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.

No takers.

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."


Anonymous said...

I take confidence in knowing that a number of great artists, musicians and other creative people didn't "emerge" until later in life. In fact, I'm counting on it, especially for late bloomers like you and me! We usually think of age bias in other contexts. But I'm amazed how much seems to exist in the art world. Or maybe it's just the still maturing world of photography. Photography calls for a certain level of stamina. But it's not like dance. Perhaps it's more like writing plays, where the wisdom of age and experience improves one's craft rather than standing in the way of it.

Bruce Grant said...

Picasso, in his 80s, began an answer to an interviewer's question by saying, "I was talking to a very young painter the other day. He must have been 50..."

I turn 61 this year, and I often feel I'm only just emerging from things that have blinkered my eyes and muffled my heart for most of my life.

A far cry from when I turned 30 and believed that my life was just entering a long period of decline.

Anonymous said...

I am well over 50 and have been frustrated by the "emerging" scene but wonder if there is some other code that we are missing. I agree that there is prejudice in art but how can someone tell if you are over 35 by your work? Perhaps we older folks come from a different set of assumptions about how to produce and present photography.

You may have put your finger on it when you mentioned the MFA network. I wonder if the issue isn’t age as much as careerism. There are so many talented artists out there that it is no longer enough (if it ever was) just to be a really good shooter. Competition for assignments, teaching jobs, and shows is ever more intense. Images must have some kind of additional properties, a theme, just the right look to be distinguished over others. Essentially younger photographers are hard at work branding themselves.

When the packaging is stripped away the pictures may look like your stuff or my stuff: street, landscape, portrait, etc. How hard do we want to work to put our brand in that market? To the chagrin of my twentysomething daughters, I’m over 50, I can dress the way I want.

Tim Connor said...

MZ, Thanks for those very smart observations. I agree with you & that's why I hope I made it clear I'm not accusing anyone of straightahead ageist discrimination. A trained observer will always pick up the carefully crafted "brands" you mention & it's probably not even conscious.

It does seem as though the top schools teach this along with professional self-promotion etc.; I mean marketability within a product -- above all, a POV or tech trick that seems to confer uniqueness, no matter how flimsy the basis.

And yeah I have a twentysomething daughter too & I also dress the way I want.

P.S. Your portfolio is killer. Great work. It knocked me out.

Anonymous said...

Dear Tim

I have just launched a new web-site and I wondered whether it might be something your readers would be interested in.

We offer limited edition prints made by photographers, many of whom have international reputations or are showing promise at the beginning of they’re career. The idea of the site is to offer the chance to purchase the work of significant artists. These photographs are exclusive to oneofeditions, my intention is to give people an affordable entrĂ©e into the world of the contemporary photographic print collector.

The site will offer a comprehensive overview of contemporary photography, encompassing photographers such as Richard Page, Dennis Gilbert, Clare Richardon, James Morris, Martina Mullaney as well as young talent, Huw Alden Davies being a prime example, with his cinematic images of Tumble. These are some of the artists involved so far.

As well as selling to the public there will be an opportunity for design professionals looking for inovative, abssorbing, sometimes provocative images for they’re projects. I will also offer a search facility for those trying to source specific types of work.

I hope this gives you an idea of what we’re about and is something that will interest your readership.

Look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Best Wishes


Anonymous said...

Dear Tim

Ps Sorry didn't mean to be anonymous also our emerging artists age range is late twenties to seventies

Best Wishes


Sylvia said...

Expiration Notice looks interesting, thanks for the heads up. I wonder how much of it is based on new trends coming out of the schools which are then recognised/admired?