Meeting the team behind The International Collaboration Project

A photographer from New Zealand and a photographer from America have teamed up to create The International Collaboration Project. Communicating via a plethora of software and technology, Deb Young from New Zealand and Francisco Diaz from America discuss photography, cultural differences, and a vast array of topics that lead them to collaborate and shoot a series of work, without coming face to face throughout the project's duration. 

We talk to both Young and Diaz about their The Playground Series and what they're planning to work on in the future.

Francisco Diaz and Deb Young

D-Photo: You both met via Facebook a few years ago — what was it about each other's work that you both admired and how did the conversation around working together arise?

Deb Young (DY): The Facebook photography community was pretty exciting with all sorts of genres, styles, and cultures. At the time I was exploring street photography, but Frank’s work was like this vibrant colour oasis of florals and unnerving narrative pieces that left you scratching your head. I just loved that sense of deep discussion Frank’s work evoked and was totally intrigued to learn it was all photomontage!

Francisco Diaz and Deb Young

Francisco Diaz (FD)After becoming Facebook friends I was enthralled with Deb’s grainy, mysterious black-and-white street images of Auckland. They had a quiet strength that truly impressed me. Since I was a montagist, I came at photography from a different sensibility. Deb left comments on my posts that were smart and insightful. Discussions on art and photography ensued, but we never discussed collaborating together at that point. A few months later, Deb showed me landscape shots of Manukau Harbour. To say I was blown away doesn’t even touch the impact they had on me. They were truly unique and I impulsively asked if we could work on one.

DY: I loved the idea! Collaboration between a man and a woman from different cultures added a whole new dimension to the art world gender issue where women are so under-represented. So what came out of that very first impromptu collaboration was ‘The Wolf + the Bird’, which we entered into a photography competition in the USA and it was immediately accepted!

Francisco Diaz and Deb Young

How did you keep in contact and share work during the project's creation? Did you make use of many types of outlets? (email, phone, Skype, Facebook, etc).

DY and FD:There was no pre-existing framework for how two art photographers could collaborate over 8000 miles in real time. Initially, we discussed everything through Facebook chat but the time/day difference was daunting. We needed a digital framework that allowed daily international phone calls, emails for deeper discussions on conceptual development, texting for quick-fire suggestions and set-up for live photo sessions — so we could view through each other’s camera. Truly embracing the 21st century digital era we use two to three video-conferencing software, tethering software, web-based file-transfer services, cross-platform mobile messaging, and an array of image-editing software in order to create our cinematic narrative montages!

Francisco Diaz and Deb Young

How often would you be in contact, and how often would you be out shooting?

DYIt’s crucial we have daily contact now to keep up with the rapidly growing interest our collaboration has sparked internationally. We have a ton of ideas to explore and develop!

FDWe go out shooting weekly. Since our montages are created from totally random snaps and we don’t use models, set-ups, staging, or props, we need to have large archives of imagery. 

Francisco Diaz and Deb Young

Can you tell readers a little more about The Playground Series and how the idea was formed?

DY: Interestingly, we had gone out shooting one weekend — Frank in New Jersey, USA, and I in Auckland. When we got back we were looking over our images together and realized we had both taken snaps of playgrounds! Totally excited, we began discussing what playgrounds meant to us and what they mean culturally. Growing up, playgrounds were so much more than just a place of fun and games. They were frameworks that provided so many lessons in how social structures worked. 

FDThese quirky environments presented us with situations like dealing with patience, being tormented or bullied, being excluded or conversely, idolized. With The Playground Series, we wanted to explore and discuss the complexity of playground culture.

Francisco Diaz and Deb Young

A monochrome theme is used throughout the series — can you explain this decision?

DYFor this series we wanted to couch the concept of the playground in, as writer Teresa Politano said of our work, “ … an eerie sense of reality, which itself is an ironic refutation of photography as truth.”

FDDeb’s street photography background and her penchant for grainy black-and-white became the stylistic approach we thought best presented that eerie, mysterious, child's sense of playground reality.

Francisco Diaz and Deb Young

Do you have future plans to collaborate together; if so have you formed any themes around which you'll base your work?

DY: Once we recognized the creative power that a female and male artist can achieve in collaboration, we chose to come together as an artistic duo under the name The International Collaboration Project. So moving forward there will only be work from us as a team.

FDAs well as continuing to create new works for The Playground Series, we are working on a new series called Suspicion, which is possibly the first plot-driven, romantic/mystery fine-art photography series. Using reoccurring characters, we’re exploring how a romance starts to grow suspicious. This experimental series explores the ambiguity of visual clues using a documentary style. The Suspicion series asks if there is any truth here or are we misreading the clues because of our tainted perceptions? 

Francisco Diaz and Deb Young

Would you recommend more photographers give this type of collaboration a go?

DY: Sure! Collaboration, in the spirit of equality, is a creative process that can help to overcome ego. To see the manifestation of ‘connectivity’ in a body of work is hugely rewarding!

FD: Well, if you have the propensity for a high degree of organization, a willingness to find a creative partner half a world away, the desire to reorient your life schedule, and the openness to value another person’s point of view as much as you do your own, then this gig is definitely for you!