This summer at Falmouth Flexible we have the pleasure of hosting the RAKE Collective for a Guest Lecture. Established in 2019 by multimedia Artist Nancy Hurman, Flora Thomas, Vera Zurbrügg and Nuno Guerreiro de Sousa after meeting whilst studying an MA in Photojournalism and Documentary Photography.
What is the RAKE Collective?
RAKE Collective’s works lie at the intersection of art, research, and visual activism, utilising open-source data and investigative journalism techniques. They raise awareness of how fragile concepts such as human rights and civil liberties can be in the age of police surveillance, government censorship and digital data mining.
Image: The face of a riot police officer captured over 180º from footage of a Kill the Bill protest on 17/04/21, isolated and enhanced as a manual replication of the computer vision processes used by facial recognition software.
Collective and collaborative approaches is a subject extensively covered and embraced by the MA and BA Top Up Photography courses, and to contextualise the upcoming artist talk by RAKE, we been reflecting on the importance of collective working with photographic medium.
Questioning the lone photojournalist trope
Typically, the photographer is seen as a solitary figure: a defiant adventurer striding out into this vast world all alone - just their camera to keep them company. However, this version of how to be a photographer is a somewhat limiting vision and completely negates the multitude of different social interactions that photographers engage within the development of not only their practices but also their careers.
RAKE too questioned the trope of the lone (often white, male) photojournalist, highlighting that, in reality, these individuals were never working alone - they had drivers, fixers, translators, editors etc. They raise the issue of the invisible labour around this understand of the photographer as a solitary figure and that the collective approach is a way of challenging and provoking ideas of authorship.
More importantly the artistic process is ‘relational’; taking a photograph is only one stage of the creative process. It is not until the photograph is viewed and the meaning intended by the maker has been interpreted by the viewer that creative process has been completed.
Additionally, the traditional notion of the photographer fails to acknowledge that, starting in the 1960’s, photographers have been actively engaging and developing different ways of working collaboratively for a range of different reason and resulting outcomes.
Image: Stills from protest videos - gathered through activist networks, combed from social media and collected by RAKE members - are laid over Google Street View locations where the events took place. The clash between generic street views and grainy citizen media highlights the tension in public space that is increasingly surveyed and controlled. Palestine solidarity march, Kensington, 15/05/21.
Collaborative approaches to photography
When I asked RAKE how the collective approach aided the development of their projects, they highlighted the fact that their individual interests means their projects included multiple perspectives. Bringing together their own distinct skills allowed them to tackle project that might not have been achievable as individual artists. RAKE also recognised the shift in their relationship with perfectionism; with the multiply viewpoints all working towards the same goals, finalising a project becomes less about perfection and more about finding workable solutions that satisfies all individuals’ visions of the outcomes.
Image: A selection of images created using a generative adversarial network (GAN); which pits two AI against one another, where one is tasked to produce outputs that the other would recognise as ‘real’. The model has been trained on a dataset of images of CCTV and surveillance cameras scraped from the internet, generating images representing the algorithm's own vision.
What initially brought RAKE together was their overlapping interest in ‘research led’ creative projects, however the subjects they explore as individual artist are very different. Working as part of RAKE allows the individual artists to explore the ideas and interests that they might not have the space for in their own practices. The ability to have multiple ways of working within your artist practice, both collectively and individual, is a way of generating flexibility of your own creative methods.
RAKE Collective was established around the same time as they were completing their studies. By creating a space where they continue the conversations started within their MA, they were able to make the transition from student to emerging practitioner a little easier.
Collaboration as a Falmouth Flexible student
At Falmouth Flexible we encourage collaborating with peers and believe it is an important aspect of mastering a creative subject. Students have the opportunity to form working groups within the module content and also through additional structures such as the ‘research clusters’, where they can connect with students across the different courses and modules with similar research interests and practices.
Learn more about Falmouth Flexible's online Masters in Photography:
Collaborative making, thinking and learning has played a huge role in shaping discourses on photography and visual culture, and with the successes of new emerging collectives such as RAKE Collective, collaboration will also be shaping photography’s future.
Clare Bottomley brings over ten years of education experience to her role as an online tutor for both the Photography MA and BA Top Up.