Collaboration & Participation

mickyatesArt, Collaboration, Generative, Photography, Social, SSWeek3, SurfacesStrategies 2 Comments

This module is dealing in detail with the issues of collaboration and participation.

I am reading Claire Bishop‘s ‘Artificial Hells‘ in combination with the week’s recommend papers. I like the distinctions she is drawing between different kinds of collaboration and participation.

When viewed alongside Ariella Azoulay‘s ‘Civil Contract of Photography‘ makes a powerful case for photography being a much more collective activity than it seems at first glance. See my earlier notes on Azoulay’s writing, here.

Clare Bishop:

‘Today it is no longer a question of employing political theory, theatre history, performance studies, cultural policy and architecture to analyse participatory art and to rewrite art history from an invested political position (Marxism, psychoanalysis, linguistics) … so much as to acknowledge that it is impossible adequately to address a socially oriented art without turning to these disciplines, and that this interdisciplinarity parallels (and stems from) the ambition and content of art itself’ (pg 7),

And one of Azoulay’s main points is that photography, as a community activity, can help restore citizen’s rights:

‘The photograph always includes a supplement that makes it possible to show that what ‘was there’ [Barthes] wasn’t there necessarily in that way’ (pg 94)

‘Photography is a broad community – borderless and open – and ‘cannot be defined in terms of a common professional interest in photography’ (pg 97)

As I reflected on these points (and also started to get my head around the Zine group work), I remembered a project I setup 13 years ago on Flickr.

It was called ‘The Day Before Christmas ‘.

The idea was that people would submit a single, tagged image taken on Christmas Eve, 2005, to the Flickr group The Day Before Christmas.

We wanted to capture how people felt and what they were doing just before Christmas. From the briefing:

We are inclusive and encourage people from ALL parts of the world to express their thoughts in photographs – this is not a “religious” group. We chose December 24th because it is a special day in so many parts on the world, when families and friends come together, and a time when we all start to reflect on the year just past. It is also two days before the first anniversary of the dreadful Asian Tsunami.

So, a day with much thought and emotion attached to it.  We would like your pictures to be eclectic – social documentary, photomontage, travel … even abstract. What we do not want are “traditional” holiday season snaps! All we ask is that pictures are suitable for a “general” audience.

We also asked everyone to use a Creative Commons License … allowing non-profit derivative use (i.e. what is called “Attribution, Non Commercial”). That allows the creation of archives, montages, posting in other pools etc.

Almost 300 images were submitted in 24 hours. Our daughter, Victoria, helped collate them and we created a website which is still in existence today.  Of course, some of the original images have been deleted as accounts have changed, but a surprising number are still there.

Looking back, it provides a fascinating global glimpse into Christmas.

It also was an exercise in collaboration and participation.

The collaboration to make it happen was mainly via myself and my daughter – and the participation came via non-curated images and tags from across the world. If I recall, everyone that promised to deliver an image in the run up to the event did so.

There was little social media to advertise it – just Flickr.

Recall that Flickr started less than 2 years earlier, in February 2004, ironically the same month Facebook was founded. And Facebook was only focused on users on University campuses until autumn 2006, when it started to open up to the general population with email addresses.


Azoulay, Ariella. 2008. The Civil Contract of Photography. New York: Zone Books.

Bishop, Claire. 2012. Artificial Hells. London: Verso Books.

Bishop, Claire. 2013. Radical Museology. London: Koenig Books.

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