Miranda Gavin and Wendy Pye: on working together

There isn’t a single formula to collaborate with other artists. In the article below, Miranda Gavin co-founder of Tri-pod, a research and development group for photographic artists, describes their modus operandi.

Working under the name Tri-pod, our key aim is to offer critical support to photographers and visual artists working on lens-based personal projects in progress.

The initial idea for Tri-pod came from co-founder Wendy Pye, who completed a MA in Photography at London College of Communication in 2009. During this time, she developed personal projects but found that, having left the course, she missed having regular, structured feedback. However, at times, she had also felt deflated by the quality of feedback and support that it provided. It was from this experience that she realised the importance of having a skilled facilitator involved, rather than a peer-to-peer led support group, and believed that I had the right qualities to facilitate such a group.

The vision

Together we discussed what we wanted to provide, researched the market and discovered that there were no such initiatives offering the kind of workshops we wanted to deliver. In the absence of any, we created Tri-pod. We also took time to set out our aims, our approach and how our strengths could be best utilized. Both Wendy and I felt that we could offer support to emerging and established lens-based practitioners working on personal Projects in Progress (PiP). From my experience looking at photographers/lens-based artists’ work and Wendy’s experience as a photographer showing work and studying in a formal educational setting, we found that there was a gap in the provision of ongoing support offered for the development of ideas in the context of a safe and supportive environment.

The first Tri-pod group was set up in April 2010 and ran for eighteen months as a closed research and development group. The nine members were selected through an application process and the call for participants was sent out via alumni websites and social media channels. From the outset, we decided to charge a fee for the workshops.

This was for a number of reasons; we wanted to build a self-sustainable model for Tri-pod that did not rely on outside funding; we felt that making a financial commitment to attending the monthly workshops would motivate participants to attend and it would finance my role as a facilitator of the group and other facilitators who we may invite to discuss work.

I had made a commitment to meet the group, once a month for three hours in the evenings, and we wanted to cover the time we spent on pre-planning, delivery and administration of the workshops. We pay the facilitators, whom we invited to meet the group, a fee plus travel expenses. As freelances, we both believe in remunerating facilitators and do not expect them to work for free, even though this is a commonly-accepted practice in the visual arts world; we want Tri-pod to be an example of good practice to others in the industry.

After a successful six months of research and development, the group decided to continue working together with the aim of completing a body of work that had been developed during this time. This culminated in a well-received exhibition, Nine Point Perspective: Ways of Seeing at Hotshoe Gallery, London in August 2011. Since then we have delivered one-day, one and a half day and two-day workshops at the Roof Unit in London and, more recently, at Photofusion in London where we will be showcasing the work of two Tri-pod participants in a summer show opening on 8 August 2013. This has been made possible thanks to our association with Photofusion and we have been able to secure the exhibition space as payment ‘in kind’ for my talks and chairing of events at the gallery over the last couple of years.

Working together

In collaborating, Wendy and I recognised that we had skills, experience and approaches to developing creative projects that both complement, and overlap with, each other. Wendy is a commercial photographer and has also managed various arts and interactive based projects. Since completing her Masters in photography she’s continued her arts practice alongside lecturing in photography and digital art. I am a writer, educator and photographer and bring an industry perspective to the mix, as I have been writing about photography for the last ten years, both in print and online, and have contributed to numerous national and international publications. This means that I have a strong contact base of organisations and individuals involved in photography and lens-based media who I can invite to facilitate and support Tri-pod.

We keep the Tri-pod groups small. So far, we have run workshops with between six to 12 participants, all of who are new to Tri-pod. Once someone has attended a workshop, they then become part of the Tri-pod Network and can attend the follow-up sessions that we are currently setting up. We believe that it is important to provide on-going support and encourage the participants to keep in touch with each other outside of the Tri-pod workshops.

