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. This week, we turn our attention to the international collective VIVO.
LC: What were the origins of your collective—what first brought you together, what’s kept you together as time has gone on?
VO: We started off as a website called simply, “Street Photographers.” We also had a Facebook page that quickly garnered a large following. In 2012, we made the decision to become a collective and started to exhibit together, working on group projects.
What keeps us together is the understanding that being part of a collective affords us different opportunities than we would have on our own. Of course, we also appreciate having each other around, to discuss ideas and give each other feedback on our work.
LC: Can you say a bit more about the unique challenges (and beauties) of photographing on the streets? You told us what brought you together—but what brings you (collectively) towards street photography? Do you have a manifesto or some kind of animating belief in the power of the genre as a way to see the world?
VO: The first challenge is to find or see something that we feel compelled to photograph and the second is to capture that scene in a way that is true to our vision.
We really don’t have a manifesto, but the beauty and magic we find on the street are endless. An almost infinite number of possible encounters make street photography exciting, unpredictable and an all-consuming pursuit.
LC: Some people feel that street photography is stuck in its way of seeing the world, that the genre hasn’t developed since its “golden age” in the 50s, 60s and 70s. What do you think about our contemporary period for street photography—what are the signs of encouragement (and the difficulties)?
VO: The term street photography has been evolving to include both posed and un-posed photographs. At times, it’s even been used in reference to photographs taken in non-public spaces. Many of us feel that “street photography” has been having an identity crisis, but the term itself is really little more than a social convention. For some, a move back to the earlier definition, “un-posed photography in public spaces,” might provide some clarification, but ultimately definitions are fluid and can change over time.
In our contemporary moment, there is both good and bad. For example, the Internet has both played an integral part in the genre’s revival but at the same time given a lot of weak street photography a public platform. As increasing numbers turn to this accessible genre, it can sometimes feel as though we have become saturated from seeing too much street photography.
Maybe because of this, some photographers are challenging themselves to use street photography in fresh ways. Right now, the genre is being used to tell both real and fictional stories, and challenging the definition laid out above. How exciting it is that we are seeing more and more exceptional images, used in surprising ways, by photographers from around the world!
LC: Collectives seem to be an important structure for street photographers, in particular. Why do you think that’s the case?
VO: It is probably because street photography is the least commercial genre of photography, so groups are willing to form without the thought of money. Also, as the genre remains undervalued in the eyes of the art world, street photographers look to each other, rather than larger institutions, for inspiration and support.
For those interested in starting a collective or joining one, we have a bit of advice: first, any one should be prepared to put in both time and effort towards the collective—and that each member is committed to making the enterprise work. That being said, it’s important to realize that some members will be more committed to the collective than others.
Ultimately, just make sure to set out objectives and a minimum expectations for each member, so no one feels disappointed. Also, be aware of the tension between adding new members and the difficulty of organizing larger numbers of people.
—VIVO Collective interviewed by Alexander Strecker
Editors’ Note: You can find more of the work of VIVO on their website—18 photographers in total, from all over the world. They also run a very popular and active Facebook page which is well worth following.
Other Collective Interviews: