Working in Duo to Create the ‘Third Look’

More and more photographers, and artists in general, are working and collaborating together. Undoubtedly, this makes you grow as a professional. But why else do photographers team up? What does it take to make it work and have a rewarding experience? We went to talk to a few photographic duos from around the world to understand more.

The photographer’s profession is often very lonely. Perhaps even more so back in the days when photographing your images or story was the principal task. We all know that those days are gone. As the profession evolves, photographers are finding new ways of creating and showcasing work. One such example is teaming up with another photographer. We talked to three duos, Inka & Niclas, Rueda Photos and Niñorojo, to understand more about this practice.

© Inka & Niclas. Family Portrait IX, 2018

So how to start working as a duo? Obviously, there needs to be a good connection with your partner. With most of the duos that we spoke to, the collaboration started while studying and by helping each other out with respective individual projects. From that process, you can discover that there is a real connection and collaboration that takes work to a next level and makes the process in doing so more interesting, joyful, easier or challenging in a good way. “Then it’s about creating a new character”, as Pascal from the Spanish duo Niñorojo puts it. “We decided to move away from what we had photographed before and started from scratch with new working strategies and objectives, experimenting, learning and growing, like a child that is taking its first steps in the world.”

Then, after the collaboration has begun, one needs to find a way in order to make it work. So what are the ingredients needed to make it successful?

First of all, you need to be complementary to one another. “Where I am not at my strongest, such as when writing, when explaining a project when we expose it, when we organise operational issues of permits and when we have to contact institutions, Celeste appears. And it makes the duo complete”, says Daiana from the Argentinian duo Rueda Photos.

In Niñorojo also, the two photographers, Pascal and Vincent, bring different attributes to their collaboration. “Vincent is more quiet and organised in different senses and I am more impulsive and instinctive, but we always find our balance and this is the most important thing. We have our differences, obviously, but we have learned a lot about versatility and adaptability”, Pascal notes.

Niclas, who together with Inka forms the Swedish artist duo Inka & Niclas, tells us: “I’m technical, good at problem solving and foreseeing… Inka has a free mind and seldom sees any problems at all. I’ve been proven wrong so many times when I say something can’t be done, because in my mind logically it can’t, but then it ends up working or becoming something else much better simply because she has no boundaries when working.”

© Rueda Photos. Morenada Porteña: group of “cholas” from the Bolivian Community at the social reception and show of the Fraternity at the Sacachispas Club, Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Secondly, when you want to make it work, forget about the individual recognition and leave your ego aside. When you team up with another photographer, you have to “assume the authorship together, as well as the merit, the successes, the doubts and the errors”, as Niñorojo convey. In fact, for both Celeste and Daiana, the biggest lesson learned since working together is forgetting about simply your own desires and ambitions. And with that comes respect for your partner as a person and as an artist or photographer.

Thirdly, teamwork. Working as part of a duo is very different from working alone. Making decisions together, finding the consensus. You need to be able to listen, reflect and debate. Daiana says: “When I work alone, it is more sensory and when we work in duo, it is more rational.” You need to believe in the collective construction of stories, in the power of multiple viewpoints to enhance a project. And teamwork is also about sharing tasks. Niñorojo share all of their tasks to obtain an outcome that's unique. “Sometimes we don't know who has taken the pictures. We often ask ourselves when we see the results of our films. We have reached that point where our vision is almost 100% interconnected”, they say.

And then, finally, there is trust. Without trust there is no foundation to work. As Daiana asserts: “Fundamentally, we trust each other… our collective work experience is very good, we respect and admire each other as photographers, we trust in the criteria of decision making and in the outlook of one another when photographing a subject, something very important when working as a team.”

© Niñorojo, from the series The Tree of Life is Eternally Green

So what do you gain from working as a duo? Primarily, a more enriching experience. Rueda Photos likens the teamwork to create “a learning space” in which they feel that it always favours their creativity and potential as documentary photographers. When continuous dialogue is a crucial element in the process and collaboration, one becomes challenged, questioned and demands a certain flexibility and adaptability. All processes that can be learned from.

