How do photographers get their unique work seen in an era saturated with millions of images? By forming a photo collective, a group of photographers with a common vision or subject matter can pool their talents and expertise to make a larger impact. Here’s why joining a photo collective can serve your artistic career.
1. Make your own break
Artists have been banding together for centuries. Impressionists like Renoir, Monet, and Cezanne couldn’t get into the Salon de Paris, an annual art show featuring the best paintings in France. Their work was rejected for years since it did not match the popular realistic style of the time. Their response was to form a collective to display their works independently, their first show taking place in the studio of a photographer. Rather than wait for the academy’s approval, they made their own break.
2. Pursue a common vision
Since 1947, Magnum photographers have chronicled world history, from the battlefields of Vietnam to 9/11. Founded by Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Capa, David Seymour, George Rodger, and William Vandivert, the group took their name from the magnum of wine that they drank at every meeting. Dividing the globe between them, this collective sought to capture the “decisive moment” of war, famine, and everyday life.
3. Get inspiration
No idea is original, according to Austin Kleon, author of Steal Like an Artist. What he means is that art is iterative, built upon what came before it. Your photos are influenced by what you’ve seen. To become a better photographer, you need to see more photos. And you need to learn how to make them. A photo collective is a great way to do this, since you’ll not only get to see the work of other photographers, but you’ll also learn how they created their images.
4. Embrace camaraderie
Photography attracts introverts, since it’s something you can do on your own. Only one person can stare through the viewfinder. You click the shutter—no one else. But there are times when you might want some company. You want to talk shop. Or maybe you want to do a photowalk somewhere new. A photo collective is a chance to find fellow travelers, people who enjoy photography as much as you do.
5. Share skills
Maybe you’re an expert at capturing landscapes but don’t know how to light a model. Or perhaps you know how to frame a print but don’t know anything about Instagram marketing. A photo collective is a great way to share skills. In a photo collective, you’re likely to find someone with an answer to your photo question. You don’t need to be an expert at everything when you have people who can help.
6. Enjoy third-party endorsement
When shopping on Amazon, do you read the reviews? Of course you do. You look to see if the product you’re interested in has been recommended by others. That’s called third-party endorsement. You’re more likely to buy a product recommended by someone else. A photo collective works the same way since you’re endorsed by the other photographers in the collective—if they let you in, you must be good, right?
7. Harness networking power
Let’s say you have 500 friends. You put on a show and send invites to 500 people. 10% show up—that’s 50 people. But what if you were part of a collective of ten photographers also with 500 friends each? That means you send out 5000 invites and 500 people show up. A massive difference. This simple math means exposure for your work to people well outside your network. Pool your contacts with your fellow photographers to reach an exponentially greater audience. That’s the power of a photo collective.
From Renoir to the present day, the artist collective is an old idea that’s new again. Navigating the world as an individual photographer can be a daunting enterprise. The photo collective offers the opportunity to learn new skills, expand your network, and find friends in the often-introverted world of photography.
A photo collective can be as simple as a group of friends who love food photography or photographers trying to capture Washington beyond the monuments. Many collectives don’t even refer to themselves as collectives, calling themselves meetups, groups, or photowalks. Instagram, Flickr, and other social photography sites are good places to search for your tribe.
So, join a photo collective. Or start one of your own. Don’t wait to be discovered. Make your own break.
Even with a photo collective, every now and then you may want to develop (or refresh) your creative vision. Here’s how.
*Image of a Community Collective show in Washington, DC., by Joe Flood