Collective / Inside the Outside
How do photographers work together collectively, in a medium which foregrounds individual viewpoints and discretionary capture of time? Continuing Photomonitor’s interest in learning more about photographic collectives, this interview focusses on the group of four landscape photographers known as Inside the Outside, whose work is included in the current exhibition at Argentea Gallery in Birmingham, along with work by several other photographers invited to join in this curated landscape exhibition. Below, a few questions with founding collective member Al Brydon shed some light onto this group’s ethos and practice.
Christiane Monarchi: My first question would be, what made you decide to join or form a collective, how did this one start?
Al Brydon: I don’t remember there being an actual decision and I don’t think there was really a defining moment. It took a while to happen. It seeped into being over a period of a few months. If there was one catalyst then it would have been a trip to London to see the Masahisa Fukase ‘Ravens’ exhibition. It’s rare for all of us to be in the same place at once (even now after nearly three years of working together) and if memory serves we’d chatted vaguely about doing something together. It was just an idea floating around in the ether. But in the pub later that evening we found ourselves increasingly enthused about making a vehicle for our own work plus the work of others. The rare chance to show work from photographers we love.
And then with the hangover still ringing in our ears nothing happened, at least for a little while. Then one day, for reasons unexplained we were galvanised into action and Inside the Outside appeared. In a matter of months we had organised our first exhibition of photography hosted by our friends at the Photo Parlour in Nottingham. It was a pleasingly fluid process and sharing work from seven other photographers as well as our own was exactly what we envisaged the basic premise of the collective to be. A platform for photography unburdened with instant visual gratification. People aren’t stupid, they want to understand why someone has made something. Making a visual connection with work is only the first step, you need to spend time making an emotional one too.
The photography community really got behind it and the exhibition was a great success. Then MMX gallery in London got in touch and a few months later the exhibition moved down South and we were able to show the work for a second time. We aren’t arts funded so we hosted workshops and talks plus our resident book maker Joe designed and published an exhibition book. All the funds from this kept the collective rolling and allowed the exhibitions to occur. We are about to host our third exhibition ‘Out of the woods of thought’ at the Argentea gallery in Birmingham, again showing work from photographers we love. It’s an incredibly privileged position to be in and one we are all extremely grateful for.
CM: I’d be keen to know what brought the photographers together, and do you collaborate on images in a group way?
AB: A myriad of different reasons bought us together. We are all very different people, which is why I think the collective works as well as it does. There needs to be that slight dysfunction for us to work effectively. The most obvious reason we found each other was a mutual appreciation and fascination with each other’s work, maybe we felt lost in the maelstrom of the photographic world. It’s an odd place to navigate, I think we found that the collective and each other were anchor points we could return to if we found ourselves stumbling. I can only really speak for myself here. The other three will have their own deeply personal reasons for wanting to be part of this.
We constantly collaborate, certainly in the day to day running of the collective at least. This is all encompassing plus we all have our own practices to think about. The one danger of this collective is it could easily swallow us and maintaining our own work and thought processes are as important as anything we do together.
Last year during the ‘Beast from the East’ we finally had the chance to create something in collaboration and we produced the first Inside the Outside zine. Each of us bought a few disposable cameras and without any real brief (aside from the climatic conditions to guide us) went out and photographed the local area ravaged by the effects of winter. No photographs were attributed to individuals, we wanted something stripped of ego, it sold out in a few days. We are planning on making this a regular thing with guest photographers and past ITO contributors being given a rough brief and making work specifically for a new publication.
CM: Can others join your collective, is it open? Have you ever decided not to work with someone in this way?
AB: I think it’s important to differentiate between members and photographers whose work we have been lucky enough to feature. If we ever met a photographer we thought for a second could cope with the four of us on a daily basis we would consider it…maybe…but probably not. For whatever reason the collective seems to be working just fine as it is. However, whilst the four of us form the collective, we do also feature other photographers. We don’t proactively ask for submissions just because we don’t have time to review them but that doesn’t mean a photographer can’t send in some work for consideration. If you think your work would interest us then send it in. If it isn’t for us we’ll tell you.
CM: There is something very compelling about seeing multiple view points about something as specific as the ‘Beast of the East’ and then not finding individual makers’ names attached to the images. Indeed, as you say, it is art ‘stripped of the ego’ which is a rare occurrence I feel. Is this type of strategy something you will also practice in a physical exhibition format?
AB: Insofar as we try and curate the exhibitions to work as a whole piece or installation rather than a collection of several individuals’ work. However I feel the finished exhibitions should also be treated as portals to a single photographer’s practice. Viewers are only ever going to delve as far as they want to when looking at work on a wall but there are layers of meaning and metaphor to fall through and experience, should the individual desire. We want everyone who walks through the door to have a deeply personal experience whether they connect with the work as a whole or with one or more individual exhibitors.
CM: Do you have your next thematic idea firmed up yet for collective examination?
AB: We have two past contributors making work for the next publication as we speak. The same premise applies. A loose brief and aside from noting each photographer on the cover no attribution to the individual works. We’ll keep you posted.
For further viewing:
Inside the Outside presents Out of the woods of thought: An exhibition of contemporary landscape photography at Argentea Gallery, Birmingham, 2 November – 21 December 2018.