Additionally, creating that ‘third look’, which happens when photographers work together, can be exceptionally interesting for clients. Working in duo can enrich the final results of the work, since different gazes, virtues and characteristics make the two photographers complement each other. Niñorojo reveal that when they show their work there is always a special interest from the public to know who has taken the shot. “Our work is shared by both of us, and we never say who has been the author of each photo in our projects, because there is much more work beyond just pressing of the shutter: conceptualisation, documentation, investigation, processing, editing etc. and this aspect disconcerts our public and we like it.”

Also, in certain situations and projects, working with someone can be safer, as it sometimes is for Rueda Photos.

When asking about the drawbacks of partnering with another photographer, it is often mentioned that in the case of many scholarships, contests or training programs, the idea of two people working together and creating a single body of work isn’t considered. Maybe it’s just a matter of time before more photographers start working in duo and the industry has no option other than to adjust and adapt.

A photographic duo can be, at its best, a well-oiled machine with double the number of eyes, hands and ideas, acting and reacting in perfect harmony to a greater end and with more means than its individual members. As Niclas says: “It's a fluid and associative search”, which for some photographers can work out very well. Nothing is better or worse, not one approach is the best way. It really depends on your needs and desires as a professional. You lose some, you gain some. “But one thing is that my ideas always get´s turned into something else, usually for the better” Niclas declares. “It's harder to be in perfect control, but perfect control is an illusion from the beginning. When the both of us try to realise our individual ideas, the result is going to be a third way.”

© Inka & Niclas. 4K Ultra HD I, 2018

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Thanks to the following duos who helped us to write this article.

Inka (*1985, Finland) and Niclas (*1984, Sweden) Lindergård are an artist duo who work primarily with photography-based art. They have worked together since 2007 and are based in Stockholm. With starting points in popular culture, their work circulates around investigations of the photograph as a carrier of an mysterious image of nature. Their imagery spans from search engines and their algorithmic answers of what nature looks like to an aesthetic appropriated from nature religions, occultism and spiritual postcards. Their second book ‘The Belt of Venus and the Shadow of the Earth’ (2016, Kerber Verlag) revolves around performative photographic acts that can only be experienced through the photograph, an investigation into the of the act of taking a photograph and the camera’s role as a bridge between the physical world and the photographic. It was awarded the Swedish Book Art Award 2016 and nominated for the The Swedish Photo Book Prize 2018. Their first book ‘Watching Humans Watching’ (2012, Kehrer Verlag) won the Swedish Photobook Prize 2012 and was nominated for the German Photobook Prize in 2013. They exhibit and are published internationally on a regular basis.

Pascual Martínez and Vincent Sáez are two Spanish photographers who work together as the Niñorojo Project. Their focus is on human relationships and the study of society through photography as a means of anthropological exploration. In 2014 they began working on The Tree of Life is Eternally Green. For this project they have been awarded grants for foreign cultural journalists by the Romanian Cultural Institute. The Tree of Life is Eternally Green was selected to exhibit at PHotoEspaña Forum of the Community of Madrid and at the PA-TA-TA Festival in Granada in 2017, and was in the final selection of the LensCulture Awards 2015. Recently it has been exhibited in Madrid, Murcia, and Barcelona and published as a photobook with Overlapse.

Rueda Photos are Daiana Valencia and Celeste Alonso from Argentina, who have since 2016, merged their glances to work collectively telling stories.
 They met while studying at the Association of Graphic Reporters of the Argentine Republic in 2010. Images of different works that they have developed are part of the book ‘Ser Mujer Latinoamericana’. Rueda Photos is interested in social issues, particularly in their region, and “develop long-term issues where research is fundamental when it comes to carrying them out.” They furthermore offer to look at the uncomfortable.

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Talking About Education is a monthly feature where we reflect on current opportunities and practices to form and develop yourself as a photographer. To learn more about our live one-to-one educational program, please visit phmuseum.com/education

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