Collaboration or Participation?

I have never really considered many of these terms and how I might fit into them. However, as I think back to my commercial practice, I would regularly work with a team in order to realise a client brief. In terms of a collaborative, though not necessarily in the strictest sense, I have often worked with a writer in order to realise and illustrate elements of that text.

Figure 1: Phil Hill & Darius Dabrowski (March – June, 2020) ‘Casiobury Park, Watford’

During the MA, I have explored the idea of collaboration much more and during the last module I invited people I had started to build a relationship with and photograph to also photograph themselves using a camera that I provided. Owing to the current situation I have not been able to develop this approach, but I did start to use some of these images for the re-photography task as a way of responding to these images (Fig: 1). This first exploration, I merely gave cameras to individuals with little instruction to see what I would receive in return. I think moving forward, I would be keen to work with the people more closely to discuss how they might want to photograph for their own representation, and my roll could then be to facilitate how they could do this from a technical perspective. In a similar way to how Anthony Luvera approaches collaboration (Fig: 2).

Figure 2: Anthony Luvera (2019) Assisted Self-Portrait of Joe Murray from Residency

For the work that I have been producing, which are primarily portraits. I would usually contact people I would like to photograph in advance so that I can make my introductions, set out my aims, and build a relationship with the subject and this is more of me seeking to find participants. Sometimes, I would not even use my camera on the first meeting so that we can discuss the project and most importantly how we would work together to take the photograph. I am keen to better represent the subjects that I am photographing and am acutely aware that there is still a heavy bias towards the way that I am setting up and taking my images, which I think is a confidence thing. My approach in this way is very much like how Alys Tomlinson approached her subjects for Ex-Voto (Fig: 3), where she arranged an appointment and then photographed them at a later date.

Figure 3: Alys Tomlinson (2019) Unamed from ‘Ex Voto’

For this module, I have struggled to approach people in the same way due to the lock-down and the usual channels of contact being on hold for now. I actually find the process of approaching people without an initial introduction, or in the case of me being hired for a job, a reason for being there. However, my challenge has been to approach people coming back together in the open community spaces as the restrictions lift. This method of seeking participants had the potential to become quite a quick exchange as my own reticence to approach might turn into quickly taking the image and walking away. Instead, I have chosen to shoot this module using a medium format film camera to introduce some theater into what I am doing (which breaks the ice), and also slow my process right down so that I have the space to engage with my participant and talk with them (Fig: 4). This still needs developing as I really need to develop an approach that is much more inclusive of the participant to include their voice and a direction that also considers how they want to be represented much more.

Figure 4: Phil Hill (June, 2020) Portrait of Wais at Callowland Recreation Ground

A collective is fairly new to me and this week’s zine project will be very good for this area of development. I am fairly used to working independently as a photographer so it will be useful to come together with others that have different ideas to my own.

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