The current trend in photography, as in other art forms, a trend that has been going on for a couple of decades, dictates that photographers, in order to be exhibited or published or taken seriously, need to work in tightly themed and conceptualized projects. Simply showing your best work, you most meaningful work, is disallowed and all but ignored. Multiple image projects are the only things that count.
The problem with this, as I see it, is that it minimizes the importance of the photographer’s vision. Instead, the photographer becomes secondary to the concept, which is usually so tightly defined as to be repetitive and often banal. I mean, I’ve seen exhibits so tightly defined that they consisted of little more than the same basic photo repeated 20 times.
Please don’t misunderstand, I firmly believe there are some issues or points or subjects which require multiple images, but those images should be DIFFERENT from one another, not just compositional derivatives. My point is that it’s simply ridiculous, and irrationally so, for publications and galleries to avoid portfolios, and by that I mean a grouping of our best work, even if not related. It is those portfolios which tell us the most about the photographer, the artist, and can be the most meaningful for all involved parties.
For my part, I do not work in projects, at least not intentionally. I tend to photograph in similar and quasi-familiar locales for years, and I can, eventually, put together a related body of work. However, I look at these collections more as themed portfolios than tightly-controlled, conceptual projects. I think that such results say as much about me as they do my subject matter, and isn’t that what art is supposed to represent?
The post comes about due to a conversation with a museum curator and former academic who insisted that simple portfolios told us nothing of the world, nothing of humanity, and that the only way to foster and expand the art of the photography was with multiple-image projects around a central, tightly-focused concept. I responded that such a narrow view was unnecessarily rigid and academic and, furthermore, defined all of life’s issues into the standard 16-20 images. How convenient.
I think that, by putting all of our attention on external concepts and projects, as opposed to intrinsic, best-of portfolios, we risk losing something, and that something is us.