Experimenting with Visual Research

I flirted with the idea of visual research, but I’m not familiar with the process, and feared it would take me a long time to get to grips with it. These are some of the images that came to me while researching.

I didn’t think it aligned to the needs of my research but I’d like to find an excuse to do some visual research though, it’s fascinating.

Autoethnography as method

I’ve been considering using autoethnography as a minor method of investigating my research process, alongside the major method – interviews I’m conducting with the VR practitioners who are visiting practitioners on the collaborative project.

The autoethnography resource of my verbal recordings’ transcripts is reflective and personal, and could track my learning in relation to the research process.

The way I’ve been experimenting is to talk into my iPhone in Notes, and the signals are sent so quickly to Apple servers and back it’s truly astounding how good it it generally… – it makes the transcription text very stream of consciousness… I go back and check the quality of the translations and add punctuation – or sometimes I don’t. I like reading over it and seeing the unconstructed nature of it. Yet because I am recording knowing that I am using it in my project I think that acts as a self-imposed restriction on my own freedom of expression, self-censorship.

I’ve recorded not a huge sample but hopefully enough to help my way to my findings.

Méndez (2013) gives an overview of the history of the use of autoethnography:

“During the ‘crisis of representation’ period (the mid-1980s), autoethnography emerged due to “the calls to place greater emphasis on the ways in which the ethnographer interacts with the culture being researched” (Holt, 2003, p. 18). Thus, autoethnography allows researchers to draw on their own experiences to understand a particular phenomenon or culture.”

From my previous post:

Author of Autoethnography as Method Heewon Chang writes about inserting the personal into the academic, as a “research method that utilizes autobiographical data to analyze and interpret their cultural assumptions”. Critic Sue Butler reviewed Chang’s book and wrote:

To support her central assumption of self, the author draws on the principles of social constructionism proposed by Ken Gergen (1999/2000): What we take to be knowledge of world grows from relationship, and is embedded not within individual minds but within interpretive or communal traditions. In effect, there is a way in which constructionalist dialogues celebrate relationship as opposed to the individual, connection over isolation, and communion over antagonism.

(my emphasis) (Butler, 2009 p. 122)

There’s two strands of what arises in my notes – as above, interactions with the external world, ideas about VR, the sessions we have,  and my internal world where “raging imposter syndrome” lives. It was great to hear Professor Susan…. refer to it in our large group meeting last year, and to see it being referred to in filmmaking communities and gender discussions.

 “Autoethnography can range from research about personal experiences of a research process to parallel exploration of the researcher’s and the participants’ experiences and about the experience of the researcher while conducting a specific piece of research (Ellis and Bochner, 2000, Maso, 2001).”


Méndez, M. (2013) Autoethnography as a research method: Advantages, limitations and criticisms Colombian Applied Linguist. J. vol.15 no.2 Bogotá  Available at: http://www.scielo.org.co/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S0123-46412013000200010 (Accessed: 2 Mar 2019)

 The Audiopedia (2017) What is AUTOETHNOGRAPHY  Available at; https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC6ZQ-SuhvQAeQIR5tHJGGmQ (Accessed: 2 Mar 2019).
A Filmmaker’s Guide to Overcoming Fear and Anxiety (undated) Filmmaker Freedom podcast S 2 Ep3 Available at:
https://filmmakerfreedom.com/podcast/fear (Accessed: 1 Mar 2019).

Literature review

I have compiled lists of reference books for a bibliography, with a line or two describing the work, but not as a critical standalone piece of work. Indeed an online study guide from Leicester University site notes:  A critical review: It is important that your literature review is more than just a list of references with a short description of each one. and quotes “Merriam (1988:6) describes the literature review as:  ‘an interpretation and synthesis of published work’.

I’ve had a look around some online reading: Royal Literary Fund https://www.rlf.org.uk/resources/what-is-a-literature-review/, and some YouTube videos posted by various universities – but decided against those due to uncertainty of their quality and relevance to the academic context I work in now.

Having now done some reading around it,  I understand it to be a different beast to what I’d envisaged.

The University of Leicester Study Guide site is comprehensive and really useful. It explains timelines – when you should do it, choosing the time frame, the types of materials and how to approach them ie books, journals, online works and kind of work you have to do. Keeping a record, when to stop and writing it up – and even when to write:

It is also important to see the writing stage as part of the research process, not something that happens after you have finished reading the literature. Wellington et al (2005:80) suggest ‘Writing while you collect and collecting while you write.’

(my emphasis).

Then organising it into a structure and making a summary. Here are some key concepts in the Study Guide:

Wakulenko, I. Screenshot (2019) University of Leicester

Subsequently, looking over Machi and McEvoy, I’ve determined that I don’t need to do a complex review, as I’m not going to propose original research based on this work, I’m going to “produce a position on the state of that knowledge”.

