Fine Art Photography Daily

The Myths and Realities of Artistic Collaborations


© Zora J Murff and Rana Young

The Society of Photographic Educators is about to hold their 56th Annual SPE Conference in Cleveland, Ohio from March 7 – 10th, 2019. The annual conference brings together photographic educators, students, and photographers from around the globe for four days of listening, learning, and sharing. Needless to say, this a significant platform for considering photography in the twenty first century and this year’s theme is The Myths of Photography and the American Dream.

On Saturday, March 9th at 9 am, there will be a panel discussion on The Myths and Realities of Artistic Collaborations presenting two collaborative projects: Wig Heavier than a Boot, a project by Photographer David Johnson and Poet Philip Matthews and Fade Like a Sigh, by Photographers Rana Young and Zora J Murff. During this presentation, both collaborative duos will discuss their projects’ concepts, how they established the collaborative endeavor and how they learned to build consensus and problem solve together. The panelists will provide keen insights on the most effective strategy for collaborations and a few suggestions on what not to do when working with someone else, from the idea to exhibition.


© David Johnson

Wig Heavier Than A Boot

Wig Heavier Than A Boot brings together photography by David Johnson and poetry by Philip
Matthews. Revealing Petal—a drag consciousness as whom Philip manifests to write, and David
photographs—the project crosses art-making rituals with isolated performances within domestic spaces and pastoral landscapes. Taken together, the resulting photographs and poems reveal dynamic relationships between author, character, and observer. By articulating a specific creative process in which one identity becomes two, the project in turn opens up a conversation about gender expression through an art-historical lens.

The photographs provide one record of author and character, blurring art-historical masculine and feminine postures. The poems provide another, which elaborate upon the lived experience of being, modeling, and sometimes, obscuring Petal. Subverting the ekphrastic literary tradition, Philip’s poems do not respond to David’s photographs,nor vice-versa. Both forms are made in the present: as David directs the shoot, Philip makes performance notes that give way to the poem. The durational mode of writing parallels the time it takes to prepare for a photograph, while the sudden capture sheds light on the burst of line that yields a poem. In this process, David and Philip continually break open and leverage their own biases and desires to create an authentic body of work.

Petal is alternately present and not, like a non-physical entity invoked by a medium. The
photographs capture the blend or distinction between Philip and Petal, and the poems hybridize their perspectives, enacting a relationship that is surreal, empowering, and unbearable, as the project title suggests. What is constant is a sense of a person wanting to belong to the place that hosts them (i.e. farmland in rural Wisconsin, the coast of North Carolina, an art museum in St. Louis, a small church), even or especially when the social norms of that place are felt to ostracize them. Both photographs and poems balance narrative with fragmentation and invite multiple interpretations.



©David Johnson



©David Johnson


©David Johnson


©David Johnson


©David Johnson



©David Johnson

David Johnson is an artist, educator, and curator based in Iowa City, IA. He received an MFA in Visual Art from Washington University in St. Louis in 2007 and earned his BFA in Studio Art with an emphasis in Photography from Texas Christian University. In 2011, David was awarded the Great Rivers Visual Arts Award from the Gateway Foundation. His photographs have been exhibited internationally, including the Contemporary Art Museum Saint Louis, Mildred Lane Kemper Museum, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, National Building Museum in Washington D.C. and Rathaus in Stuttgart, Germany. His work can be found in the collection at The Museum of Contemporary Photography in Chicago. Currently, Johnson is a Visiting Assistant Professor of Photography at the University of Iowa. Kris Graves Projects will publish Wig Heavier Than a Boot, a collaborative project with poet Philip Matthews in October 2019.

Philip Matthews is the author of Witch, a book of poems forthcoming from Alice James Books in April 2020, and Wig Heavier Than A Boot, an artist’s book with photographer David Johnson, forthcoming from Kris Graves Projects in October 2019. He is the recipient of fellowships and residencies from the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Hemera Foundation, and Wormfarm Institute.


©David Johnson

Fade Like a Sigh

Conversation often begins with a question much in the same way art-making does. Words possess
the potential to better know one another; the visual possesses knowledge to understand constructs both abstract and concrete, past and present. Each endeavor is a call in search of a response, but the response from the visual becomes more obscure as what we see creates a gap between what we do know and what we think we know.

Together, Zora J Murff and Rana Young began mining their own family histories, exploring the void left by an absent parent. The images in Fade Like a Sigh reflects their dialogues of this shared experience. Using their personal small collections of family photographs and reinterpreting them through their own contemporary imagery, Murff and Young highlight the complicated relationship between photographic record and the fragmented and abstract nature of memory.


© Zora J Murff and Rana Young


© Zora J Murff and Rana Young


© Zora J Murff and Rana Young


© Zora J Murff and Rana Young


© Zora J Murff and Rana Young


© Zora J Murff and Rana Young


© Zora J Murff and Rana Young


© Zora J Murff and Rana Young

Rana Young is an artist and educator based in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Rana holds an MFA in Studio Art from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln where she was an Othmer Fellow and a BFA in Studio Art from Portland State University. Her work has been exhibited nationally and internationally, as well as published online by PDN, Hyperallergic, VICE, Huffington Post, British Journal of Photography, and The New York Times, among others. Recently, Rana was selected as a winner of Magenta Foundation’s Flash Forward 2018 and LensCulture’s 2017 Emerging Talent Awards. In June 2017, Rana launched PHOTO–EMPHASIS with artist Alec Kaus. In collaboration with Kris Graves Projects, Rana released her first monograph, The Rug’s Topography, in January 2019.

Zora J Murff is a Visiting Assistant Professor of Photography at the University of Arkansas. Zora received his MFA in Studio Art from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln and holds a BS in Psychology from Iowa State University. Combining his education in human services and art, Zora’s work explores how photography is intertwined with social and cultural constructs. His work has been published in Aperture Magazine, The New Yorker, The British Journal of Photography and The New York Times. In 2018, Zora was selected for the 2019 Light Work Artist-in-Residence Program. Zora’s first monograph, Corrections, was published by Aint-Bad Editions in 2015 and his second monograph, LOST, Omaha, was published by Kris Graves Projects in 2018. Zora is also a Co-Curator of Strange Fire Collective with Jess T. Dugan, Hamidah Glasgow, and Rafael Soldi.


© Zora J Murff and Rana Young

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