Portrait of Connie Imboden
© Bonnie J. Schupp

The third showing of my Defining Ourselves photography exhibit closed at the Light Gallery in Baltimore. This exhibit has grown into something larger than I had foreseen and it has evolved in a way I hadn’t anticipated. Yes, I am the photographer but it is not just my exhibit. The words of the participants are as important as the portraits I took of them. In fact, the portraits, in most cases, are collaborative.

I met with the subjects and we worked together to come up with a portrait that illustrated their self-definitions. It was difficult for me because I’m used to photographing to please myself and now there were two of us to consider.

For these portraits, I had to think of the words and get feedback from the people I photographed. Obviously, some people had more input than others. Some people said, “Tell me how you want me to pose.” Others said, “Let’s try something like this.” In one case, the subject said, “This is the way I want to illustrate my definition.” For the portrait above, I used Connie Imboden's studio and method to photograph her. Not so easy to step into somebody else's vision!

If you’d like to see a slideshow of just the portraits, without the definitions, check it out here. (Turn on your speaker to hear music by Kevin Robinson.) Next showing of Defining Ourselves will be this summer in Alexandria, Virginia.

Today, I just read a blog that David Byrne wrote about his musical collaboration. He talks about the benefits of collaboration and makes some thoughtful points. I’m including part of his writing below. If you want to read more, click here.

"Why collaborate at all? One could conceivably make more money not sharing the profits — if there are any — so why collaborate if one doesn’t have to? If one can write alone, why reach out? (Some of the most financially successful songs I’ve ever written were not collaborations, for example.) And besides, isn’t it risky? Suppose you don’t get along? Suppose the other person decides to take the thing in some ugly direction?

"Well, as I said earlier, one big reason is to restrict one’s own freedom in the writing process. There’s a joy and relief in being limited, restrained. For starters, to let someone else make half the decisions, or some big part of them, absolves one of the need to explore endless musical possibilities. The result is fewer agonizing decisions in the writing process, and sometimes, faster results.

"Another reason to risk it is that others often have ideas outside and beyond what one would come up with oneself. To have one’s work responded to by another mind, or to have to stretch one’s own creative muscles to accommodate someone else’s muse, is a satisfying exercise. It gets us outside of our self-created boxes. When it works, the surprising result produces some kind of endorphin equivalent that is a kind of creative high. Collaborators sometimes rein in one’s more obnoxious tendencies too, which is yet another plus........

....... "But one might also ask: Is writing ever NOT collaboration? Doesn’t one collaborate with oneself, in a sense? Don’t we access different aspects of ourselves, different characters and attitudes and then, when they’ve had their say, switch hats and take a more distanced and critical view — editing and structuring our other half’s outpourings? Isn’t the end product sort of the result of two sides collaborating? Surely I’m not the only one who does this?"