Creative Collaboration

One of the things being a photograph that I often find limiting, is the fact that I usually work by myself. Limiting is actually not the right word, since being out on my own forces me to focus and use all of myself in the interaction with the world I photograph. It actually gives me strength. So I guess it’s more about the joy of working together with somebody else that I often miss when I work alone for too long. And also the different experience it involves.

It is really a great experience to work creatively together. You push each other further than you would maybe do alone. You inspire each other. You find new solutions together. And more than anything it’s simply fun. Or as Corwin Hiebert writes in his e-book Your Creative Mix – Growing Your Photography Business through Creativity and Collaboration: «The creative process, as chaotic as it can be at times, is a beautiful thing when the hard work involves an experience we can truly share. […] Together we can spur each other on to create more, and do more».

Creating together is a wonderful example of a dialectic method. The idea of the dialectic method is an old theory going all the way back to Ancient Greece, in where you have a thesis and an antithesis up against each other, and the combined solution between the two not only makes for a compromise, but creates something that is better than the thesis or the antithesis alone, what in the theory is called the synthesis.

Theory away, collaboration is truly inspiring and can be done on many levels. My good colleague and friend Sven Creutzmann, who is an eminent as well as awarded photographer, and I have over the past many years and from time to time been photographing together side by side on more personal related projects. In doing so we push each other further, we encourage each other, we enjoy the time together being focused on the shooting, and despite the fact that one would think that we might end up with pictures looking similarly, the collaboration spurs our separate creative visions and results in quite different pictures even at occasions when we stand side by side. Finally when working together like this, the help and encouragement we give each other in the editing process and even how to photoshop the pictures, is almost worth the whole process in itself.

The collaboration between Sven and me has also lead to various photo workshops we do together. This is really collaboration as intimate as it can possible be. We develop the programs and classes in tight partnership, we teach the workshops together and of course we get to spend a lot of time socially together. As a matter of fact we have two workshops up in the air this autumn, one in Norway and one in Bolivia.

Another example of a stimulating creative collaboration for me is the one between me and another colleague and friend of mine, Øystein Mikalsen, a resourceful and very creative writer. We work together as a team reporting from countries around the world, although mostly from Africa. For both us these trips we do are among the most worthwhile in terms of journalistic and photographic projects. We work with themes that matters, we challenge each other, and we return with some of the best reporting we ever do. Some of you have already followed us on the latest trip to Western Sahara on our combined blog. In addition we also teach workshops together.

Creative collaboration is so stimulating and so inspiring; I can only recommend it to everyone involved in the creative process. Of course it’s not limited to photography, but holds value for any creative outlet or artistic expression. To quote Corwin Hiebert one more time: « A successful collaboration provides credibility, it gives you an opportunity to gain experience, it expands your knowledge base, widens your sphere of influence, deepens your relationships, and gives you a real-world resume. But one of the most important takeaways from a collaboration is that it promotes your work ethic». (His book by the way is available at Craft&Vision).

74 thoughts on “Creative Collaboration

  1. Yes. Where artists do need their alone time to create and are generally loners by choice, collaboration opens up opportunities and visions that are not possible to gain solely. This makes perfect sense. It may feel at first as though you are having precious time taken away but the end result is worth it. While the partnership requires a like-minded individual, it is also mutually beneficial to have different perspectives within the like-mindedness. It sounds like this is what you have achieved – thanks for sharing. Lesley

    1. Yes, life is a balance, but I don’t think collaborating necessarily is hard. It’s just about throwing yourself into it, giving it a chance.

  2. It’s a great feeling when you find that ideal creative partner. And I agree, it’s good to have different opinions too, since it helps in the creative process. Great post.

    1. Yes, it makes a big difference when you and your creative partners go well along. Like-minded, but still different enough to bring that different opinion into the equation.

  3. I think that my first comment got lost – the connection here is very sluggish. I’m lucky to have a balance between working alone and working with others. The synergy that results from brainstorming sessions with my artist friends is amazing, and we always emerge with new ideas and powerful work. Great post; thanks for sharing your wisdom! Z
    ps. if my schedule allowed, for sure my name would be on that Bolivia roster! My friends have stated, “You will love Bolivia.” Who knows, maybe a door will open! Z

    1. It’s nice to hear that you have experienced the synergy of creative collaborations. And, yes, I am sure you would love Bolivia. It’s part of the same culture you already know, but still different. I certainly enjoy travelling in Bolivia.

  4. I love this post and I love to collaborate…since I’m both a photographer and writer I’m always open to working with one or the other on a project where the sum of the parts is greater than the whole…and yes, it can be quite solitary working alone for too long…again, wonderful post!

      1. ja! i have a funny honduras story that happened last year. perhaps i’ll be able to share it if i find my way to bolivia!!!
        how could one not feel calm after looking at that photo? it is so soothing! i prefer waters like that any day over distracting waves and surf! z

  5. Herlig situasjonsbilde -er det fugl de speider etter?!
    Jeg vandrer for det meste alene med mitt kamera, men jeg har vært på noen få reiser sammen med erfarne proffe fotografer -det har vært svært lærerikt!
    Skulle gjerne ha deltatt på en av dine workshop, men tidspunktene passer litt dårlig. Bolivia høres så spennende ut!
    God ny uke til deg! : )

    1. Takk for de hyggelige ordene. Ja, det er fugl de speider etter, i Honduras. Det blir sikkert flere turer til Bolivia – eller andre steder, så bare følg med. Kanskje det vil passe en gang.

