If you thought photography was an individual pursuit, think again. Photography collectives, from Magnum to VII to The Deadbeat Club, have always played an important role in pushing the medium forward. In this regular series, Collective Vision, we find the photographers who are stoking a resurgence of the collective and rewriting the rules of the game.
First up is Burn My Eye, a street photography collective of 14 members spread over three continents who grew out of the 50,000 strong Hardcore Street Photography group on Flickr. They organise, collaborate and share their work predominantly online but have exhibited all over the world, and you can check out their latest group show at the Brighton Photo Biennial 2014. Each member shares and receives feedback on their personal projects and BME release regular group edits, but they have only gathered together in the meat space once, at the London Festival of Photography in 2012. Huck spoke to Taipei based photographer TC Lin for the inside story on Burn My Eye.
Why did you decide to join forces?
We began mostly from the Hardcore Street Photography group on Flickr. When we started out, Justin Vogel, Andy Kochanowski and I were administrators of the group, and as HCSP had well over 50,000 members at the time, we wondered what we could accomplish by working together with the photographers there that we all respected and admired, as a small group, drawing on each other’s expertise and vision for a fresh yet experienced eye on each other’s work.
We’d known of each other’s work for years through the group, so getting together in a more formal sense felt like a natural progression. Over the years we have added a few more people, and a few have left, but it’s still more or less the same core group.
What does working together allow you to do that you couldn’t do by yourselves?
For me, the biggest advantage of belonging to such an accomplished group of photographers is having access to their thoughts and opinions on my ideas, be they in the form of photos, projects, or even non-photography-related matters. It allows me to see things clearly and objectively as I proceed, in contrast to working purely in solitude and isolation.
Most of us work that way, of course; it’s natural in such a solitary pursuit as photography. But it’s also gratifying to be able to come inside at the end of the day and have this group of talented individuals with whom I can discuss what’s been going on. I also enjoy providing some perspective on their work as well, and it’s great to get to see their projects as they develop, which is a great way to study how people I admire work, and I sometimes experiment with some of their practices.
What have you learned from other photographers in the collective? Has working together changed the work you produce?
One thing I’ve learned is that, even with a small group of photographers, there is no one standard, objective “good”. Different things appeal to different people. The main thing that tends to get across is sincerity, not just with others, but with oneself. If someone is honest in going about their work, it shows. You might think that in working with a group of respected photographers there would be a temptation to always show your best work and be untowardly influenced by them to the extent of only showing what you think they will like, but I find that the opposite has occurred. Perhaps this is because I respect and admire them too much to submit them to that kind of thing; they aren’t the faceless masses of the internet; they are friends and colleagues. In a nutshell, being part of a collective has made an honest man of me (so to speak).
What’s the future for the collective?
That’s a good question, and something that we discuss frequently. Some of us have more ambitious plans, while others seem happy to meet whatever challenges appear as they come. We’ve had a big year, with showings at the MAP Festival in Toulouse, France, at the Brighton Photo Biennial, and at Paris Photo. There is talk of perhaps creating a book, and we periodically produce edits of our own work on various themes, in addition to our own personal projects.
If I had the time and money, I would love to travel the world and visit each and every one of our members, both current and past, and just spend some time with them. We met up at our show at the London Festival of Photography in 2012, and that has added another dimension to our online communications. Not every member was able to make it at that time, however, and while many more of us are meeting in Paris in November, there are still people I know very well online but whom I have never met in real life.
It’s a process. I’m sure that back in the day even Magnum photographers weren’t obsessed with churning out excellent stories and images every hour of every day, which seems to be the unwarranted expectation in these days of constant connectivity, which in my opinion is often a disadvantage. In light of what I’ve seen at BME, however, I’m confident that the stories that we tell and the issues we explore will continue to inspire by communicating our personal views of the world as well as our collective vision.