I’m always looking to find new ways to incorporate larger goals into my photography. I find it focuses my approach to the way I treat it as a career and a hobby. By dedicating myself to projects outside of things relevant to my life, I am able to explore potential new ways of seeing and interacting the world through my camera. Something I’ve always been interested in is the idea of photography collectives; a group of visual artists with shared philosophies, spaces, and resources.
I was recently invited to photograph with one of my favorite collectives, a multi-disciplinary fine art photography collective called Stealing Frames, in East London. My understanding of their shoots was that the members would gather along with models in a usually sterile space and would shoot on film, Polaroids, and digital before subjecting their medium to various experimental methods of development, printing, and scanning.
I strongly recommend taking the time to study their work, as there really isn’t a group I know of practicing photography in the way they currently are.
Despite the shared environment, every photographer is using a different set of tools, different films, and different ways of directing the models, which means that every single person comes away from a shoot with something entirely distinct to any of the other members.
My shoot with the group lasted four hours, during which time we shot three excellent and very patient models. I think my favorite images from the day were from the first session with the first model – I think I exhausted my creativity and ran out of things to try as the day went on. I’m sure I’ll have some better ideas next time, but I enjoyed the freedom of just shooting whatever occurred to me, rather than sticking to a set shot-list.
You would expect that working with more than seven photographers at a time shooting only one model at a time to be a fairly argumentative process, but there was nothing but respect and assistance from all participants. The lighting was all makeshift, and people took it in turn directing colored gels and lasers on an understood rotation.
Everything else was achieved using the simplest tools; long exposure, shallow depth of field, and, for the most part, pushed film. Curtains were blacked out, so the only light to shoot with was whatever we could create ourselves.
It’s surreal looking back at the BTS of how the space looked vs how the resulting images turned out. I’m so used to exposing correctly and showing exactly what’s in front of my camera. Here I was showing things that were “not” in front of my camera, things that the eye could not immediately see without the involvement of the tools and language of photography.
Personally, that kind of creative space and shared creative energy was incredibly invigorating. I felt that even if the work is very different from the sort of photojournalism I usually create, the process that went into crafting each frame was absolutely worth the journey.
Working in this kind of group is not difficult, aside from the logistics of actually finding a selection of likeminded people and being able to actually find the time to meet up. In terms of collaborating and shared learning, I can’t think of a more rewarding experience and encourage everyone to make an effort to try something similar. Even if it doesn’t work for your style you may find something from the experience to benefit from artistically or personally.
About the author: Simon King is a London based photographer and photojournalist, currently working on a number of long-term documentary and street photography projects. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. You can follow his work on Instagram and you can read more of his thoughts on photography day-to-day over on his personal blog. Simon also teaches a short course in Street Photography at UAL, which can be read about here.