Machi and McEvoy p3

I have realised that I should have known to approach the review right at the beginning of this project – I have been perusing and reading but not in a systematic way that I understand is required now. Also, it is a useful tool in helping to form the research question.

As 3D filmmaking in its current iteration is a new field (although it does have a long history) there’s not a lot a writing about the intersection between that and 2D storytelling – but perhaps my literature review can reflect that. I would like to produce something that the students can use in further collaborations between the courses.



Leicester University Doing a literature review : Study guide Available at: https://www2.le.ac.uk/offices/ld/resources/writing/writing-resources/literature-review

Machi, L.A.  and McEvoy, B. T. (2016) The Literature Review: Six Steps to Success 3rd ed. Corwin / Sage


Mixed methods review: “the two main bodies of love in the enquiry”

When I’m in a hurry or my thinking gets too tangled I like to record my thoughts on my phone – it’s a useful method to download those things out of my conscious brain and use the instantly translated transcripts as source material.  Also, it’s appropriate source material for the autoethnography method I’m experimenting with, in regard to my personal process.

I love accidents and flashes of inspiration in scientific or artistic practice – they can really turn around a project.. though the accident has to be followed through to a conclusion. (Loria, 2018). The instant transcriber of my verbal stream of consciousness audio recording on my phone is pretty good but not infallible. One of the accidental transcripts (in bold below) it made really appealed to me.

“I went along and looked at it (narrative enquiry) I didn’t want to tell a story about telling stories in 2-D or 3-D I thought to be better it’s about me more, to be reflective about the process, so I think my methodology is going to be a one where I keep a journal I keep subjective thoughts I talk about the creative thoughts that come to me and I like, and so the two main bodies of love in the enquiry that I want to look at in this project are the mechanics of of how you make something happen” Wakulenko, I. (2019) Reflective note transcription  

If I use the accidental simile “the two main bodies of love in the enquiry” and replace it with the two main bodies of work research enquiry – one “body” being subjective – and the other, an objective “body”.

The “bodies of love” that had turned up – the accident in my transcript made me recall the brilliant philosopher Gillian Rose’s autobiographical treatise “Love’s Work” (2011). In it there was a section that she wrote on the boundaries between two people – and rather than a boundary, she proposed love as a permeable membrane that expanded and contracted between the two. Perhaps within the theory of knowledge, knowledge may be described as a permeable membrane between subjectivity and objectivity – I think they are connected and relational.

There are multiple debates in research and in philosophy around subjectivity and objectivity – essentially centring around the question – can there be anything truly objective. Here’s one that says it can, in opposition to a post-modernist stance:

This article argues that subjective processes, social relations, and artifacts (including research instruments and methods) enable researchers to objectively comprehend psychological phenomena. This position opposes the postmodernist contention that subjective processes, social relations, and artifacts interfere with objectivity. (Ratner, 2002).

In Research Methods in Education the authors comment on  a rise in recent years of a third path approach to research, a new paradigm of a mixed methods review where both objective (quantitative) and subjective (qualitative) are used. This, to me, seems both pragmatic and a reflection of the greater complexities of the world that binary approaches offer. According to Rick Reis at Stanford (undated);

 “Creswell and Plano Clark (2011) date the beginnings of mixed-methods research back to the mid- to late 1980s. Methodology experts and writers from all around the world seemed to have been simultaneously working on similar ideas regarding the combination of quantitative and qualitative methods”.

As another approach to my research, I’ve been thinking about using David Kolb’s experiential learning cycle analysis, which would integrate the subjective parts of the process into the learning.

  • as the concrete experience, describe the development and effectiveness of the Coldharbour partnership of two MA courses, Documentary Film who do 2D and MA courses, Virtual Reality, 3D storytelling (with an external organisation
  • the reflective observation – the recordings & blog journal thoughts I write
  • adding qualitative interviews with students/filmmaker to my journal, the conceptualising / learning from both and a review of the literature of 2D and 3D storytelling.
  • active experimentation process will, however occur out of the range of this exercise but I can plan what is next in conjunction with the project partners

I was interested too, in visualisation as a method but was afraid that understanding it as a research method would possibly be too risky and would take up too much time working it out..though images have suggested themselves to me: the moire pattern when visualising the creation of new knowledge, the hourglass shape of a research project (starting out wide, narrowing, going out wide), an apple (a Christian knowledge transgression myth by the female sex resulting in being cast from paradise, a poisoned apple – Snow White, Fermat, a reward, the Judgement of Paris, a gift for the teacher), the beautiful silvery fish (representing my elusive research idea falling back into the water of my subconscious), it could really be a rich area of enquiry. It wouldn’t work for the aim of my research, to produce a written reference for students.

