Why do photographers shy away from collaborating with other photographers? I understand the need for complete control and, from a rep’s standpoint, I do like to see a portfolio that is representative of a clear personal vision. That being said, when you’re presented with the opportunity to collaborate with people whose work you admire, why not go for it? Photographers are so often in their own head. The downfall of paving your way in this industry is that most the time you’ll find yourself being very selfish. In many ways, you have no choice and must be completely self-serving when you are just starting out as you work to push your career forward. Then, suddenly, you begin working with art directors and photo editors…and the projects are about the client and no longer one hundred percent about you.
Recently, one of our photographers, Ryan Schude, collaborated with two other photographers, Dan Busta and Tamar Levine. I’m a huge fan of all three. This got me thinking about how rare it is that three photographers with such clear personal styles could successfully collaborate on a project. The resulting image, which we are affectionately calling “Limbo,” portrays twins that aren’t quite twins and a waiting room which seems to be some sort of unhappy intersection between the River Styx and the DMV.
This image blows me away. How did they all find a way to get their personal styles incorporated? And how, with such a large production and so many design elements, did they not kill each other in the process? I decided that this was too special not to share and asked Ryan, Dan, and Tamar if they’d kindly answer some questions about the project. See their answers below, as well as samples from their personal portfolios. Don’t forget to check out each of their personal sites also. I hope this not only shows photographers that collaborating with your peers can lead to glorious results that not only strengthen your network of photographers, but also has the ability to fuel your own work.
– Jacqueline Bovaird, Glasshouse Assignment
Image too small? See a larger version here.
JB: What is it about collaborations that works for you?
RS: Many people seem confused about the propriety of the creative process and why you would want to collaborate in the first place. It seems, historically, that photography isn’t used to the idea of a collaboration, which seems odd considering how many other mediums utilize such an amazing process. It is happening more as of late with so many team photographers out there working both commercially and with their personal work.
Only a very small percentage of my work is collaborative. Particularly with my personal work, I usually like to have complete control without having to compromise anything. However, collaborations are appealing to me in that they allow for a way of working which helps you to think outside of your own head, and it always produces positive results.
TL: I one hundred percent agree with Ryan. By nature I like to be in control of my personal photography, but you have to throw that out the door when collaborating. Different people bring different things to the table. From a logistical point of view, the sheer cost and time would have multiplied if we tried to do this project solo. Not to mention the fact that I am a fan of both Ryan and Dan’s work, and bouncing off each other manifests so many ideas I wouldn’t have had on my own. You have to go into a collaboration knowing that you will have to compromise a bit, and that’s OK. You never know what will come about. Limbo turned out great, so even though I love shooting alone, I will always make time for collaborations with people whose work I admire.
DB: To be honest I think we all have to collaborate in this business because the photographer is rarely the sole creator. In my experience I’m always working with other artists to achieve something greater than I could do on my own. I suppose working with other photographers is a little different from working with say an art director. But if you leave your ego out of it and really just concentrate on making a great piece than its a very great thing. The team mentality brings new ideas to the table and its my belief that everyone should have an equal influence on the final piece, be it makeup, styling, model, client.. or another photographer. In the early stages I’m trying to visualize what the team is thinking so I can be more on in their mind, I often ask hard questions to visualize what we are talking about so that everyone is on the same page. Other times when we are collaborating I’m thinking about the things that haven’t been thought of like.. the character development, or last minuet light changes.. and bring in that in, I question the teams thinking and wonder how that thing (lighting, prop, character, color) makes sense in the image and if it contributes to the story.
JB: How did this collaboration all come about? Who came up with the idea and how did you figure out a way to incorporate every person’s input?
TL: I wanted to do a collaboration with Ryan and Dan for the Multitude assignment on our photo blog. I have always enjoyed their collaborations and thought it would be a fun thing to do. Everyone had different things to bring to the table so it worked out well.
RS: Tamar started the dialogue with a concept based around a large group shot comprised of different pairs of people who were wearing matching outfits like twins, without necessarily being twins. Everyone’s input was incorporated throughout a few meetings where we sat down and discussed a rough narrative around the concept. We all wanted to utilize each other’s thoughts so it naturally allowed each of our ideas to have a place in the final image.
DB: I would say that we all let the idea evolve on its own. No one really took off with the flag. The picture mostly built itself as we drew the boundaries. We had ideas of using different sound stages, warehouses, rebuilding our own loft, and we came very close to using the union station in Downtown LA. This Art Deco train station location drove most of the final thoughts like the idea of limbo, “being in transit” and most of the fashion, and characters. Once we were are on the same track with the location, we would then add ideas for the image like character ideas, fashion, props, lighting, color. All in all we had many meetings about what the characters are, who they are and what they are doing in the shot
However, at the last minute before the shoot we found out we were out of luck with the train station, so Ryan and I stayed up all night building the set in our studio and planning the lighting.
JB: How did the pieces for this shoot come together?
DB: Logistically we split the work on casting. We used a site called http://www.lacasting.com and we all were responsible for casting two groups of pairs. We had four or five meetings to discuss the project and also worked with a stylist that talked to our models about the fashion that they already own.
RS: Me and Dan built the set in our studio and Tamar gathered all the props together. We even split up the postproduction between compositing, color, and final treatment so it really was a group effort from start to finish.
JB: Is there another collaboration in the works?
DB: Well Ryan, Collins, and I are always collaborating, but nothing is set in stone right now. This was our first collaboration with Tamar, it went really smooth, so I’m sure we will work together again. There is a fight scene that we have been talking about. The shoots are remarkably cost effective the way we shoot, so there will certainly be more in the future.
TL: We worked well together and got good results so I imagine it will happen again. Currently I know Dan and Ryan have been talking about a project they have with Collins, and I have a collaboration (series) I have been working on with Rob Sheridan, who co-created Broken Robot Girl #1 with me.
Thank you so much Dan, Tamar, and Ryan!!
for portfolio requests or questions about Ryan’s work, contact his rep, Jacqueline Bovaird @ firstname.lastname@example.org or 212.462.4538.