This week has been a truly rewarding experience. We were asked to form a small team of 2-6 people and collaborate on a photographic project. Having participated in collaboration activities in previous degree programs, I did have some trepidation going into this project. There’s always at least one person that doesn’t pull their weight. But, that was not the case here. I don’t know if the Gods intervened, if we just got lucky, or if the people in my MA cohort are just that amazing, but this was by far the smoothest and most enjoyable collaboration experience I’ve had. Based on my experience here, I choose to believe that the people in my MA cohort are just that amazing. I’m not just blowing sunshine up your a*s, dear reader. The people in this MA program are just "switched on" and quickly engage. It’s impressive.
After selecting our team, we settled in to an even mix of 2 women and 2 men, and bounced ideas off one another for the project using Falmouth’s Learning Management System, Canvas. There was talk of doing a collage, monochrome animal portraits, and layering images in Photoshop. As usually happens when a group of people assemble to accomplish a goal, a natural leader emerged and our man, Kit Hargreaves, proactively started a WhatsApp channel for our group to facilitate a more streamlined communication medium and it worked like a charm!
We quickly agreed on the concept of “I can almost…” and set off to produce 5 images of the 5 senses that would invoke the response in the viewer of “I can almost smell, touch, taste, or hear the thing being viewed.” We liked this theme because as humans we use these 5 major senses to understand and perceive the world around us (Bradford and Harvey 2022). However, we did opt to forego the “sight” sense since photography by its very nature is a visual medium.
“The photograph is seen either as a mirror — a romantic expression of the photographer's sensibility as it projects itself on the things and sights of this world; or as a window — through which the exterior world is explored in all its presence and reality (SZARKOWSKI, 1978: 2)."
We quickly selected the sense we planned to photograph and off we went. Within 24 hours the first images were being posted to our WhatsApp channel for team review and selection. I offered to produce a collage of the best images, do the research, and produce a short video for the project. It made the most sense since I live in Seattle, WA and start my day 8 hours behind the other team members. So, they could produce their images, send them to me, then be off to bed while I got up in the morning and put the production packet together. I had also already produced my images for the project after we decided on the topic. Again, since my day starts at an 8 hour difference than the rest of the team, I was able to shoot and edit my first images, and then have the time to work on our production packet while the rest of our team produced and submitted their images. Being on a “flip-flopped” time zone and schedule worked out quite nicely for our team and we were able to produce a professional production within 48 very short hours. Looking through our WhatsApp channel log, we decided on the production concept Tuesday at 5:50am PST, started sharing images by 9pm that same day, scheduled a Zoom meeting to chat about the project and decide on the final images by Wednesday morning at 10am PST, then made our final image selections and produced a completed visual production of the images with referenced research on the 5 senses by Thursday evening at 11:19pm PST. We presented our project at 2am PST Friday morning (10am BST).
It was a whirlwind of a collaboration, but made quite smoothly by everyone enthusiastically participating and truly collaborating on the final product.
I was personally inspired by the input of my team members to stretch my creative muscles and produce visually interesting images that moved away from the established norms of photography and into more visually compelling stories. As a result, we all agreed to photograph a mirrored reflection of our chosen sense and produce it with lighting in the orange/yellow color spectrum. Our images blended well together and we were able to produce a final image collage of the 5 senses in the same color palette and theme of reflection.
Our theme was a nod to John Szarkowski’s description of photography when he said that “the photograph is seen either as a mirror — a romantic expression of the photographer's sensibility as it projects itself on the things and sights of this world; or as a window — through which the exterior world is explored in all its presence and reality (SZARKOWSKI, 1978: 2)."
I think that quote is particularly fitting to this collaboration project because the sensing organs that we have as human beings send information specific to the sense of sight, smell, taste, touch, and sound to our brain and help us understand and perceive the world around us in meaningful ways that enrich our human experience.
During our WhatsApp conversations and our team Zoom meeting, we discussed the ideas of using text to describe an image and the photographer’s responsibility to produce an original image and not just select an image for later manipulation as can be seen in the work of Penelope Umbrico’s Sunset Portraits (Umbrico 2015) where she downloads, crops, and prints images taken from social media. We all agreed that Umbrico’s work walks too fine a line between production and plagiarism. So, we produced original images of our own and collectively agreed not to describe the images using text. It was our goal to let the image speak for itself and empower the viewer to come to their own conclusions about the image.
Overall, it was a truly rewarding collaboration experience where we each drew insights and inspiration from each other’s images and, as a result, we produced a visual project that I am personally quite proud of.
Our final visual presentation can be viewed here:
BRADFORD, Alina and Alisa HARVEY. 2022. ‘The five (and more) human senses’. Live Science [online]. Available at: https://www.livescience.com/60752-human-senses.html [accessed 16 July 2022].
SZARKOWSKI, J. (1979) ‘Introduction to The Photographer’s Eye’ in PETRUCK, Peninah R. (ed.) The Camera Viewed: Writings on Twentieth-Century Photography. Vol. 2. New York: E P Dutton.
List of Figures:
Figure 1. Mat CHACON. 2022. The 5 Senses. Private collection: Mat Chacon, Julie Davies, Kit Hargreaves, Leah Jones.
Figure 2: Mat CHACON, Julie DAVIES, Kit HARGREAVES, Leah JONES. 2022. Our Senses. Private collection: Mat Chacon, Julie Davies, Kit Hargreaves, Leah Jones.
Figure 3: Penelope UMBRICO. 2015. Sunset Pictures. Flickr [online]. Available at: http://penelopeumbrico.net/index.php/project/sunset-portraits/ [accessed 16 July 2022].