Grading & Reproducability of research
I was fascinated to hear Catherine’s description of the meta study of grading across subjects – with the result that they could not objectively be mapped to standard criteria, there was so much variation in the results.

“Catherine shared her insights from External Moderation Forum with Margaret Price, who has been doing a large piece of work with a sample from across the HE sector, including a range of subject disciplines. Price (2005) found that parallel grading of samples of work varied widely, which leads her to fundamentally question the ‘standardising’ tools that are used.  ” Martin, J.  Formative Assessment Presentations email 18.02.19: Summary Tue 19/02/2019 10:30

Similarly, something I read recently in ScienceAlert about the poor statistics of reproducibility of scientific & social science experiments is currently precipitating something of a reproducibility crisis – by extension, a ‘questioning the standardising tools’ (but with also other factors in play..)

 Context is everything, and a different conclusion might not make the data or even some of the findings bad (Mcrea)

Author of Autoethnography as Method Heewon Chang writes about inserting the personal into the academic, as a “research method that utilizes autobiographical data to analyze and interpret their cultural assumptions”. Critic Sue Butler reviewed Chang’s book and wrote:

To support her central assumption of self, the author draws on the principles of social constructionism proposed by Ken Gergen (1999/2000): What we take to be knowledge of world grows from relationship, and is embedded not within individual minds but within interpretive or communal traditions. In effect, there is a way in which constructionalist dialogues celebrate relationship as opposed to the individual, connection over isolation, and communion over antagonism.

(my emphasis) (Butler, 2009 p. 122)

 The auto-ethnography resource of my recordings / my writing is reflective and personal, yet it is connected to wider cultural knowledge, and in a critical analysis.

A Gillian Rose (and I don’t know yet if they were the same author) wrote a work on Visual Methodolgies – which even if I don’t use Visual Research as methodology, I do want to explore when researching the right project.



Butler, S. (2009). Considering “Objective” Possibilities in Autoethnography: A Critique of Heewon Chang’s Autoethnography as Method1. The Qualitative Report, 15(1), 295-299. Retrieved from https://nsuworks.nova.edu/tqr/vol15/iss1/15

Chang, H. (2016) Autoethnography as Method London & New York : Routledge

Cohen, L.,  Manion, L., Morrison, Keith (2011) Research Methods in Education Routledge 

Kolb, D. A. (2015) Experiential learning : experience as the source of learning and development Upper Saddle River, New Jersey : Pearson Education

Loria, K. (2018) These 18 Accidental And Unintended Scientific Discoveries Changed The World Science Alert. https://www.sciencealert.com/these-eighteen-accidental-scientific-discoveries-changed-the-world

Finnigan, T. , Aronstam, D.  (year) Visual Directions  http://www.arts.ac.uk/cetl/visual-directions (bad link)

Mcrae, M. (2018)  Science’s ‘Replication Crisis’ Has Reached Even The Most Respectable Journals, Report Shows 

Ratner, C. (2002) Subjectivity and Objectivity in Qualitative Methodology FQS  Vol 3, No 3  Access here: http://www.qualitativeresearch.net/index.php/fqs/article/view/829/1800

Rose, G. (2001) Visual Methodologies Sage

Rose, G. (2011) Love’s work New York Review of Books
Pixabay Apple, Red, Red Apple, Apple Orchard
Pixabay License

Free for commercial use
No attribution required

4 February: Presenting my project

I shared my ideas so far with my two fellows and our tutor.

I’d started with sharing the setting up my workflow page with the skeleton of the required elements for submission, so I could remember what the goal was while wandering through the research process.

I described how after our last session on Methods and Methodology, I’d been thinking about visualisation methods and the two disciplines involved in my enquiry, documentary film and 360 VR film.  I’d been thinking of them as two distinct lattices of information, yet one having another dimension, and the possibility of intersections between them.  I walked into my kitchen and had seen the sun shine projecting through the colander on the washboard, a moire pattern, which to me was a serendipitous visualisation of the possibility of new knowledge created in the intersections / spaces between the two disciplines. Just like moiré patterns, the creation of new knowledge can’t be anticipated, the pattern that is generated can’t be controlled.

moire clip 

I shared my blog pages with them too. After using this format last year I found the reflective platform really useful way to develop thoughts, helps me keep track of what’s happened in the course, and show the stages of work I’ve addressed so far:  but I’ve kept the posts private until I got some feedback and sharpened the writing.

My current version of my research question:

  • How does 360degree VR filmmaking impact on Documentary Storytelling is based on a collaboration between MA DF MA VR and the Independent Film Trust and Michael Groce.

