About the same time as the collaboration took place this past summer with Faye Hall and Malcolm Guite, another interesting development occurred. Fellow photographer Margot Krebs Neale – whose beautiful photographs often accompany Malcolm’s posts on his website became inspired to try her hand at creating something sparked by those portraits. What Margot did with of one of those images just blew me away. She titled it Ascension2, inspired by Malcolm’s sonnet Ascension Day. You can learn more about Margot here. I am moved by the beauty of this piece, the vision, the emotional and spiritual reality it portrays, and the fruit of creative inspiration it reflects. Thank you, Margot, for your courage and creative vision.
Margot very sweetly mentioned in a message to me that she was reluctant to show me her creation until she saw me give permission to collaborate to Faye and then she felt less shy about approaching me with it. This incidence illustrates something that I believe is profoundly important in the life of creative experience. Permission.
Several years ago I read a book by Diana Pavlac Glyer that changed the way I see the creative process and even what it is to live among community at all. The brilliant book she wrote is The Company They Keep: C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien Writers in Community. Of the many the things that I can say about this book, one of the most personally transforming for me is that through her chapter on Collaboration, Diana gave me something I had never ever experienced or even thought possible – the permission to create in tandem with others. That single chapter changed me and changed the way I relate to others as an artist and as a human being. I began to exercise steps of trust in others in areas that previously I have guarded fiercely — my work as a photographer and as a writer.
My entire upbringing, like that of so many others, led me to believe that any creativity worth regard was created in the vacuum of “originality” and any collaborating with others was in essence nothing more than cheating. This perception isn’t really based on my own limited view of the word and its implications because one of the first definitions from Merriam Webster’s Dictionary for collaborate is “to cooperate with or willingly assist an enemy of one’s country and especially an occupying force”. The Oxford Dictionary is even more blunt with this “traitorous cooperation with an enemy: he faces charges of collaboration”. Traitorous cooperation with an enemy. That is a perfect description of my unconscious belief about collaboration and it defined my behavior for decades as an artist. I worked alone and in a kind of creative silence. I looked out of a view through a shield of glass and never let a person come near my vision except my clients. It was a lonely enterprise on many levels. Diana’s wise and gracious words as a scholar also carried the touch of the Redeemer. While that idea germinated in me and began working its way through all my thinking processes I found my attitude toward others subtly and distinctly changing. The spirit of collaboration is profoundly modeled in Diana herself, in Malcolm Guite, in others I know who are part of that creative circle of scholars, and the steps to model that same pattern of giving were right before me when the request to share inspiration came first from Faye and then from Margot. When I could give the same permission that had been modeled and given to me I stepped into a larger and freer world. I say with some personal experience that it is true – who we become really is determined by the company we keep.
Latest news update: I have been recently asked if my portraits of Malcolm could be used by another artist as models for her work on developing portraits of the Apostle John.
Lancia E. Smith is an author, photographer, teacher, and business owner. A grateful lover of the Triune God, Lancia is the Founder & Executive Director of Cultivating & The Cultivating Project. She has served in executive management, church leadership, boards, and Art & Faith organizations over 30 years. She & her husband Peter have parented 7 children, & have a flock of beloved grandchildren. Lancia loves garden and website design, beautiful typography, road trips, being read aloud to by Peter, & cherishes every book she ever read by C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and George MacDonald.