Five participants from the first group still meet on a monthly basis, however, if this is done without the input of Wendy or I then they are not meeting as a Tri-pod group. Early on, Wendy and I realised that there was a need to keep a rein on what we do as Tri-pod and we agreed that, unless either of us is involved, then the groups would be operating outside of Tri-pod.

The workshops are structured in two parts and I lead them with support from Wendy. Through trial and error we have found that one and a half day workshops held over two days (an afternoon session of four hours followed by an all-day session the next day) are the best format, in terms of time and cost. The first part of the workshop is always focused on bringing the group together and providing a safe space in which participants can reflect on their creative practice, such as how they develop and nurture ideas, as well as providing opportunities to discuss the impact of negative feedback on their practice. For the second half of the workshop, we invite industry professionals, including curators, gallerists, agents and editors, to give feedback to the participants in small groups alongside me. The emphasis in the workshops is on inspiring each other, developing participants’ Projects in Progress (PiP), looking at ways to move it forward and encouraging the participants to keep in touch with each other outside of the workshop. There is a nurturing aspect to what we do; we are not scared of addressing personal issues surrounding projects, especially as they are all personally-motivated, Projects in Progress. We like to engage with how people feel on a psychological basis about their work and creativity; it’s about nurturing ideas and birthing projects.

The business model

Setting up Tri-pod has involved a lot of research; looking at different approaches to nurturing creativity, questioning our own personal attitudes, and thrashing out new ideas and approaches. We offer an alternative to the traditional Portfolio Review sessions that many organisations and festivals offer and, as far as we know, we were the only partnership offering support in this way. We researched a number of individuals and read books focused on encouraging creativity among artists and spend time after every session reflecting on what we could improve and develop. Wendy acted as a key figure in the first group as she had a dual role as a participant of the group working on her own project as well as helping shape and organise the Tri-pod workshops.

We decided to take things slowly with Tri-pod and maintain an informal business structure, certainly for now. This has allowed us the time and space to test our approach, monitor the demand for Tri-pod workshops and has helped build our confidence. Tri-pod is a partnership between Wendy and I, although we do bring other people in to help in specific instances, such as co-curating a show. However, the two of us are the core of Tri-pod. One of the aspects that we think is important and worth considering, is that the more people who are involved in setting up and running an organisation, the more time and, perhaps, potential for conflict there can be, in terms of decision making and reaching agreement, and it’s important to consider this when deciding whether to create a partnership or form a collective with more people involved. But we like to rise to the challenge and work through any potential problems by making sure that we communicate with each other regularly and honestly, and listen to each other’s point of view. Not everybody knows how to really listen, even though it is an essential part of giving and receiving feedback on creative projects.

At this point, we haven’t created a legal entity, as it’s not been necessary. We are both freelance and are registered, individually, as self-employed; however, we have set up a PayPal account for receiving workshop fees and to pay facilitators. Using PayPal means that we have a secure system for administering funds but we have to pay a 2-3% surcharge from any monies we receive and we now factor this cost into the fee we charge; that is until we set up a business account which we will be doing as we are currently applying for Arts Council funding for the first time.

  • Be open and receptive to each other’s suggestions. It is important to learn to listen to each other.
  • If you are both working, in a freelance capacity on other projects, you need to flexible, so as to accommodate each other’s professional and personal lives.
  • Communication is vital and that means finding the right ways and space to discuss the project.
  • Having a shared ethos and belief in approaches to working will help keep the partnership strong.
  • Use social media channels to expand your network; research available funding streams; and collaborate with other art-based organisations.

Miranda Gavin is a writer, editor, photographer and educator. She is Editorial Content Manager and Project Developer for the South East England visual arts website Frame and Reference and is deputy editor of Hotshoe  contemporary photography magazine and runs the Hotshoe Blog. Miranda regularly delivers and chairs photography-related talks; offers portfolio reviews and judges photography competitions and is currently working on a collaborative mixed media project.

Wendy Pye is a photography lecturer and photographic artist. She produces photography, film and web-based projects; and regularly exhibits her personal projects nationally and internationally.

 

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