Fig. 1: Group Project by Trish Crawford, Emma Hart, Paul Williams & Alan Conteh. Discarded, Lost or Found
"Who is the author of a print made from the negative of some long-dead photographer?"
(William J. Mitchell cited in Palmer 2017: 5)
Photography's indexical quality—its referential link to reality—the medium's "I was there" nature makes it easy to assign authorship of a photograph to the camera operator. The camera usage also drives the illusion of individual photographers imprinting their unique view of the world on a recording surface. The lone photographer myth is exemplified by the popular reception of the recently discovered work of Vivian Maier, who, as a professional nanny, made her work in such an isolated, even alienated, manner that few even notice her doing it.
However, the practice of photography involves at least four stages, of which the act of seeing, composing, and recording the images is only the first. The editing process, print, and circulation of the photographic image follow, and each of these stages can and often involve other people. For instance, although I recorded and edited the pictures in my series Fragments, the exhibitions' prints were outsourced to a professional printer. Furthermore, another set of professionals printed the photobooks for this series.
Therefore when is a photograph made? And who is the author of a print made from the negative of some long-dead photographer? Is the photograph made when the photographer released the shutter or after it assumes its object status as a print?
In practice, photography is inherently dialogical and, as such, always potentially collaborative. "The literal meaning of collaboration is "to work together," in "conjunction with" another; to engage in a "united labour" (Palmer 2017: 15). Collaboration is obvious when photographers consciously work together to produce photographs, like in the case of Hilla and Bernd Becher, a husband and wife duo who photographed disappearing industrial architecture around Europe and North America for forty years. In contrast, the collaboration between photographer and subject or photographer and viewers is not always apparent.
As part of my BA studies, I received feedback from my colleagues and tutors, and their opinions shaped my project. On reflection, my practice to date has always considered the input of others. For example, my initial edit of my Along the Wandle series included a photograph with three ducks in a row; I made this image because I felt it showed a clear view of the river, and the ducks are a recognisable feature of this landscape. But my peers concluded that the image was a cliché, which convinced me to omit it from the series.
This week's task required our cohort to split into groups to complete a collaborative project. My group was formed due to three images loosely sharing a theme. We produce images that express our interpretation of found objects despite geographical differences. I learned two important lessons from this task. Firstly, the issue of waste is universal. Also, effective communication plays a significant role in any project.
In conclusion, every photograph is collaboratively authored at some level since it is inherently dialogical. Researching for a project allows the photographer to seek the views, which shapes many of the creative decisions taken during image-making. Creating and receiving the photographic message requires collaboration between the photographer and the viewer as a communicative activity.
- PALMER, Daniel. 2017. Photography and Collaboration: From Conceptual Art to Crowdsourcing. London, UK ; New York, NY: Bloomsbury Academic, an imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing Plc.