This week, the emphasis has been on collaborative practice. This is a new idea for me, having never previously considered myself to be a photographic collaborator. Of course, it quickly becomes clear that there's more to the idea of collaboration than at first appears to be the case. As Daniel Palmer argued in 2013 in A Collaborative Turn in Contemporary Photography? (Photographies, 6:1, 117-125, DOI: 10.1080/17540763.2013.788843)
...photographic images are produced not solely by the lonely eye, or the black box of the camera (or now an interaction with software) but through an engagement with worlds that are collectively produced and experienced.
I have been challenged to reassess my views on the primacy of authorship and what that concept actually means. Is retaining authorship at all costs as important as all that? Is single authorship ultimately a false construct? I'm struck by the idea that authorship actually maybe relates to power, and where the balance of power lies in the production of an image. Photographers do ‘capture’ and ‘frame’ their subjects after all. Maybe also, if this is the case, then ceding this power opens up the possibility of producing images that can have cumulative impact…maybe two (or many) heads are better than one.
The collaborative images produced this week by my classmates were all interesting in arriving at a shared vision that seemed to be more coherent and more unified than might have occurred with just a single author. My own concerns about who would do what in producing the image, or who would claim ‘ownership’ of it once complete seemed to be superseded by more tangible benefits of cooperation and mutual inspiration. Each contributor seemed to have benefitted from the input of their collaborator and was moved to produce something ‘more’ than they might have done if working alone.
Stephen Willats, whose own practice relies heavily on actively donating this authorship role to his subjects reflected on this in his 1983 essay The Camera as an Object of Determinism and as an Agent of Freedom
The divestment of my traditionally given authoritative position in the origination of a photographic image does not lessen its strength but rather, I have found, ensures its pertinence and meaning; for who are better able in the end to present themselves in the reality they inhabit than the subjects.
I am convinced of the potential benefits of collaboration, as either an adjunct to practice or an integral part. Of course, the necessary proportion of collaboration will vary with each practitioner, but this is something I am keen to explore more going forward.
Falmouth university ma photography critical research journal