Daniel Halasz: The Stranger Project: Documentary Photographic Strategies for Crossing Social, Cultural and Mental Borderlands

Doctoral Project

Daniel Halasz, PhD in the Arts

The research project is structured around three main segments/domains: (1) a focused investigation into methodologies from other fields of art that can be incorporated into the documentary medium to create more holistic images, (2) what role photography can play in the assimilation/acculturation of strangers in new environments and how photography can be used to relate to others, and finally (3) the development of a framework for an educational environment with practices to be used by students/researchers in unfamiliar settings. Like layers of an onion, these segments will be related and be built on top of each other, growing from the critical study of the medium through the depiction of an individual to ever bigger groups and to viewing the phenomenon from a wider perspective.

The research proposes to approach these goals from two parallel directions, in a symbiotic manner: by constantly creating a body of artistic work, while conducting academic efforts in investigating, prototyping, testing and analyzing new tools. The artistic part of the project is inspired by previous work and personal experience. Fusing staged elements with documentary methods and the reality of being an outsider has been an integral part of my artistic practice in projects such as Friends (2009), Family (2010), For God and My Country (2015), The Machine (2016), Zora (2017), You Were Never Really Here (2018-2020) and Borderland (2019-2020).

In the first phase of the research I am going to experiment with techniques used in documentary film, poetry, theater, educational footage, new media and methods developed by investigative journalists and intelligence services, before turning my attention to the notion of the stranger. Being a stranger is a social role that entails simultaneous nearness and remoteness (Georg Simmel, in: Riley, 2008), denoting a paradoxical situation of being an outsider in a new environment. Yet precisely because of this distance, thought of as more objective and more easily trusted with closely guarded secrets, a stranger is perhaps described best as a secular priest. In modern societies, many of us find ourselves in similar positions at some point of our lives and experience the feeling of being an alien. Not only can this happen when moving across national, geographic borders and continents as a traveler or a migrant, it is also observed when crossing social, demographic, mental, or virtual boundaries.

In the second segment of the artistic research, I will try to become a member of various social groups and communities, using the conclusions gained during the experimentation phase. What methodologies should be used in such an environment? Are there strategies that can be developed and learned to work across a range of scenarios, that are applicable by not only artists, but also by researchers from the social sciences during fieldwork?

In the third segment the accumulated results will be synthesised and an art course will be created for a higher educational setting. This set of tools could provide a solid basis for teaching, guiding art students and social researchers on both an individual and an institutional level. The position of the artistic researcher and especially of a photographer allows unique possibilities: using the camera as an excuse can open doors and bridge gaps otherwise more difficult to link together. It seems plausible to assume that the intentions of the stranger play a crucial role in the way of an approach. Whether an external viewpoint is to be held or if the ultimate aim is to become an organic part of the community, determines which toolbox to take, which roads to travel on the journey.


  • Dr. Bart Geerts (supervisor, KU Leuven/LUCA)
  • Dr. Rozan Van Klaveren (co-supervisor LUCA)

Research unit: Inter-Actions

Duration: 2021 - 2025