Advertising Photography: Professional Practice as Commercial Creativity




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De Montfort University


Thesis or dissertation

Peer reviewed


This thesis examines the concept and practice of creative photographic work within the advertising industry. It argues that while the industry is saturated by, and dependent on, photographic production, analytical work to date has focused merely on a broadly semiotic analysis of the end-product. This thesis instead asks how and why photographs are made in the ways they are? As such, it refigures the understanding of advertising photography by bringing practice and production into the centre of the analysis. Central to the analysis are the practices, processes and tacit systems of knowledge, understanding, and recognition which combine to define ‘good’ and even ‘iconic’ photography as a practice that characterizes and rewards itself on its photographic creativity. A practitioner-led definition of creativity is determined that complicates the established study of advertising creativity. This is based on a survey of photographic practitioners and interviews with industry practitioners in advertising and photography. The examination of advertising production identifies where creativity ‘happens’, how the agency creative and photographer collaborate and demonstrates how the photographer asserts their creative skills onto the production process. This is followed by a consideration of how photographic creativity is measured and particularly focuses on the importance of iconic images and their influence on practice over time. The thesis argues for, and analyses, an evolving visual language within advertising, driven by practitioner views of creativity, iconicity, and the macro effects of global events, economic cycles and technological development. This approach is tested through the case study of the British information and communications technology industry between 1979 and 2009, drawing on and collating the image archives of the industry. Overall the research opens new perspectives on advertising practice by both situating photography and the practices of the photographers centrally within the analysis.





Research Institute