© Yann Gross


When recalling photography based collectives there are of course a few which immediately come to mind: the Photo-Secession (which later morphed into 291 with some changes), f/64, Magnum, and VII. While the two former, f/64 and the Photo-Secession, were different, one being a circle of like minded photographers pursuing a specific photographic vision and the other, dominated by Alfred Stieglitz, which was more concerned with the artistic nature of photography in general centered around a gallery and publication, each functioned as a source of community and collective thinking. Somewhat differently, Magnum and VII appear to operate mainly as a venue for more documentary oriented photographers, in addition to functioning as an editorial agency. These four dominate in my mind because of their presence in historical text and contemporary dialogue, i.e. they are the most well known. There are of course many more, too numerous to mention here, big and small, that have different levels of discourse and public exposure. I would even go so far as to say that the explosive nature of photo blogging between 2005 and 2009, with it’s interconnected dialogue and enthusiastic spirit, functioned much like a collective as unorganized and seemingly disparate as it was. This period was an exciting time and helped to connect many young photographers to each other in profound and new ways. For a certain time, almost anyone could start a blog and enter into dialogue with a world of ‘emerging,’ and ‘emerged,’ photographers. While many of these blogs still remain, they have mostly trended towards an insular nature, primarily offering individual views and self-promotion. I bring this all up as a context for my personal experience and current involvement in the international collective, Piece of Cake.


© Christian Patterson


Toward the end of the period mentioned above, when photography blogging itself seemed to occupy a significant portion of the conversation surrounding the medium, I, like many people was longing for a deeper connection. It seemed that much of the online discourse, while vital and sincere, also lacked a certain depth and follow through. It appeared to be a critical moment to take the interaction off the web and work toward more tangible connections. For me personally, this concept garnered interest among a small group of photographers who I knew peripherally from attending openings in NY and of course through the blogs themselves. While not necessarily a collective, this group, which operated mainly as a critique circle, played an integral role in helping to define my work and solidify some of my closest friendships. Interestingly, not long after we started, a collective from the other side of the Atlantic independently contacted one of our group’s members, Cara Phillips, to see if she would be interested in participating in a ‘workshop.’ This workshop would involve a circle of contemporary photographers and image-makers who had been brought together (at that time) almost 7 years prior by French photographer Charles Fréger. The intentions were clear; if Cara found the interaction useful and productive she would return to start up a North American branch of the collective. Needless to say the reports were good and Cara spent the better part of a year putting the details in place. My inclusion in our mutual critique group in no way guaranteed that I would be part of the North American branch of POC. Instead, I had to go through the same application process that many other prospective members participated in as well. Thankfully, I was picked to be one of the inaugural members.


© Justin James Reed


© Timothy Briner


The group of North Americans currently incorporates 15 members from New York, Illinois, Florida, Massachusetts, Virginia, and Canada. While the ongoing mission and purpose of the collective is essentially a work in progress, interaction between the members focuses on contemporary artistic practice and lifestyle. Building off the European model, we have so far had 2 ‘workshops,’ which are essentially one-week intensive group meetings during which all aspects of photography are discussed. Conversations focus on publishing, working methods, critiques, and most importantly; living as a contemporary artist. Additionally, members from both sides of the Atlantic are encouraged to participate in each other’s workshops and I was personally lucky enough to have recently traveled to Lisbon, Portugal, to attend a European meeting. All of this is an ongoing effort to increase the dialogue between the two communities and help expose the members to each other’s work in a more meaningful and intimate way. So far the experience has been nothing but positive and incredibly inspiring, which brings me to my position on the purpose and meaning of collectives in a contemporary context.


© Stefan Ruiz


While I find being an artist a somewhat individual experience there is always a desire to reach out to other like-minded individuals. This can happen on all levels and with varying amounts of intensity. At the core of this pursuit is the stark reality that being an artist is often a lonely and somewhat isolating condition. Therefore, finding a group to commune with is an essential part of many artists’ existence. Piece of Cake, and my original critique group, have offered me the opportunity to engage in dialogue with a group of creative individuals who I might not otherwise have ever been connected to. The true reward and nature of the group however, remains for me, the intrinsic opportunities it has presented. I am not talking about shows, exposure, or many of those other things that we often equate success with. Instead the opportunities I speak of involve the aspect of travel, commune, more fulfilling dialogue, and most importantly, friendship. These are the elements of life that make us whole, able to face the world day in and out, enabling us to do what is most important; continue taking photographs.

Justin James Reed, 2010


© Andrew Phelps


Piece of Cake will be having their next workshop in Philadelphia, January 06 - 11, 2011. They will be giving a public lecture at Philadelphia Photo Arts Center on Saturday, January 08.