PDN Photo of the Day

Enter Black Box, A Cooperative for Visual Documentary Projects

Black Box, a cooperative for visual documentary projects, was recently founded by New York City based photographers Chris Gregory, Natalie Keyssar, and Jake Naughton, and designer Alejandro Torres Viera. We asked the team some questions about their new initiative and its future.

Sarah Stacke: When did you form Black Box and why?
Black Box: We first started meeting about a year ago. We had been talking to each other about how we wanted some framework that would let us be more ambitious and more creative. The feeling was a need to expand on some of the constraints of photographic assignment work and make room for us to do something exciting, that really pushed us to think and create in ways that were new for us, and that challenged some of the more traditional ways of presenting photojournalism. We also wanted to create a space for us to bounce ideas and push our own boundaries creatively. We wanted to make a space that has the camaraderie of a collective, but the production capacity of a creative agency.

SS: What is a dream job for Black Box?
BB: We’re very interested in pushing narrative photography and visual communication outside of the traditional slideshow/illustrative function it currently serves. Internally we’re throwing around a lot of questions about how to photograph ideas as opposed to literal objects or people? How do we use design as content as opposed to just a way of presenting content? Our dream jobs are visual puzzles that we can sink our teeth into as a group. We all love aesthetics and we’re all pretty stimulated by great stories and concepts, so we’re looking to find those intersections. This could mean anything from tackling social issues abroad to fashion campaigns. We’re excited about all the possibilities that this framework creates.

SS: What genre of artist or type of agency, client, partner, publication, etc. are you looking to collaborate with?
BB: We’re really open to any type of collaboration. The three photographers in Black Box come from a photojournalism background, but we love the energy and creativity of great advertising photography, fashion, art, etc. We’re really hoping to break down the boundaries between some of these genres in the work we do. When we talk about our dream clients in the studio, they run the gamut between major editorial clients, NGO’s, and commercial brands. We feel that we have a lot to offer to the journalism, editorial world in terms of new ideas and models for story telling—a capacity to develop interactive, freestanding pieces with a great deal of content that we can generate quickly. We also would love to get creative with marketing and anything we can make fresh and beautiful.

SS: What exactly do you offer?
BB: Primarily we’re three photojournalists and a designer, but we have pretty diverse backgrounds. In addition to photography, Jake’s a published writer and does sound and video; Chris does audio and video and has experience directing music videos and shooting fashion and commercial work; Natalie has published writing as well and has a background in painting and illustration; and Alejandro does print, web, art direction and interactive design.

SS: How is your installation at Photoville, “Welcome to Dilley,” representative of future projects?
BB: “Welcome to Dilley” was a great fit for this concept because it really forced us to tackle visual problem solving. We were interested in the largest family detention center in the U.S., but there’s virtually no press access to the center, so we had to innovate with how to illustrate this story and make it compelling without shooting inside. It’s also representative in terms of process. We had our whole team in Dilley including Alejandro, our designer, so that he could be designing from firsthand experience, which is very important to us. We are all believers in the idea that design can’t exist in a vacuum and that the most effective way to understand the essence of a story is by direct exposure. This project is yet to be published, so we don’t want to say too much about it yet, but we’re very much looking forward to the next steps for this piece.

SS: What else would you like the world to know about Black Box?
BB: We want to hear from you! We’re a young cooperative and we’re very excited about our potential, and we’re super interested in conversations, collaborations, critiques and anything else you have to offer. Drop us a line, come over to our Bushwick [New York] studio and see what we’re up to, and stay tuned for updates on social media. Also, we’re looking for a web developer to add to our team, so if you’re a coder with a passion for visual communication and killer visuals, get in touch!

“Welcome to Dilley” will be at Photoville through September 20, 2015.

Follow Black Box on Instagram.

—Sarah Stacke

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