I told you before about Christopher Larson and his series of collaborative virtual exhibitions. I recently became a part of it, collaborating with Chris on a set of photos for April 2021. I’d taken a long break from photography before that, and it was tough to start. But once I did – I couldn’t stop. The whole experience was beneficial for me, both as a photographer and as a social human being. And in this article, I’d like to tell you about two things. First, about how Chris and I prepared this exhibition, and second, how collaborating with other people can help you if you’re stuck in a creative rut.
Preparing the exhibition
Chris’s virtual exhibitions aren’t only sets of photos on his website. Each of them is placed in a virtual 360-degree gallery that lets you “walk” through it from the comfort of your chair. As you can probably guess, Chris started the project when the pandemic was in full swing. It was the end of 2020, the time when it became clear that we wouldn’t get back to our normal lifestyles any time soon. And by that time, I used up all my ideas from the beginning of the pandemic, and I hadn’t been shooting for a few months.
Choosing the topic
Chris and I had agreed back in December 2020 that we would do this in the spring. I was moving home in January this year, hence the long wait. Time flew. The spring came, and Chris reached out to me to see if I was still in. Quite frankly, I was in one of my dark phases, unwilling to create anything, unwilling to even get out of bed in the morning. But I told myself: “You’re gonna do this thing, no matter how hard it seems.” And I did.
First things first, we needed a topic. Each of us asked our friends through Instagram stories what topic they would suggest for the exhibition. The next day, we exchanged what each of us got, and we both felt drawn to #HowYouSeeMe the most. The hashtag was originally a part of Eone’s campaign, symbolizing our challenge to recognize see more than what meets the eye, to recognize beauty and strength in women with disabilities. But Chris and I decided to give it our own interpretation.
After thinking about it for a while, I decided to actually ask a few people I’m close with: “How do you see me?” I sent a message to my closest friends and boyfriend to describe me in 3-4 adjectives. Then, I chose ten of those and thought about how I would turn them into photos.
I drew or wrote down ideas as I came up with them, and my boyfriend helped me with some of those. And then, I started shooting and chose to edit all photos to be black and white. Since my photos don’t all have the same subject, I did this to make them more uniform. But it also helped me focus on the emotion, both in them and in me, who was taking them.
Chatting with Chris, he told me that he had spent the most time thinking about turning this theme into images. He eventually decided to depict those sides of himself that he shares with the world. For most people, he is “a Russian speaker,” “a fiancé,” “a traveler…” And there are very few people who see all those nuances that are also a part of his personality. He gave his photos uniformity differently: they were all shot in the same style but with different subjects.
What both Chris and I find especially interesting is how our photos work together. The thing is, we didn’t agree on the style nor saw each other’s images before the exhibition went live. Sure, each of us has our own style, but they work together really nicely, in my opinion.
You know how, in a real gallery, you usually have an audio guide? Chris’s virtual gallery has the same thing. For each of the photos and the exhibition as a whole, you’ll hear an audio explanation recorded in our own voices. I must admit that it took me ages to record them because I’m a little self-conscious about my Slavic accent, but I generally think this adds an extra element and value to the whole concept.
How the project affected me (and how collaboration can affect you)
After telling you a bit about the exhibition, I’d like to tell you about how this whole experience affected me. Although we’re not all the same, I think that collaboration could help all of us in one way or another. Here are some things that it did for me.
New love for photography
As I mentioned in the very title, this collaboration rekindled my passion for photography. I won’t lie to you; it was tough in the first few days. I usually take photos when I travel, and I haven’t traveled much (ahem, at all) since February last year. I felt as if I needed some time to “warm up,” and once I did… Oh boy, I was my old self again!
My camera on a tripod was always somewhere in the room, I was always looking for something to shoot, and I couldn’t fall asleep because I thought about the photo I was going to take the following day. I chased the sun around the house, I dressed up, I posed, I light-painted, and I made a total (creative) mess out of my living room. Then I transferred the photos to my computer, edited a few of the best ones, had a hard time choosing “the one” from the batch, re-shot some of them… And I enjoyed all of it so much! I almost forgot how much I love this entire process.
Observing the world around me again and getting new creative ideas
I’m always creative in one way or another, but lately, it’s all been mainly about embroidery. I hadn’t been very creative as a photographer for months. But when I started working on this project, I slowly began getting ideas for photos again. I began observing the world around me again and noticing beautiful light, interesting textures, photogenic motifs. It was like waking up from hibernation.
The sense of collaboration and unity
When I get into my dark phases, I get pretty anti-social. But working on this project helped me get social and get in touch with other people again. I was often chatting with Chris about various details of the exhibition. And I worked together with my boyfriend on most of the photos. He was posing for me, posing with me, or just keeping me company, and it was a great way to spend time together.
This isn’t related to the shooting or the collaborating process. This is more about the interaction I had with my friends right after choosing the exhibition theme. When I asked them to describe me, no one wrote “difficult,” “dark,” “annoying,” which are all the traits I see in myself when I feel at my worst. They described me as “caring,” “golden-hearted,” “witty…” And this was really uplifting. Their reactions made me feel beyond grateful. I’m lucky to have people around me who love me for whichever reason and who think such wonderful things about me, even when I don’t.
When in doubt, reach out!
The pandemic has left its trace on all of us, and this sh*t isn’t even over yet. Some of us are feeling depressed, some lack creativity or motivation, and some experience all of it. But whatever may be your case, I believe that you won’t make a mistake by reaching out to others.
You can reach out to fellow photographers to do something together. You can take a photo walk together, or maybe pose for each other. You can brainstorm themes or techniques together, choose one, and then take photos. Or you can reach out to your friends to help you choose it. After all, you know what they say, “two heads are better than one.”
But even if you don’t feel like collaborating, it’s still good to reach out to others. You can simply ask your friends to give you a topic for you to shoot, simple as that. And if you’re feeling depressed, burnt out, emotionally drained… I suggest this: ask people you love how they see you. It can feel a bit awkward, but you will be pleasantly surprised. You can illustrate their responses in photos if inspiration is what you needed… But you can also just enjoy the gratefulness you’ll feel for sure.
Make sure to check out the exhibition and take a walk through the virtual gallery on Chris’s website. You’ll find more of his work on Instagram here and here, and I still share my work on Flickr (and my other creative mumbo-jumbo on Instagram).
Let me know in the comments – do you reach out to others when you feel down? And do you reach out to other photographers when you’re experiencing a creative block?