well as making comparisons between specific practitioners. Do you feel that the influence of western photographers on Korean ones is a historical one rather than a contemporary one? For example, you mention the f/64 group in relation to Kwon Boomoon’s work in the 1980s. I ask because Boomoon’s transition from documentary to art photography seems to have been happening around the same time as western photographers, as you yourself say. I can also see parallels in his work with that of Michael Kenna and Hiroshi Sugimoto.

One other thought. You conclude that the use of the the camera, a western invention, to represent indigenous Korean culture is 'already an example of cultural hybridity’. How ironic then , that the majority of cameras are now designed and built in Asia, including Samsung in Korea. Even Hasselblad has a Chinese majority shareholder.”

Sarah-Jane Field

“I found your essay interesting and informative. It is a really interesting subject in fact - S Korea does seem to be an example of a place where two major ideologies and historical grand narratives meet - plenty scope for analysis of Western global dominance and assumptions about supposed white European superiority - and how that plays out in a country like S Korea, how it affects national confidence. At the moment it feels like the essay is heavy on description. I know you've had tutor feedback so I suspect you're not planning any major shifts - but if I were you I'd look for some places to insert your own analysis. I might question the notion of 'purity' for instance.”

It certainly felt like a useful exercise and I definitely feel as though question one was answered by everyone. I found Anna and David most constructively followed-up on question two. I take on board Sarah-Jane’s input regarding description being the most prominent type of writing. I believe that this comes across due to both my writing style and the need to direct the Western reader through a narrative they most likely don’t know too much about. What I tend not to do in my writing style is lead my analysis, critique and persuasive elements with “I think” or I believe”. But I would also say that I think the persuasive element is present in that I am constantly reinforcing the belief that the global enhances culture (which is not universally accepted). I also critique some references, such as the one that believes Korea’s society was uniquely intellectual when the Song Dynasty predates this.

Regarding question two, I personally believe that the comparisons are thinking from a students point of view (and Western as David mentions) in that I am cross-referencing periods of Western photography history that many will have also studied, making the way-finding easier on the journey of the essay (for instance my previous module was Documentary 2 where amongst others Lewis Hine, Bill Brandt, Don McCullin and Provoke were discussed).