Who can stake a claim to a photograph?

Five photography practitioners and thinkers have released a timely new book that examines the different kinds of collaboration that go into photographs, raising important questions around authorship and authority

It’s difficult to escape the urge to attribute a photograph to a singular photographer. However, photography is rarely an entirely solo exercise, if ever. From commercial imagemaking to fine art photography, pictures will be treated as the work of a select few, obscuring the efforts of a more sizeable team involved in bringing a project from conception to realisation – and that’s before you even consider the involvement of people outside of formalised teams and roles. Beneath the surface of an image are layers of participation, as revealed by Collaboration: A Potential History of Photography – a necessary book that forces readers to reconsider the very meaning of the word ‘by’ in the context of photography.

Assembled by Ariella Aïsha Azoulay, Wendy Ewald, Susan Meiselas, Leigh Raiford, and Laura Wexler, Collaboration exposes the different kinds of relations and power dynamics that go into photographs – dynamics that don’t always occupy fixed positions, even during the act of creation. Projects involving Meiselas, Ewald, and Azoulay appear in the book, along with many others involving photographers and artists such as Ansel Adams, Sally Mann, Steve McCurry, Malick Sidibé, Sunil Gupta, Broomberg and Chanarin, and Zanele Muholi.

It navigates methods that imagemakers have incorporated into the process to foreground participation, from handing a camera or a shutter release over to other people, to introducing other voices into the images as annotations. The book also spans less obvious forms of collaboration (for instance, how a person leaves an imprint on a space that is later photographed), as well as many examples that illustrate how lives are touched and iconographies formed, long after a photographic encounter has ended.

Top: Uyghur Community © Carolyn Drake; Above: Virginia Oldoini, Countess of Castiglione, Pierre-Louis Pierson/Scherzo di Follia, 1863-66; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, gift of George Davis, 1948