Wednesday, January 7, 2009
"Emerging photographer": Is that code for "under 35"?
"Old guy thinks he's still 'emerging'," portrait of TC by Adam Pantozzi, All rights reserved
A number of excellent organizations, websites, galleries and publications declare their mission is to serve the “emerging photographer.” With so many outlets showing only established (often dead) artists, this is a wonderful & much needed goal. Since I define myself as “emerging” (my name is largely unknown & I’ve never been represented by a gallery) I have been submitting my work to these venues for some time.
This proves nothing of course. Everybody knows there are no guarantees, you just have to keep submitting, you must never take it personally. All true. Still, after perhaps 15 distinct, carefully prepared, multi-image submissions, I found it a little odd that I wasn’t included, even once, in large online group exhibitions, which -- taken together over the range of the venues -- amount to work by hundreds of photographers. Luckily, I had good success this year from other quarters, showing in two thematic gallery shows, being selected for an Arts for Transit exhibit at the Atlantic Ave.-Pacific St subway station , & selling pictures to books, magazines & collectors. Meanwhile, at the "emerging" sites, I noticed certain names appearing over & over, a surprising number of them very recent grads from elite art schools. I began to wonder: Is there something about my long-ago photojournalism degree from a Midwestern university or my peripatetic career path, winding in & out of photography, film, fiction writing, journalism & several other careers -- or even, dare I say it, my age -- that disqualifies me from being labeled “emerging”?
Yes, yes, I know I’m starting to sound snarky. But that ends my testimony. In fact, I have no interest in naming names or pointing fingers. I’ll just say -- all sophistry aside -- that “emerging” in one’s 50s or even 60s seems quite as feasible to me as “emerging” in one’s 20s. Maybe more so.
To my great delight one of my favorite bloggers, Tim Atherton, agrees. In his most recent post, " 'Expiration notice' -- under 35 don't bother applying, " he writes, "It's an incorrect assumption that photographers start around 18, go to school (or head out onto the street, assist, or jet off to the latest war), then do a couple of projects, then get them shown or published, get a gallery and so it goes - on from there. For one thing (except maybe for the ones that jet off to get their war in), there's often not much life experience in there - which is one of the big things that often shows."
Atherton goes on to point his readers to a soon-to-be-launched online gallery, Expiration Notice, created by Stan Banos & Mark Page that will show work by "35 yr olds and over" exclusively. This is the best news I've heard in a long time! The old hippy in me may still occasionally pine for an (art) world in which the only thing that matters is the work. But, on the other hand, in the words of the immortal Billie Holiday, "...god bless the child who's got his own."