Last weekend over coffee a friend asked me a good question. He’s a very keen photographer – he has one of the best eyes for colour on film of anyone I know – and we both meet from time to time with a group of several other local photographers.
“How can I have them tell me what they *really* think?” He was musing out loud about how as a group we can get beyond an image-based mutual-admiration society.
A singular pleasure of working with Paul, Kim and Francis on our various instalments of the VI Zine is the freedom for me to ask, “Why did you do this?”, or to say “That isn’t working for me.” Something about the trust involved in constructing a sequence collaboratively changes nearly all other conversations. Hearing what they have to say about an image I (literally!) bring to the table – whether as a response to one of their images brought to a sequence-in-progress, or my showing of a bleeding chunk from something on which I’m working – is sensitized by trusting that they’ll tell me not only what they really think but also what they really feel.
So to answer my friend, there are at least three ingredients needed for any serious group of photographers working together. (1) Long-term trust – which, by definition, takes time to build, and even showing up to a gathering is part of building that trust. (2) Explicit permission to speak freely – easy to request, surprisingly challenging to honour. (3) And lastly — a joint project where (1) and (2) can be practiced. There is that old artistic nostrum to “trust the process”, and part of the trust here is that something surprising yet integrated and whole will result from time mixed with trust.