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 which you put 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 teach 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 year, both in Cuba. One takes place in the beginning of May and is the workshop Street Photography in Cuba that Sven and I have run for many years. New this year, is the workshop In the Footsteps of Che and Fidel in November. This is still in the planning, but will be a two weeks photo tour where we travel to the important, historical places of the Cuban revolution. This workshop will take the participants to areas not travelled a lot and will be quite an adventure.

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».

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58 thoughts on “Creative Collaboration

  1. This sounds as good as it can be as an inspirational way to work. But you have to find a good companion, with whom it is easy to collaborate. You have found at least one, but I believe you are easy to work with. Open-mindedness, intuition and flexibility ought to be good qualities for co-work – even if you share the same interests. Thank you for your always interesting articles.

  2. Yes, photography is for most a rather lonesome activity…but nothing is worse than going out with someone who is on another wavelength! Good article, Otto, as always, getting to the heart of the matter.

      1. Agree! And that’s why I like blogging together with Klausbernd. It’s inspiring. To discuss ideas, topics and sometimes we end up with something totally different. I thought about joining a local photo club, but it’s not really very local … So now I have joined the online Masterclass given by Annie Leibovitz and I enjoy the input very much.

  3. Very thoughtful essay, Otto. Collaboration can also work well remotely. That’s to say, writers can often put off reading other writers’ work for all sorts of reasons – fear of jealousy or resentment or finding oneself not measuring up talent-wise – but put these aside, and you can find that tapping into another’s creative energy in some finished work will re-start your own. It’s a bit like a conversation of feelings. We too often think that working alone is the only way to go – perhaps as if it’s cheating somehow to collaborate. You have to find the right works of course – ones that speak to you directly and give you lift-off.

  4. Thanks for an interesting article, Otto. I wonder what makes a good partner. I mean how to choose one and how to be one for someone else.
    What make Sven and you work so well together? Personality? Same amount of knowledge? Caring for each other?
    Is it possible that at a certain stage of developing your photographing skill, it’s better to work alone?
    As you can see, there are so many things for me to think about. I appreciate your wonderful article.
    Have a great day.

    1. I think personality is the most important factor. Of course you need a certain level of equal skill levels to put into the collaboration, but nothing matters if the personalities don’t match. I met Sven on a press tour on Cuba some 25 years ago. We looked each other up in the buss that was set up for the international press, and immediately hit it out with each other. To your other question, if it’s better to work alone at a certain stage; I really think it depends on each person. I personally know I enjoy working alone, too, so for me it’s certainly a combination of the two.

  5. great image

    i really like the reflection and how the horizon tilts. if you didn’t have people in the shot, others would have chastised you for not straightening the image. i’ve always maintained the horizon in most images is not straight; much to the chagrin of my critics.

  6. As others have posted out, it’s not an easy task to find those that blend well with your own sensibilities. I think that your topic is important as such experiences are full of lessons for each of the collaborators. Often we cannot see what needs to be seen, and others help us through that process as we help them.

  7. That is interesting to learn that in photography one can also works close with the other as team. From your post, it seems that the basic elements you mentioned are the same as other discipline or at least in the discipline that I know working with someone close can benefit each other and the out come so well.

  8. That’s pretty interesting, Otto. I absolutely prefer photographing on my own. I feel a certain freedom not having to talk and taking lonely path, corners or alleys, where nobody else might wonder around and discover objects my eyes catches in solitude.

    1. I very much appreciate the same factors as you point to in working alone. But I also see the immense value of collaboration at least in some projects or situations. Those collaborative efforts can really make your photography – or whatever you do – take off.

  9. I’ve been longing for collaborators lately or an artists colony. I loved working in creative studios when I was younger and miss the enthusiasm that happens when a group of creatives get together. Good luck with your workshops! I think your students must be very lucky to have the experience.

  10. I enjoyed reading this Otto. I don’t often get a chance to collaborate with other creative people but it’s something I would like to do more frequently. I know a couple of painters whose work and thoughts I find very stimulating and helpful with my photography.

  11. There is no doubt that collaboration can play a significant role in the creative process particularly in stimulating ideas and providing feedback support, but the actual creation of a piece of artwork, whatever the medium, is usually a personal and individual activity. Many creative artists find collaboration difficult – for example some writers, painters and composers prefer to work in their own ‘bubble’ and it would be rash to judge that the quality of their work suffers as a consequence..

  12. I always valued team work in my occupation. I was afforded a lot of independence in my work, but when offered a chance to bring in other team members I was always eager, because I valued others’ perspective. In a creative endeavor I would think this all the more helpful. Your photo is is just fabulous, Otto. I love the reflection of the sky in the water and the stance and gaze of the two men in the boat. The clarity is outstanding!

  13. It’s been a long time since I’ve been able to collaborate with anyone.

    As far as projects, I’ve come across others who believe that there isn’t glory enough for all. In terms of establishing networks of artists, in photography or otherwise, people have completely backed out of initiatives that I’ve merely proposed because starting something new is always harder to get off the ground that joining something that is already fairly well established.

    It can be tricky.

    1. That is a valid point. But it’s also possibly to look at it from a different angle. Starting something new, yes, is always harder than joining something already there. However, starting out fresh gives more creative possibilities, and in my opinion, offers a lot of fun. I, for one, certainly don’t believe there isn’t enough for all. 🙂

  14. Otto, this is such an important element of the creative life! I couldn’t bring my musical compositions to life without the collaboration of performing artists, audio engineers, etc. and their input often shifts my own perspective in a positive way. Great post!

  15. I really enjoyed reading this, Otto.
    It really made me think because I am quite sure I have always “done things on my own.”
    I think it might be great to work with others once in a while.
    As always, thank you for another great post!

  16. The new workshop sounds really interesting, Otto. Your description of working with Sven reminded me of a workshop I attended many years ago led by the writer Peter Matthiessen and photographer John Daido Loori. It was memorable, and they worked really well together. I personally have never been comfortable actually photographing with another person – it breaks my concentration. But who knows, maybe some day that will change.
    The photo you chose to illustrate this post is wonderful! I like the way the horizon is tilted but the men aren’t, and they’re clearly working together to achieve a goal ahead. Have a good weekend!

    1. I can understand the uncomfortable feeling when photographing alongside another photographer. But most of the times I have found it to be very inspiring. Thanks for comment, Lynn, and may you have a lovely weekend, too.

  17. A working collaboration requires commitment and respect which you two seem to have in abundance. I can understand how interesting and exciting it must be to work alongside but separately too with someone you enjoy sharing time and creativity with. My best wishes to you and Sven in your upcoming workshops.

  18. It’s true, creativity can often feed off itself. One persons creativity gives the other person what they need to take it to another level and vice versa. It can lead to a very rewarding finale or just a really strong bonding.

  19. You always make good sense, Otto, and I appreciate your wisdom. I followed Helen here this morning- credit where it’s due 🙂 She is striving to be a better photographer and generous in sharing.

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