Saturday, 7 April 2012

the art of living dangerously......... collaborating with a stranger

my life-your life

I have been engaged in a photographic collaboration with a stranger; we have never met, but have seen each other's work on Flickr. I responded to his invitation to take part in an experiment with double exposed film.

I volunteered out of curiosity, and as I have been experimenting with double exposures already, this seemed a natural progression of my experiments.

My other half was not informed. Being naturally suspicious he would immediately have told me to withdraw for fear of invasion of privacy/ putting myself at risk of 'stranger danger' or just because it isn't the sort of thing that his other half should do.

Maybe I would meet this person and fall in love? Or maybe they would draw me into a trap and something bad would ensue. The possibilities for disaster could be endless. So he doesn't know, and I am still alive and other half and I are still together.

Stranger and I agreed to each shoot a roll of film, then post to the other who would re-shoot the entire film before developing.

Having agreed to take part, my own anxieties took hold. What if the images that I had developed were unsuitable? What if it really was a trap? What if the film I received contained 'unsuitable' content? What would the man in Snappy Snaps think? Would the police get involved? I had no control over what was on the roll of film that I received in the post, and that added to the fun. I discussed these anxieties with my second born, who suggested that I pre-empt any unsuitable content by creating my own unsuitable content. Clever, but not something I chose to do. I trusted my instincts and got on with the job.

Wandering around with a  film and my old Fujica I started to think about what I was trying to convey about myself with the images that I took. I made the mistake of shooting the first roll on a Canon EOS. The rewind is electric, and before I knew it the end of the film disappeared into the canister, never to be seen again. So I tried again with my old manual rewind camera, and felt the joy of one of my first manual cameras that I hadn't touched for years. I still have the first roll, undeveloped, and have been considering developing it to see exactly how I had represented my life to a stranger. This might be the most interesting part of the whole experiment.

So what was on my roll of film?

my life-your life 2

I had shown small details from around my home ; not enough to give away my identity, but enough to show a little of my life and immediate enviroment. I showed books, nick knacks, old photos and scenes from the streets around the block. I showed Camber Sands, and the sea (ref. my need to escape suburbia).

Stranger showed me his vegetable plot, his home, bed, shadow, hands. it struck me that there were a lot of similarities in our choice of personal details whilst maintaining anonymity. The shots were not lined up, and the developer had chosen stranger's frames to show as complete images. Mine are therefore cut in half, creating the need to see a strip of images to understand what I had photographed. I am not sure how one gets around the problem of ensuring that both frames are overlaid precisely when the film is removed and reloaded before re-shooting.

my life-your life 3

my life -your life 4

my life-your life 5

What to make of all this?

It was fun; I am still looking forward to seeing the product of the process in reverse, shot in black and white.

There are techincal dificulties to be overcome; much of the roll of film that I received failed to show both parties' images for reasons that are unclear.

Which way should the film be spliced; or should it be viewed as a complete roll, uncut and thereby telling a better story?

The issue of ownership is to be agreed; it seems that we should both own both films, and in due course we hope to scan the negs and share them. What we do with them after that is another question. I am not expecting instant worldwide celebrity as a consequence of this experiment, so the question remains more theoretical than practical.

My thanks to Stranger  for suggesting this.

It has been fun.

 I'll let him decide whether to reveal who he is!


  1. Well firstly it's great to see the images – they're really intriguing and it’s actually quite hard to remember in some of them what I was actually photographing. I enjoyed your text too – particularly all the issues around collaborating with a stranger!
    I’m very busy now with finishing off college work, a documentary project and a 3000 word essay, so I might not get to finish the black and white film until May, but finish it I will.
    Thanks for jumping in and trying out the film swap – I’ve no big idea about the meaning of the end result but already the process is very interesting.


  2. Here is the bw film in its entirety