It’s always good to get feedback, but you have to evaluate it too, for what is useful to you.  As it’s still early, well it feels early in the process for me, I am somewhat uncertain about it all. I don’t know how or if to sharpen or change my question and I’m confused and surprised at how it makes me feel despondent.

So, after a few days  I return to Curran to refocus on documentary storytelling:

“A documentary story may begin as an idea, hypothesis, or series of questions based on real world people and events

It’s a conceptual process that starts with an idea, continues to be applied, and re-applied as a project is shot and edited, conceived and re-conceived, structured and re-structured creative arrangement without sacrificing the factual”

Using familiar storytelling elements I’d like to see how these intersect in between the disciplines.

  • Identifying a topic responding to the workshop we did 21 Jan utilising the 5 whys and the mind map
  • Storytelling in documentary film and virtual reality
  • Methodology and methods
  • Action plan
  • Research ethics


Bernard, S. C. (2011] Documentary Storytelling: Creative non-fiction on screen (3rd ed.)  Amsterdam ; Focal Press


Reading journal: beginning

Wakulenko, I. (2015) Anastasia’s journals

Reading has been a lifelong source of wonder and pleasure, an escape route from the present, a dive into worlds, a transmission of knowledge, and a constant stimulation for my imagination and thinking. It is both precious and transformative and I cannot overstate how important it is to me.

The process of reading for pleasure has also been described as a form of play that ‘allows us to experience other worlds and roles in our imagination’. Education standards research team (2012). Research evidence on reading for pleasure. The Dept. for Education.

The image above is a photograph I took of one of my Grandmother’s journals, which she wrote in her nineties. She wrote in Russian, and as I can’t read it, a kind friend is currently, slowly, translating for me. Every word that comes back to me is a connection to my Grandmother whose voice I can hear when I read.

Here she writes about reading and some of what it meant to her in her early life, late in the 19th century living deep in the countryside surrounded by forest, in the Russian heartland, before electricity, her mother read to her and the other children:
Unknown photographer, (1916) Grandma with some of her siblings, and her parents priest Father Vasily and his wife Vera and .

“In the long autumn and winter evenings, when all of us children were sitting round the big table where a large lamp was burning, we listened to Mama’s reading.  She used to read us many excerpts, which we could understand, from the books that were most read. Later on, when we were already teenagers and reading for ourselves, we had to read what Mama had once read to us.  Father never read to us aloud, except for one fairy tale by Aksakov, “Alyenka’s little flower’, but only when we were ill. It was one of our favourite entertainments.  I still have that story even now.  My sister Sonya sent it to me in memory of days gone by.  We knew it almost by heart, but always enjoyed listening to it when Father read it to us as invalids.”

I’ve just looked this story up and found out that it was published by Sergey Aksakov in 1858 (Аленький цветочекAlenkiy tsvetochek), a version of Beauty and the Beast, which Grandma had told to me as child. Even more poignant for me, the Beauty in the Russian story was named Anastasia, which was my Grandmother’s name.

Illustration by Nikolay Alekseevich Bogatov (1854-1935) of the Russian fairy tale “The Scarlet Flower” (“Аленький цветочек”). Иллюстрация выполнена для альманаха “Волшебный фонарь”. In the public domain.

Russian author Leo Tolstoy as well as being one of the world’s greatest novelists and a great reader, whose writing my Grandmother much admired, worked throughout his life on questions of literacy and education and opened a series of free and radical schools for impoverished children, developed pedagogic theories and published works concerned with education. He interrupted his educational work by writing one of the world’s greatest novels War and Peace, and other novels. He was considered a man of dangerous ideas – including anarchism, vegetarianism and pacifism and although an aristocrat his practical support of the people was real. Here’s a link to some extraordinary footage (from Kenneth Clark’s Civilization) of Tolstoy’s death in 1910 a railway master’s cottage, showing people flocking to mourn him, and the funeral being repressed by the Tzarist soldiers.

Just as Tolstoy’s literary creations marked a step forward in the cultural development of mankind, so his educational doctrine made a unique contribution to teaching.

That the ideals of humanistic education and the principles of choice by the people, democracy and freedom in education did not, for Tolstoy, remain just a declaration or some kind of abstraction, is borne out by the methodological solutions put forward by him to the problems of education and by his practical activity as a teacher, an organizer of schools, the publisher of an educational journal and the author of textbooks for schools for the people.

Yegorov, S. F. (1994) Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910). PROSPECTS: the quarterly review of comparative education (Paris, UNESCO: International Bureau of Education), vol. XXIV, no. 3/4, June 1994. p. 647–60.