Collaborate Creatively ::with:: Taylor Davidson

Blogger and photographer Taylor Davidson at Cafe du Monde in New Orleans.

Blogger and photographer Taylor Davidson at Cafe du Monde in New Orleans.

I spent a long weekend in New Orleans, Louisiana, a few weeks ago for Jazz Fest and to explore the city — my first time for both. Below is a short, rough, “fast and dirty” slideshow I put together with Mr. Taylor Davidson (left) one afternoon, me recording audio clips while he took photos.

As I’ve been thinking about the next few months, when I’ll be traveling full-time, I knew that I would want to connect with photographers and other creatives in the cities I visited and do quick collaborative projects. This helps me explore several things I’m interested in during this little sabbatical I’m on: How photographers are doing their work, how I personally work creatively, and how the collaborative process can be made more efficient and satisfying.

Taylor Davidson was an obvious choice for my first experiment. He recently moved to NOLA, so he knows enough to be my tour guide, but hasn’t lost that sense of wonder with everything the city has to offer. We had met a few times before and I always found him enthusiastic, tuned in, and whip smart. Plus, as someone who is exploring photography but has a background in business and is a talented blogger, I figured his interests would align well with my own — which they did 🙂

We started out with a conversation at Cafe du Monde (honestly kind of a tourist trap in the French Quarter, but I hadn’t gotten my beignet and cafe au lait fix yet). As the powdered sugar blew all over our laps and equipment, we talked about the difficulty of staying focused when you work for yourself, my ideas for my upcoming journey, and all the small details that make NOLA special.

Beignets and cafe au lait at Cafe du Monde in New Orleans.

Beignets and cafe au lait at Cafe du Monde in New Orleans.

When I brought up the idea of a quick collaboration while Taylor showed me the parts of the city I hadn’t seen yet, he was immediately game (another thing I like about him). One of my concerns was (and still is) that I simply won’t have time while I’m on the move to do the editing required to put together polished multimedia pieces. I love recording sound, and putting it together with photos, but trying to record interviews and edit them down and coordinate with images — that’s just not an option right now.

So, accepting and embracing our limitations, here’s what we came up with: We’d walk around, talk, and Taylor would take photos of interesting things that characterized the areas we were in, while I took 10-second sound clips. I simply put the clips together when I got home, sent the sound file to Taylor with a list of where the sounds came from (I kept track in my iPhone notes while we were walking), and he added an image for each clip. It was his decision to throw it up on SlideShare instead of Vimeo, etc., and I like it, since you can easily go back to a specific image.

Since I’m also interested in exploring the collaborative process, I wanted to have a little debrief session with Taylor to publish with our project. Again in the interest of time and ease, we decided that he would send me a question by email, I would answer it and send him one back. He would answer and respond with a question, etc. The result is below.

Taylor Davidson: I’ve done many collaborations with photographers where we were in the same places, going through the same experiences, looking for the same things: pictures. But collaborating like this was different because, even though we were in the same place, we were looking for (seeing and hearing) different things to capture. And different things struck us, caught our eyes and ears. Are you surprised by what I saw and what you heard?

Miki Johnson: I remembered you taking many of the photos you ended up including, but not all. It was good to see new angles of things I had missed or observed differently. One big difference between the photos and sound is that often there are pictures of a landscape or building but the sound is of people. Do you think this is distracting? I kind of think it works for this, but if we had wanted to coordinate better, would there be an easy way for us to make sure you had a visual of everyone I recorded, and vice versa?

TD: We might see buildings or landscapes first, but we hear people first, right?  I don’t find it distracting; in fact, I like hearing the audio of moments I had forgotten, snippets of conversation I missed, sounds that I hadn’t picked up. Would more coordination make it better? We talked a lot throughout the day about embracing constraints, the joy of the unedited image and experience, the love for finding the unexpected. What would happen if we each tried to catch a sound or an image for what we thought the other person was hearing or seeing? Should the final product reflect the intersection of what moved each of us independently, or a larger set of everything that either of us caught?

MJ: Good point, Taylor. I think that if this were a big, polished final project we were working on, coordination would be more important. But since one of our goals was to cut down on editing time and to allow us to continue to enjoy the experience of seeing the city without overwhelming us with production considerations, having us each focus on our own experience works well. Do you think that initial intent should be made clear to the audience before they view the piece? Is it important they understand how we made it and what our intention was, or should even a simple, quick piece like this speak for itself?

TD: I agree. Setting expectations up-front about making this simple, easy, and largely unedited allowed me to just experience the day without harping about the final result. There is a great power in just being able to see, hear, and experience without larger considerations. I hope you felt the same way, and I hope the final product reflects that; in fact, I hope the intent comes through as one views the piece. I would want anybody viewing this to get that feel just by viewing and listening to the final product, rather than presetting one’s expectations.