Week 3 Forum | Collaboration or Participation?

Within my project of non league football spectatorship I am required to work in a collaborative process on various levels. Firstly, having identified the event of a football match I would like to attend in order to photograph. The collaborative process is initiated by myself, making contact with relevant club officials using email or social media. 

At this stage I am usually met with enthusiasm. I describe the nature of my project and what I am trying to achieve. This is a useful method and a form of preparation in a personal sense. I select football matches based on a range of factors including: the local fixture list and my personal knowledge or secondary research of the stadium in order to understand the type of aesthetic I will be working with. With this in mind I feel the assertion of Azouulay (2016) when she states in relation to collaboration “The photographic event’s degree zero”. I consider unstable. Based on the assumption that degree zero is the photographic event. The statement does not recognise the planning or research stage of the photographer. I consider this to be relevant because every project must start with some type of intention. Whether taking a camera to a tourist destination, describing life or documenting inequality. The photographer must start with some type of intent, which in a personal sense precedes the photographic event. I agree with the idea that without collaboration there is no project or study however I believe that intent in whatever form should be recognised. Based on the assumption that a ‘degree zero’ represents a type of neutrality I refer back to the intent of the photographer. Chalfen (2011) makes the distinction ‘between’ projects and ‘studies’. a project initiated by a caring individual within a context may be an act of responsibility or personal interest. These ideas, however noble, may be compromised by intentional or unintentional bias. With respect to my football project, my intention was and is to explore, however I am aware of my personal bias. The people of this world gave me a lot and I learned many lessons which have stuck with me. The football gave me much less, such as broken bones and confidence issues. In reflecting on this, I realise that my project is a type of metaphor for how I feel about this world. It gave me a lot, but took away other things. Therefore my selection of a project is not objective. 

With regards to the people I collaborate with, I have already discussed above such as club officials and gatekeepers of such clubs. The second stage of collaboration when I attend a football match is the interaction with individuals that I encounter. The difficulty in this cannot be overstated, I approach tens of people, I speak and listen to their stories before taking their photograph. This is the result of watching and observing my surroundings before approaching people. Although on occasion, an individual will be known to me. Most of them are unknown to to myself. I often find myself having to earn some trust before lifting the camera. In this sense I am required to earn each photograph that I take, when I take a portrait or lift the camera when people are aware of my presence. the photographic event maybe ground zero for the collaborator such as the person in front of the lens, but it is not for the photographer. 

In terms of perspective and voice of the subjects I photograph, they are often limited to what I communicate with them regarding my intentions. If my explanation is sufficient and I am successful at this stage, a person of interest makes the transition to collaborator. This consent cannot be underestimated, maybe seen as a type of submission. A submission to be objectified in a way led by my intention. Sontag (1979, p.14) states, “To photograph people is to violate them, by seeing them as they never see themselves, by having knowledge of them they can never have; it turns people into objects that can be symbolically possessed”. Sontag’s ideas are particularly relevant to the collaborations and subjects that I work with. To consent to being seen as they never see themselves or ‘having a knowledge that they will never have’ infers not just a collaboration, but a power relationship where the person with the mechanical instrument is dominant, the subject subordinate. To achieve this, with reference to my project, a subject needs to believe in my intention, trust my motive. The return for the collaboration is to be part of the intention of a noble project. A form of activism supporting participation as opposed to digital consumption. 

The people who appear in my project are hugely important to my project. They are the face, the emotion and the humanity of the world I frequent in order to progress this project. The project may be achievable without human presence. And this may be an interesting challenge which requires further reflection.

Azoulay, A. (2016) Photography consists of collaboration: Susan Meiselas, Wendy Ewald and Ariella Azoulay in Camera Obscura 91, Vol. 31, No. 1, pp.187–201.

Chalfen, R. ‘Differentiating Practices of Participatory Visual Media Production’ in Pauwels, L. & Margolis, E. (2011) The SAGE handbook of visual research methods. (Los Angeles: Sage), pp.186–200.

Sontag, Susan. (1973) On Photography. New York, Dell Publishing.

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