Photography and Collaboration

9781350008311“…thinking about photography in collaborative terms invites us to reconfigure assumptions about the photographic act in all its stages.” 1

Dr Daniel Palmer is a writer and Associate Professor in the Art Theory Program in the Faculty of Art, Design & Architecture at Monash University. His research and professional practice focuses on contemporary art and cultural theory, with a particular emphasis on photography and digital media. Prior to joining Monash in 2005, Palmer worked as a curator at the Centre for Contemporary Photography in Melbourne, Australia. He is publishing a new book, Photography and Collaboration; From Conceptual Art to Crowdsourcing, through Bloomsbury Press in March 2017.

I found Palmer’s article “A Collaborative Turn in Contemporary Photography?“, published in Photographies journal in June 2013, a good articulation of how photographers/photographic academics were thinking about the collaborative tendencies in contemporary photographic practice (unfortunately I can’t share it here, because of copyright––but people who have access to journals through their university should be able to download it).

I am excited to see how the book has developed from this article, which examined emerging forms of collaborative photographic practice––primarily community-based art practices. Palmer argued that although histories of photography invariably privilege individual figures, contemporary developments should be understood in terms of important precursors such as community photography in the 1970s. The paper examined artists Stephen Willats and Simon Terrill, who have sought to establish a relationship between authorship and community in their photography.

Most interestingly for me, Palmer explicitly acknowledged the process of collaborative production as an important area which needed critical thinking in the article (a step towards forefronting the social interactions and impulse to address authorship that guide the kind of practices I am most interested in): “While it is now widely understood that a photograph’s meaning is shaped by its social context of reception, we still seem to repress thinking about its context of production.” 2

The publisher claims Photography and Collaboration is the first book to position a broad range of collaborative photographic practices by contemporary artists in a historical and theoretical context.

Unlike conventional accounts of photography that celebrate individual photographers and their personal visions, this book explores the concept of multiple authorship in photography. From artistic partnerships to crowdsourced projects, the book presents an expanded idea of authorial agency, not simply considering relationships between photographers, but between photographed subjects, spectators and digital software. Organized thematically, the five chapters each focus on three case studies of contemporary, international artists, set against broader histories of photographic practice. It argues for a revisioning of photographic history, showing how collaboration has been an important and overlooked part of the medium’s development.
Focusing on contemporary practice, from the found photograph to images shared through social media, Photography and Collaboration offers an entirely fresh take on existing debates in art photography.

These are the chapters listed on the publishers site, and it has an interesting framework. I’m interested to see how Palmer’s thinking is similar as well as different to mine, and if/how he might think about socially engaged art practices within his construction of a historical and theoretical context:

1. Ideologies of Photographic Authorship
2. Impersonal Evidence: Photography as Readymade
3. Collaborative Documents: Photography in the Name of Community
4. Relational Portraiture: Photography as Social Encounter
5. Aggregated Authorship: Found Photography and Social Networks

You can pre-order the book here.


  1. Palmer, Daniel. “A Collaborative Turn in Contemporary Photography?.” Photographies 6, no. 1 (March 2013): 117–25 (123)
  2. Ibid. 124
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One Comment

  1. Over more than thirty years of photographic practice, I have often noticed remarkable disparities between the scenes, objects, events or moments ‘out there’ I had attempted to record – and the images within the resulting photographs. These (sometimes subtle, sometimes drastic, but almost always unanticipatable) disparities between what I had seen and what the photograph shows me are usually the result of differences between the way we experience time and space and the way in which the camera renders them. These photographs – as well as the remarkable work by others – offer the tantalising suggestion that there may be something else going on here: something which our current conceptual metaphor for photography – as well as the assumptions about what photographs ‘are’ and what they show us which result from this metaphor – may hinder our ability to recognise.

    My work (as both a practitioner and as an academic researcher) explores the possibility that, through an active (or, an active of) collaboration with the medium, some photographs can present us with scenes, events and ‘moments’ that did not exist (and, in some cases, could not have existed) until created by the act of photographing them.

    See my article: Photography as an act of collaboration – Journal of Media Practice (Vol 15, Issue 3)

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