In the world of photography, the idea of collectives is not new: Magnum Photos set the standard nearly 70 years ago and countless other efforts have cropped up in the intervening decades. But what is new, or at least has changed dramatically in the past decade, is the ease and speed at which groups can form and collaborate. Combine this fact with street photographers’ wide-ranging embrace of social media, and we are witnessing an explosion of collectives that bring together like-minded street shooters from around the world and then rapidly disseminate their work across digital networks.
Week by week, over the course of the LensCulture Street Photography Awards 2016, we will be featuring inspiring street photography collectives from across the globe. In this feature, we focus on the international collective known as “Metro.”
LC: What were the origins of your collective—what first brought you together, what’s kept you together as time has gone on?
MO: Metro started very informally with meetings in bars and cafés in Washington, D.C. It was the dedication to independent documentary and personal vision which brought us together and has kept us together over the years.
LC: Can you say a bit more about your group’s binding philosophy? How does the camera help each of you accomplish this mission? Does shooting in the street feel particularly consistent with this ideal?
MO: As our mission statement says we are, “united by common values and a shared dedication to the expressive documentary spirit, where authorship and a personal visual aesthetic are grounded in humanistic stories and themes.”
We are photographers and the camera is our tool and hence integral to our work, but I imagine that if cameras did not exist, we would find other ways to communicate and document.
Photographing in the streets is, of course, a very important part of our work but it not necessarily part of our philosophy or ideal. If a studio photographer had work that fit our mission then we would be happy to have them in Metro.
While we may or may not strictly be street photographers, it is an important part of our work since much of our work lies within the aesthetic, philosophical and historical context of street photography. And, of course, many of us have been deeply influenced by and admire the greats of street photography.
LC: Collectives seem to be an important structure for street photographers, in particular. Why do you think that’s the case?
MO: Street photography can be a lonely craft. The photographer wonders the streets alone, unlike photojournalism where one works on a team and sometimes surrounded by other photographers.
A collective creates a sense of belonging and it provides much need support: professional as well as mental.
LC: Over time, have you developed a collective sense of what draws you each towards photography? I’m sure this varies from person to person, but perhaps there’s also a collective commitment to the medium that has been forged over time?
MO: All members past and present already had a great commitment to documentary photography before joining Metro—that is part of what brought us together and one of the main qualities we look for in new members. We are all working, professional photographers and perhaps the collective has helped many of us stay in the field and keep producing interesting and important work. In part thanks to our collective, we have each been able to stay independent and together for all these years.
LC: If a new group were interested in starting a collective, what advice would you have for them? Challenges to watch out for; things you wish you had known at the beginning?
MO: It’s essential to make sure everyone is on same boat as far as the goals of the collective. All should also agree on expectations about the amount of collaboration and the everyday duties of keeping the collective running. Though not sexy, these topics are what make or break a collective.
—Metro Collective, interviewed by Alexander Strecker
Other Collective Interviews: