As part of Brighton’s Love Architecture festival, which is taking place right now, arts commentator Cara Courage has put together an exhibition of Jim Stephenson’s photography of Conran and Partners’ architectural projects. The exhibition, entitled Collaboration, explores one of the many collaborations that typify architecture: between photographers and architects.
© Jim Stephenson
More than in other areas of design, collaborations are a necessary part of architecture – developers, model makers, builders, town planners, photographers and community organisations all have to work together, often over many years. Doing so effectively can be as fruitful as it is challenging.
As part of the exhibition, Cara wrote about this most delicate of topics:
‘Collaboration’ is witness to the creative process unfolding, from the architects desk in the offices you are standing in now to the image of the built and inhabited product. It is the manifestation of a relationship built on dialogue, renewal, and trust that forms a productive partnership and, as does architecture in placemaking, creates the shared creative space that Jim Stephenson and Conran + Partners operate in.
The inclusion of images from Japan in this exhibition lends apposite perspective in the nature of collaboration. Japan is a culture that shuns the image of the creative as a lone operator in favour of co-production and close connections with others; Jim and Conran + Partners have a long history and from this comes an empathy of each other’s work that flows through their relationship.
Intelligent organisations are those that retain their talent and encourage their independence to be at their creative best and foster the essential themes of shared creation, collaborative tools, and productive relationships. In this respect, ‘Collaboration’ is the product of Jim’s career within and by the side of this architect practice.
From Jim seeing rough photos from near-completion sites, he is then given free rein to work with the finished product: Paul Zara, Director, Conran + Partners, ‘One of the benefits of collaborative working over a series of projects is that you develop a level of common understanding and trust. We have found that Jim instinctively understands what we are looking forward and then surprises us with ideas that exceed our expectations.’
Jim makes the selection of images too, Paul respecting and trusting his creative opinion: ‘Plenty of people think they take a good photograph, but in fact most don’t. It takes skill, patience and a good eye. Collaborating with Jim has given us a wealth of great material to help support and expand our business.’
True collaboration is a mutual relationship, a two-way exchange of skills and insight, coming from independent, separate positions to a shared creative space with exponential potential. With this collaboration, Jim’s images not only represent the practice but feed back into its creativity. Paul comments: ‘…a completed building can be presented [by Jim] in a way that we never considered… It shows a level of inhabitation that doesn’t exist in a shiny new scheme and can find beauty where we see none.’
And for Jim, the collaboration offers him the opportunity to show the ‘unexpected’ in a building back to the practice from his knowing yet independent position: ‘I’m removed from the (potentially lengthy) design process, so I’m looking at each scheme with new eyes.’
‘Collaboration’ is a body of work that articulates Conran + Partners practice over a number of years. It is both an historical record as well as the capturing of a moment in time of the creative collaboration of the architect and photographer.