For photographers Frank Diaz and Deb Young, success is manifesting in many ways; features in industry publications, awards, and gallery representation. By setting their egos aside and collectively using their talents to create an ever growing body of work, the duo’s International Collaboration Project (ICP) continues to gain steam. But the project’s weight cannot be measured by the amount of print sales or awards it has already collected. The nature of the project defines their career and makes the rest of us question our solitary nature as photographers.
Like many, Frank Diaz was reluctant to join Facebook. But when he did, the New Yorker immediately found that there was an established artistic community who always welcomed new “friends.” One of Frank’s first connections was New Zealand’s Deb Young. For the newly acquainted photographers, the social media giant became a portal for the discussion of art and creative process. Facebook was a fertile ground where Diaz and Young could see photographers from around the world expressing themselves and sharing their work – a digital version of an artist-hangout.
By concisely commenting on one another’s work, Frank and Deb broadened the artist/viewer response beyond the “like” button. The pair graduated from supportive commentary to a discussion on collaboration and eventually decided to join efforts and experiment across continents.
Without established norms or a prescribed agendas, the development of the ICP was organic, without plan or strategy. Deb shared some landscapes that she had been working on and, before they knew it, the photographers had combined concept with imagery. While photomontage is nothing new to the photographic world, Diaz and Young’s process was unique. With their first piece "The Wolf + The Bird" completed, the pair instantaneously recognized the potential for a larger, more intentional project.
"After our initial surprise at how well we collaborated together, we started thinking, is it possible for a male/female duo to create photographic imagery together in real time. We wanted to move photography forward because so much of photography is replaying the first 100 years of this art form. We wanted to move away from the single snap mentality and see if we could create some real narrative work. We realized that our collaboration was necessary to create this new vision - a real mix of female and male sensibilities.”
While the pair was eager to kindle their excitement, they deliberately worked slowly to cultivate their interpersonal relationship and employed a slower, more sustainable pace. Before any of the montage work begins, Frank and Deb spend their time conceptualizing, discussing, researching, and crafting ideas using backwards design; thinking of the final product and its impact before constructing the actual piece.
“In our development sessions we discuss composition, spatial relationships, narrative and the relationship the work has with the viewer. The impact our work has on our audience is crucial to us. We are trying to have a dialogue with viewers.”
With a clear intent for their project determined, the ICP started to gain momentum and viewers saw piece after piece added to the ICP moniker. Frank and Deb frequently add cohesive pieces into a variety of series under that ICP umbrella. With a consistent publishing schedule, it isn’t surprising that prominent industry staples such as Lenscratch, Blur, and Lensculture began buzzing about the ICP. Soon after, Diaz and Young enjoyed solo exhibitions, international awards, and an exclusive representation deal with the legendary Susan Spiritus Gallery. And all of this was based in collaboration.
Reflecting on the ICP as a whole, it is hard to believe that each of the many pieces have been created in real time by artists over 8,000 miles apart. Distance aside, it even harder for some to comprehend that creatives can work together for so long to endorse a singular vision. For many photographers the idea of collaboration is completely foreign. But to Diaz and Young, catering to one another’s strengths just feels natural.
Frank and Deb have specific dispositions that uphold the essence of their work. They are both communicative, cooperative, curious, and open to alternative ways of seeing things. With flexibility in attitude and work ethic, the collaborators also hold a positive sensibility and the ability to put their egos aside – coming to the project with a spirit of true equality.
“We allow each other the space to express and develop ideas, honoring the diversity that each collaborators brings to the project. There’s a respect for each other’s strengths and ideas. All of these values are important to foster a relationship where collaboration can run smoothly and get the job done!”
But collaboration, especially across continents, has its drawbacks. The time difference and physical distance between America and New Zealand have been problematic for the project. The two had to set up clear routines, utilizing free texting and phone apps to make the most of each other’s availability on a daily basis. Geographical location and technical glitches are not the only drawbacks that the ICP has encountered. In relation to the art world, collaboration in fine art photography between a male and female is incredibly rare and difficult to understand. Realizing that Frank and Deb are a duo is hard for many to grasp.
“Our photomontages are a reflection of our dual efforts - showing that with the right dynamic, collaboration can be effortless and seamless. This is important in a creative industry where photography is mostly a one-man-band from holding the camera to post processing. The work we are producing from our collaborative efforts also shows that in art a male and female can work together equally. When a viewer sees our work they are viewing something that is not simply a conceptual creation of a male and female but it literally has been created by their hands together through cyberspace.”
Both hobbyists and professionals can use the ICP as an example of what collaborative efforts can achieve. Yet, moving into to partnership should not be done without contemplating Deb and Frank’s advice for other photographers who no longer wish to work in isolation.
“Go to therapy first and make sure you are fairly free of personal issues that can hold you back from relating deeply to another person. Creating a collaboration where you work together in real time on the same piece can be fraught with issues like competitiveness, insecurity, egotism, lack of gratitude and selfishness. Any of these issues can be the undoing of a collaborative effort. So it’s important, if you wish to collaborate on more than one work, that you put your personal issues to the side and focus on cooperation, encouragement, enthusiasm, and gratitude.”
With creative momentum propelling the ICP forward, there seems to be no limit on what the duo can achieve together. Yet, the ICP's primary goal remains: they hope to pull photography forward.
“We’d like the work of The International Collaboration Project to be a discussion between the viewer and us, through our work, on specific ideas. Those ideas talk about content, structure and composition, style and how images are created. We are doing this through collaboration because we see the team/community notion as a next step in how creativity can bring the world closer together in a positive way.”
Diaz and Young encourage us to collectively step forward. Regardless of borders and distance, the ICP proves that we can create together, expressing our own realities through equal partnerships.