PHO703 Week 3: Collaboration or Participation?

This is what has struck me so far about collaboration or participation. But why confine oneself to just one term when there might be more enjoyment in having both? The great thing about collaboration is that one can just get down and do it instead of talking about it.

In order to avoid a long post, I will cover how I think the subject affects my own practice in a second post.

An example of collaboration (and also of participation) is an exhibition held last year here in Oxford at the Old Fire Station arts centre (Arts at the Old Fire Station 2019). It was called ICON and involved a professional photographer, Rory Carnegie, and a group of clients from Crisis Skylight Oxford (a charity which works with those facing homelessness and with people having a tough time). The aim was to recreate some of the most famous photographs of the past few decades using the clients as cast, crew and collaborators. The photographer was really just another member of the crew.

Fig. 1: Rory Carnegie 2019. World Cup with Gavin, Doug, Wayne, Emma, Nick, Ryszard, Demelza, Anthony, George and Mark | after ‘England Victory, Wembley’, 1966.

I think this is a good example of collaboration, mainly, but also participation. There was an agreed shared aim around a defined project. Those who took part did so as fully equal members, i.e. they collaborated to create the whole project. And they were also participants in individual images, standing in as performers for the subjects in the original image. In this sense they were rather like the participants in Gillian Wearing’s Signs that Say What You Want Them To Say and Not Signs that Say What Someone Else Wants You To Say of 1992-3 (Wearing 2020).

The whole project strikes me as a development of the practice of Anthony Luvera (Luvera 2020), but this time a project with a more formal organisation and more people.

The result was a great success. All the details can be seen at the URL I have referenced. This includes an Exhibition Guide, which is really about the development and methodology of the project. There is also an Evaluation Report, a really useful document and an idea well worth keeping in mind as a way not only of monitoring results but improving methods and avoiding pitfalls the next time round.

A second example: I am a member of Oxford Photographers, a group of photographers local to Oxford (Oxford Photographers 2020). We could be described as a collective, because we share a common aim (the promotion and enjoyment of photography in and around Oxford). We hold regular meetings in venues, go on photowalks and the like. We all go along as participants. From time to time we collaborate on specific projects, usually exhibitions, in which everyone helps to formulate the project aims and takes part on an equal basis.  We also cooperate, sometimes in smaller groups, by pooling resources either without a shared objective (it could just be borrowing kit) or if the objective is shared then each participant approaches it independently in their own way and not under the single umbrella of a collaboration.

Fig. 2: Oxford Photographers 2020. Exhibition Poster.

In practice I think a lot of these terms are pretty fluid and change as time and culture change. My references for the foregoing would be Maria Lind (Lind 2007), Ariella Azoulay (Azoulay 2016) and TATE Art Terms (TATE 2020). Interestingly, TATE Art Terms does not have an entry for collaboration. This suggests that the focus now seems to be more on process and outcomes, in terms the TATE does acknowledge such as Community Art, Social Turn, Socially Engaged Practice, Participatory Art, Activist Art and Relational Aesethetics. These ideas can overlap, too, especially in really large-scale projects which involve the coming together of many different people and organisations such as Deller’s Battle of Orgreave (Mellor 2011). The result is a much wider and more accommodating view of what we think Art is.


ARTS AT THE OLD FIRE STATION. 2019. ‘ICON: Arts at the Old Fire Station’. Exhibition [online]. Available at: [accessed 17 Jun 2020].

AZOULAY, Ariella. 2016. ‘Photography Consists of Collaboration: Susan Meiselas, Wendy Ewald, and Ariella Azoulay’. Camera Obscura: Feminism, Culture, and Media Studies 31(1 91), [online], 187–201. Available at: [accessed 17 Jun 2020].

LIND, Maria. 2007. ‘The Collaborative Turn’. In Johanna BILLING, Maria LIND, and Lars NILSSON (eds.). Taking the Matter into Common Hands: On Contemporary Art and Collaborative Practices. London: Black Dog, 15–31.

LUVERA, Anthony. 2020. ‘Anthony Luvera – Artist, Writer, Educator’. [online]. Available at: [accessed 18 Jun 2020].

MELLOR, David Alan. 2011. ‘Jeremy Deller Interviewed by David Alan Mellor’. Photoworks (17), 14–17 [online]. Available at: [accessed 11 Jun 2020].

OXFORD PHOTOGRAPHERS. 2020. ‘Oxford Photographers: A Group of Photographers Based in Oxfordshire’. [online]. Available at: [accessed 15 Apr 2020].

WEARING, Gillian. 2020. ‘”I’m Desperate”’. TATE [online]. Available at: [accessed 17 Jun 2020].

TATE. 2020. ‘Art Terms’. [online]. Available at: [accessed 18 Jun 2020].


Figure 1: Rory CARNEGIE. 2019. World Cup with Gavin, Doug, Wayne, Emma, Nick, Ryszard, Demelza, Anthony, George and Mark | after ‘England Victory, Wembley’, 1966. From: Arts at the Old Fire Station. 2019. ‘ICON: Arts at the Old Fire Station’. Exhibition [online]. Available at: [accessed 17 Jun 2020].
Figure 2. OXFORD PHOTOGRAPHERS. 2020. Exhibition Poster. Collection of the author.