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Collaboration in photography

November 5, 2010


Diagram exploring the relationship between the photographer and the subject
Diagram exploring the relationship between the photographer and the subject

Photographer - subject relationship

Can a photo ever be the material realisation of the relationship between photographer and subject? This diagram explores the relationship between the subject and the photographer, and whether it can ever meet in the middle and become a true collaboration, or whether some vestige of power always still remains with the photographer?  I’m just not sure…


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  1. November 5, 2010

    Interesting. Gives me a lot to think about. I think the balance of the relationship between subject and photographer depends on the method the photographer is using, If the photographer is taking an active role – designing a shot, setting up the scene, directing the people in the scene, then the balance will usually tilt to the photographer. But sometimes the photographer operates in a more passive mode. I like to pick an interesting location and then let the elements – people, animals, weather, everything – do what they will and see if an interesting shot emerges. In this case the balance of power is more in what is being photographed.

    • November 5, 2010

      Interesting points, thanks for the comment. I wonder though whether it is ever possible though to take the power away from the photographer when it involves a portrait of some kind where the person is aware of being photographed? In an exercise we did on trying to negotiate a photograph being taken, it was very difficult for the people we were photographing to get away from the idea of being directed; we were continually asked ‘what would you like me to do? Where should I stand? Which way shall I look?’ and so on. I’ve written more about it in my personal blog, and you might like to take a look at that too.

      The type of photography you talk about; picking a scene and seeing if an interesting shot emerges sounds very much like observational cinema, a good example of which is David MacDougall’s Schoolscapes, where a camera is setup directed in a single place, and the action allowed to unfold before it. And I agree, in some ways that then becomes a more collaborative affair, although I would argue that rather than the balance of power being on what is photographed, a great deal of power still lies with the photographer in choosing where to set the camera, what to focus on, when to take the picture and so on. I also suspect that any people being photographed without their knowledge in this way might argue that the power resides entirely with the photographer! It’s an interesting debate.

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