Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Collaboration Project

Our project is finally coming to a conclusion, right on schedule! It's been a blast and, as near as I can tell, everyone is very pleased with the result. Here is how it all came together, with some remarks on how one might pull off a similar project of their own!

The long-time reader will recall that I put out a call for collaborators, some months ago. I set a theme, "East", deliberately leaving it completely open ended and vague. I invited people to sign up for a rough "amount of content", and then I selected collaborators at random until the conceived size of the book was complete. In fact, since I got more or less exactly the correct amount of subscribed content, I selected everyone! That led to 10 collaborators in total, including me. Two are known to me personally, one is me, and seven are essentially perfect strangers who comment on my blog from time to time.

I set a schedule of: 1 month to receive pictures, 1 month to pull together a draft, 1 month to finish it.

This schedule seems, for us, to have been almost precisely ideal. Aggressive, but doable. I had a few stragglers submitting content a week or two late, but that was not a problem as I had the bulk of the content to start with and had devised some general ideas for the book from that.

There were a number of catalyzing moments.

One contributor gave me beautiful collages, in several arrangements. I found myself in love with the vertical stacks of four horizontal images, and that in turn led me to conceive of the book's layout as permitting pages to be cut horizontally. The creates two booklets, one stacked atop the other. In theory, the pages of one can be turned independent of the other, allowing new juxtapositions of pictures to occur.

The book, therefore, consists largely of two-up pages intended to be cut horizontally in the middle, separating the photos.

Two photographs from two collaborators, strangers to each other, were built around a cabinet centered in the frame, of approximately the same shape. This (extraordinarily strong) graphical co-incidence set a graphical theme. I shot some more things that echoed this, and looked for other pictures that echoed that graphical idea. It appears constantly through the book, creating a thread of connection throughout, across sections.

The same two collaborators, I think, came up with two other photos. One, a beach scene. Sand in the foreground, surf, and then blue sky with clouds beyond. The second, a detail study of a floor, trim at the base of the wall, and a fraction of a window through which sky can be seen. Eerily, the colors of the floor/beach, trim/surf, and sky/sky, matched almost precisely. A little cropping to emphasize the relationship, and I had a page of content. I literally couldn't not do it.

Some of the collaborators produced fantastic standalone pictures, which to be honest can present a problem in a book. How to sequence these in to a larger whole? To the rescue, other collaborators. One of the collaborators gave me a collection of pictures with the miraculous, almost bizarre, property that whenever I needed something to counterpoint another picture, or to fill a gap, there is was. Inevitably, there it was.

Others provided beautiful interconnected portfolios, and it was my job to find ways to connect them to other pictures, and there was always a way. I became inured to the strange coincidence of finding the perfect matching pair of pictures, given me by complete strangers.

I shot some things to fill in the gaps, but mostly just to emphasize themes.

One more bizarre coincidence for you.

One photo has two beautiful girls in bikinis walking in a beach town. Closer inspection reveals a tattoo(?) on one girl's thigh: DISH OUT PAIN. Well, I couldn't leave that alone. I placed the picture of the girls on top, and a closeup crop of the tattoo below, and went hunting for other "texts" in other pictures to bring out the same way. "FUCK YOU COPS" turned up, as did a cross. I went out and shot some graffiti, "FTP" (which means, probably, FUCK THA POLICE here in Bellingham, but other interesting things elsewhere), and in yet another strange coincidence I found "FUCK THE PIG" scrawled downtown. This is almost certainly a reiteration of the anti-police theme, but the missing 'S' in "PIGS" was too good to pass up.

You see, I also had some photographs of a pig being slaughtered. Beautiful, in a way horrifying. Nothing too gory, but you can tell there's a dead pig in there. I'd paired it with some things and was pretty happy with the graphical echoes I had discovered. But now I had a connector from the sequence of pictures with embedded texts, through "FUCK YOU COPS" to "FUCK THE PIG" to the pig that is, in a sense, fucked. So together it all went. Not subtle, not delicate, not pretty, but a blunt progression of themes through a wildly disparate sequence.

The result is a book, built around a process, which I defy anyone to say isn't Art.

The coincidences, the flow, the repeated material is almost all graphical. There is almost nothing in here of a repeated "big idea", there's nothing in here about Man's Place In The Universe. It's all "look, a triangle, look, another triangle in the same place" level stuff, but I think it works. I think you can show this book to anyone, and unless their truly obstinate, they'll get something from it. Like the I Ching, they might find something of real depth in it. They might just spot a few of the graphical coincidences and enjoy that. They might just like a handful of the pictures (and there are some really great ones in here that would stand alone just fine). For anyone receptive, I will go out on a limb and assert, there is something greater here than the sum of the parts.

How can you do it yourself?

Easily! Get some friends, or some strangers on a forum together, or in your neighborhood, or on the street. Send 100 postcards to 100 random Occupant addresses in your home country with your contact information. Set some rough guidelines, set a rough but sensible "license agreement" (if someone wants to get persnickety about license terms, you don't want them on board -- set them free), set a rough schedule that is aggressive but doable. Go forward and do it. You will be astonished, I promise you. It will be an amazing experience, and from it you will get Art. It will be part of you, and you will be part of it, and it will be beautiful.


  1. As one of the collaborators I have to say that this journey has been fascinating.
    Slightly unnerving at first with the somewhat vaguest "East" theme :-)

    Seeing the drafts come together and studying the images from co-collaborators has been a joy.
    Thank you Andrew.

  2. Sounds really interesting - congrats and thanks for sharing. One lesson seems to be, as ever, that art should always leave room for the aleatory. Always. Don't overplan or it will be stillborn.

  3. Thanks Andrew for all this work. Looking forward to put my hands on a physical copy soon (let us know when we can order the book). As a collaborator, it's been fun and inspiring (I am now in the process of making another two Blurb tradebooks, following your and Milnor's ideas).