5 Things We Learned about Collaborations
“Sustainable Confidence is a journey back into one’s self. It is more than a photo series, it is a way of life. A practice of wholeness, presence and standing confidently in the totality of being human. This photo series focuses on uplifting Black, Brown, Indigenous beauty. Centering fem[me] identified folks of all ages, sizes, and abilities. As well as honoring our mother earth and happily accepting the responsibility of taking care of this earth and checking the choices we make that affect people around the world.”
Whenever someone asks me about + gallery Chicago, it’s easy to just repeat a variation of what’s in our bio on Instagram “community collaborative space ..” because this phrase is the most succinct and accurate description of what occurs in our > 650 sq. ft gallery. In this post, we’ll share how one of our first collaborations happened. We will also share what we learned along the way in order for you to be inspired to make the right connections and take action on an idea.
1. Find the dreamers
We first met Xochyl Perez through her work with International Indigenous Youth Council IIYC and Pilsen Alliance. Her work centered on caring and advocating for the health of womxn and children, animals, and the environment. For the sew show, a group exhibition about sustainability within food, fashion, land/housing, and the environment, we asked Xochyl, to co-curate the show. While hanging the work, we expressed disappointment that we did not have any work addressing the fast fashion industry despite actively reaching out to artists doing this work. Xochyl shared her idea about a photo series of Black and Brown women and femmes wearing thrifted or second hand clothing. Isaura Flores, a musician, teacher and community activist, was also with us. Isaura quickly agreed to join the effort, and recruited her sister Xochitl, to be the third model. The show was scheduled to open the following evening, but we knew collectively, we had everything we needed to start the series and get it up on the wall for opening night.
2. Don’t be afraid to go deeper
We set the first shoot up as an editorial spread, to document three friends and sisters moving through their day from work, to a night out. The story deepens by featuring 3 latinx women, taking up space, and posing in their Latinx neighborhood which struggles with class, gentrification, racism, sexism and xenophobia. Being on the same page about these issues, and imagining ways to include other intersections within “women and femme” identities in future shoots, we were so honored and excited to be a part of Sustainable Confidence’s first days.
3. Work with what you have
Since the shoot was on opening day of the sew show, we shot everything within two blocks of the gallery: 18th St. Pink Line station, 18th St. and Paulina, and 18th St. and Wood St. With more time to plan, we would have loved to support a local independent printer like Latitude Chi. Instead, we ended up printing at the photo lab of a large membership-only bulk warehouse around the corner, in time to get the prints up on the wall right before the opening. Moving forward, we want to be more intentional and less rushed for openings, but #noregrets.
4. See it all the way
Photography can be expensive to do, time consuming post-shoot, and takes many years of practice. It’s a skill that Xochyl wants to learn herself, in order to keep Sustainable Confidence going. We will be assisting her on a few shoots this month to mentor her on photography and video skills. We also collaborated on crowdfunding video to help her aquire used camera equipment needed for her to continue this project as the main photographer.
5. The reciprocation in collaboration
Emotional labor and creative work are not often supported financially by society, but they all have unlimited value. Being able to pay for that exchange is also not always possible. When we ask someone for their time, we want to create as equitable an exchange as possible. This will look different, based on capacity, ability, or a number of factors. But it’s all about solidarity. Xochyl has been an important part of our foundation as space holders in Pilsen, and now La Villita (+ house). We have become friends, and intentional family. We exchange knowledge, skills, time and lift each other up.