Are You Collaborating Correctly?

Are You Collaborating Correctly?

It can be frustrating when, as a new photographer, you want to work with models. You put your little ad up on Facebook and… nothing. What do you do?

Photography is a collaborative act. This collaboration occurs between a photographer and the subject they photograph. All photographers work collaboratively in some sense. Yes, even the lone landscape photographers who don’t work with any other person, because if you consider the image, then there is a dialogue between the photos you make and the viewer. So, in that way, there is a collaboration. Or, for example, with the equipment you use. Someone else made it, and you’re using it, so that’s a collaboration too.

These relationships are usually hierarchically privileged. For example, a photographer usually is thought to hold a more privileged position in authoring what the final photograph may look like than the subject.

Michel Foucault is a French philosopher who coined the term “gaze” through his thought experiment (which later became an actual experiment) called the panopticon. The basic gist of it is that looking and the gaze are extractive and privilege the looker or viewer. The subject of a photographic work is looked at and is the recipient of the gaze. However, moving past the relationship of photographer and subject to one of co-collaborators shifts this relationship from one where the viewer looks at a subject to that in which the subject extends permission to be seen.

This is all well and good to think about, but what do you do with this? How do you actually apply any of this to your own photography? There are two things you can apply them to your next project.

First, I believe it’s very important to have open and honest communication with the folks you directly work with. This might include hair and makeup and models, but also the people who frame your images or print your work if that is something you engage in. An image might be your vision, and you might have a large say in the final decisive moment, but it’s equally important to have people who are working with you actually work with you (rather than you trailing off solo and no one else knowing what’s going on). If no one knows what they’re doing or why, then they can’t help you.

The second thing is to have an open and honest negotiation of your project. If everyone knows what’s going on through communication, then they may be better able to help negotiate the final image. If you’re thinking one thing and someone thinks another and you hadn’t thought of that, suddenly, that image is that bit better. What this really comes down to is being able to make an informed choice.

Photography is a dialogue. Photography is a conversation. It’s not strictly the final image you produce, but instead what it took to get there and then what that image says to your audience or viewers. By considering this dialogic aspect of photography when you make your images, you can probably grapple better with the process as a whole rather than just focusing on the result. I mean, it is, after all, the process that leads to the result.

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