Photobooks and Collaboration

Mon 19 Dec 2022

In this month’s blog post on Photobooks, we look at how two photographers, Vincen Beeckman and Wendy Ewald have used collaboration in their work.  

Read more about Photobooks in previous blogs:

 

Wendy Ewald

In 1975, Wendy Ewald was teaching children in a rural outpost of the Appalachian Mountains in Kentucky, USA. She taught them photography, and how to use cameras to visualise their hopes, their dreams, their way of life.  

The resulting pictures were made into a book, Portraits and Dreams. It’s a book that both reveals the interior life of the children she taught, but also the community to which they belonged. Images show the children in their homes, with their family, on the streets of the town where they lived. There are indicators of the rural nature of the community; a man is shown measuring a giant pig, a boy lies on a cow’s back, there are rural backroads and church meetings.

Images in the book (recently republished by MACK Books) are divided into four themes: self-portraits, animals, family, and dreams.

Denise Dixon epitomises the creative process of both the self-portrait and the dreams section. She dresses as Dolly Parton, she dances, she poses with a snake.

Photograph by Denise Dixon - self portrait reaching for the sky

Image: Self-portrait reaching for the Red Star sky –Denise Dixon

The images of dreams are the most poignant, with pictures made that take you into the mind of childhood. ‘I like to take pictures from my dreams, from television, or just from my imagination,’ says Denise Dixon in the introduction to Portraits and Dreams. ‘I like those kind of pictures because they’re scary. If I didn’t know how I took them, I’d be I scared by them. My twin brothers, Phillip and Jamie, pose for me. Sometimes they’re good at having their pictures taken, but they get tired of it.’

Photograph by Denise Dixon showing two children dressed as aliens

Image: Phillip and Jamie are creatures from outer space in their space-ship – Denise Dixon

Another dream picture made by Allen Shepard shows the communicative possibilities of photography. Titled 'I dreamt I killed my best friend Ricky Dixon', it shows Dixon, mouth open,  playing dead in the fork of a tree. It was made after the two boys had a fight. Its making played a part in their reconciliation.

Photograph by Allen Shepherd of a boy pretending to be dead in a tree

Image: I dreamt I had killed my best friend Ricky Dixon - Allen Shepard

See more on Portraits and Dreams

Portraits and Dreams is just one project in which Wendy Ewald used photography to examine a community, race, gender, and migration.

Her work is one where she works directly with her subjects to create work that tell stories and sometimes question who people are and how they are in as direct a manner as possible.

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Vincen Beeckman

In contrast to Wendy Ewald, Belgian photographer Vincen Beeckman makes work in which the process of making his own work is what central to his practice. With much of his work centred around marginalised communities of Brussels, Beeckman has a prolific output of books centred around his photography.

Stefan van Thuyne writes that ‘Beeckman is not an activist, he doesn’t demand social justice through his work. He is not a social worker either; he doesn’t solve these people’s daily problems or long-term issues. He is not really their friend, either. He is someone who comes and goes, a sociable presence in their lives. He is someone who enters the room and by doing so turns the light back on for them, even if only for the time of the visit. He is offering them his good energy, his attention and his photographs, as a way of communicating.’

In Claude and Lilly for example, he shows a series of images of Claude and Lilly, a couple who have lived together despite all the hardship that life can throw at them. It’s a love story, but one told of a couple who have lived through homelessness and destitution.

Read the text for Claude and Lilly

image-4-Featured-Blog-2

Image: Birds of a Feather Cover

His recent Birds of a Feather features the guests of Opstap, a day centre for recovering addicts in Gent. This book shows the organic collaboration of Beeckman in the making of his books. It’s a book where design, text (by myself), and community activities are part of a collaboration. Beeckman surrenders these elements to others in a way in which authorship is shared; the cover pages includes the designer, the publisher, and Opstap itself as joint authors.

Birds of a Feather interview

Image: Birds of a Feather interview 

For Birds of a Feather, there was a constant communication between all parties on what was included, the wording of text, the use of images, right down to the title of the publication. Images were excluded upon demand, text was edited, and the overall tone of the book was decided by the guests and management of Opstap. This process culminated in a trip to the Ardennes where the final edit of the book was decided beneath the branches of Belgian woodland, a case where collaboration, authorship and consent overlapped.

Birds of a feather spread

Image: Birds of a Feather spread 

Colin-Pantall-photographyColin Pantall is a photographer, writer and lecturer and teaches on the MA Photography programme at Falmouth University.

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