This article is written inline with my part time work as a personal mentor. I base all of the below on my own personal experience with numerous project collaborations, many different collaborative partners and numerous project exhibitions. Every artist’s experiences will differ, but I believe the article that follows includes aspects that should be ‘generic’ to any true collaboration.
Collaborations between photographer and model, and the photographs that result, have always been in my opinion a 50/50 credited effort - for the work I’ve done anyway, which has spanned a decade or so now. I’ve always said that, and made a sincere effort to acknowledge my collaborator. Even when exhibiting a complete series of works, where the concept was mine (the model had zero input at concept initiation stage), and I had payed the models for their time; I still added their names, personal information and credits below the prints on the wall and in the project statement.
Even when a concept originates from one of the two people, that concept is then bounced between both people; and if you have a good cohesive collaboration, the concept then becomes bigger and better with each bounce. So for one of the two to say they own the concept, is plain wrong. That’s just one example.
Often the concept has been derived from a conversation or ‘off the cuff’ thought that the other person expressed. So where did the idea really originate? And where did ‘realisation’ of the idea begin. Is artistic ownership of the outcome (the print) then to be credited to either the model or the photographer? Think about all the things that go into the production of the final art piece (the print).
Concept Development & Presentation
IDEA/CONCEPT: It usually begins here. But not always. It can begin during a shoot done for some other purpose, or a purely experimental and spontaneous shoot. Here, there can be equal input from both collaborators. If it began with a thought then the thought may have originated via a simple conversation about some unrelated matter or it may be connected to the personal thoughts, politics or history of one of the people. The latter case requires very careful navigation, as ownership of the concept can become very easily skewed.
DEVELOPMENT OF CONCEPT - This can go on for a long time and include:
Numerous conversations where the idea bounces and develops between the collaborators. Both have equal input at this stage of development.
Many shoots before the final print is made. This will be where both people work at a practical level in getting the concept realisation right. The input here can be weighted one way or another. The model may or may not have the ability or skills to model the concept or the photographer may lack the skill, vision, experience to enable a satisfactory capture of the image. The converse of those situations exists too of course. There’s actually four different combinations of these two aspects (basic combinational maths theory) - and I’m sure there are more base level aspects of concept initiation and development
PRINTING OF CONCEPT - Sizes of prints, framing, decisions on ho to possibly lay the prints out on the walls of the gallery in order to get your concept across in the best possible way will be a part of this phase. Still, at this phase, the concept can be refined based on what you see when the prints arrive and how they look in your dummy layouts - which would have been done often on a computer first an then after the prints arrive.
PRESENTATION OF CONCEPT - How will you both present what you have made? Again, this will involve conversations and ideas. and again, the goal being for the concept to ‘go across’ in the best possible way. You will make decisions on print sizes, framing, gallery selection, and then finally, curation of the work onto the walls. There can still be some development and refining of concept at this stage.
SALES - Do you split the sales 50/50?
All these aspects, and I suspect many more, require some very careful thought and discussion between collaborators before you begin your ‘collaboration’. Neither party own the project that you’ve both invested time - and usually a lot of money into. Things can get out of hand at any time, either before, during or after the project ends. But, if everything above has been discussed, agreed upon and acknowledged, there can be no reason for post project disagreements. Future collaborations with your collaborator depend on ALL these things, and more, should be part of your project communications.