  6. Thank you again for writing such an intriguing post Otto. I really the image too, with the reflections it almost looks like they are traveling trough the clouds.

  7. Love the photo. I can almost smell the air. Couldn’t agree more with you about working with other creatives. I miss the old days when there were studios of people of different disciplines working altogether. I guess that’s why we roam the internet these days 🙂

    1. Internet is still not the same as really life collaboration. It’s still possible to work together in a cross-platform work space, but yes, unfortunately it’s less abundant nowadays.

  8. There is nothing like having kindred spirits working and sharing creative projects together and, wow, great photo! It makes one want to continually stare at whatever those two are intently looking at…:)

      1. The guy at the front of the boat with the white hair looks like he could be in the movie, Lord of the Rings. I know, random thought…
        it is a lovely photograph all the same.
        Thank you!

  9. Great photograph. So alive and clear. It’s as if I can almost reach out and touch them.

    Creative collaboration gives way to a work product that is exponentially superior.

  10. Sounds so nice and so exciting… I followed you both on your travel to Western Sahara, it was amazing and so beautiful. Now I am impatient for your next projects, in Norway and Bolivia… How I wished to be there with you all too. Good Luck dear Otto, as always you shared such a beautiful notes and experiences, with us. It was wonderful photograph too… Thank you, love, nia

    1. Right now I am enjoyed some time of in and around Seattle. Needed some time to breathe, but soon I will be on my way again… Thanks for you kind words.

  11. I think creative collaboration can be the strongest tool in anyone’s creative tool belt. Whether I am photographing, or producing tv or writing, I have always found that seeing my work through someone else’s eyes has only improved it. Writing is how I spend most of my time these days and without my in house editor I know the end product would be much less. Sometimes I know in my head what I want to say and I just have randomly put everything down that I want to include and then I say, “How can I make that into that?”. Then I will hear something like, “Why don’t you try …that might get you where you want to go”. Before long I can see what I was looking for.
    The photograph says it all, Otto.

    1. Thanks for sharing your experience. It is indeed clarifying and enhancing the creative process when someone you trust gives feedback or is part of the process.

  12. So true and so well explained…no need to add other words.
    PS: not possible this year, but your workshops are really tempting for me and my wife, maybe next year if the economy…

    1. You and your wife will always be welcome to any of my workshops, or even just to sit down and talk photography whenever our roads cross. 🙂

  13. I agree with Robert – so true. Well stated too. I really appreciate this quote: “But one of the most important takeaways from a collaboration is that it promotes your work ethic.” Great post Otto! Very motivating and inspiring.

  14. Hmm gunna have to read this. I’m under the impression that photography is kinda like sketching. Just because someone is there with you and you might be bouncing ideas off one another (does that count?) it’s still pretty much a one pony show.

    That doesn’t discount though that it’s usually much more fun and that in and of itself can be a boon for your creativity!

    1. Of course you will have to push the actually button yourself, but otherwise the amount of collaboration during a shoot is limitless. Just think about the big advertisement shoots where maybe 20 people are working together to get that picture. Besides there are many ways to collaborate, from the idea stage to after the fact in the editing process. So much to learn in the process no matter how you collaborate.

  15. It’s a fine balance. I think collaboration helps the photographer think outside the box and learn from others but there are times when solitude is welcome and being completely focused on the task at hand and your surroundings can be very rewarding and rejuvenating.

  16. The photo is brilliant Otto. Unbelievable the way the lines of vegetation and people merge so perfectly… and the colors, and reflections… Wow 🙂
    As always I found your post and the comments interesting and inspiring.

  17. Collaboration works in a lot many fields. I remember how my classmate and I developed our interest in the language – we used to discuss and share everything we read and thus helped mutually. We could correct each other too. But the partners should have certain similar basic traits and must be ready to adjust. It is a sort of healthy competition too.
    I loved the colours and the symmetry in the picture. And wonderful, peaceful writing, once again!

  18. A healthy collaboration is definitely inspiring. Adds a lot, in fact in every field. Together everyone achieves more. 🙂 I love the photo, its beautiful!

  19. Wonderful article on creative collaboration. Love the photo as well. When I think of collaboration I think of painting that is the medium I’ve probably done the most joining work on. Some colloberation with photography. It does really add a joy to the work as well as inspriation. Great article.

  20. Love this encouragement towards collaboration. You can be so good at something, yet learn so much you never knew from someone else you work with!

  21. To be honest, I usually prefer working alone. I like creative control. Although, when I used to work in video broadcasting, working as a team was necessary and truthfully, I had some of the best memories doing that.

    1. We are all different – and we all work differently. I usually work alone too, but for that means I appreciate collaboration even more when it happens.

    1. There are always ways to collaborate. Go out shooting with some of your friends, join an organisation which works in your field of interest, ask to intern for professionals. Or use social media – as you already are doing. No reason to stay away from collaboration if you want to give it a try.

  22. An inspiring idea! That is an incredible reflection in the water in this photo, WOW! I only worked once with others, a long time ago with a team of painters doing murals in the San Francisco area, it was a blast, inspiring and memorable. I would do it again and in the process of trying to meet more artists locally, I agree with all of your assertions as to the benefits of collaboration. Would be so fun to take one of your workshops!

    1. I can only encourage to do more collaborations – unnecessarily to say, I guess. As for joining one of my workshops, I think they are pretty fun, and you will of course always be welcome any time in the future.

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