Multiple Exposures

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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.

The Fleecing of Us

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I am usually a fan of juried photo exhibits. I find them a valuable asset to not only get my work seen by many people who would otherwise be ignorant of my existence, but to also help round out my artist resume, without which I would not have received the handful of artist residencies I have been awarded.

The downside to such contests, however, are the costs involved. Most charge a fee of $20-$25 for the initial entry of 3-5 images, with the option to pay for additional entries. Then, if accepted, the photographer is responsible for shipping charges both ways. So, for every image accepted into a juried exhibit, a photographer is out $50-$100, depending on the desired shipping. As for sales from such exhibits, don’t hold your breath. Sales are extremely rare and, in many if not most exhibits, non-existent.

Of course, there are a LOT of photo contests, some reputable, most sleazy, and almost every one of them  exists as a fund raiser. In general, I don’t have a problem with that as the more legitimate of the institutions needs financial support from the photo community. However, there is a disturbing trend in the industry, and it’s caused me to rethink whether or not I will, in the future, enter some of the contests.

The Center for Fine Art Photography in Ft. Collins, CO, whose name implies a support of the photographic community, has begun not only charging an entry fee and requiring the photographer pay shipping both ways, but charges a $15 fee to package the prints for return shipping, even if all materials were provided. To reiterate, they are charging me $15 to put a print back in a box which I provided. This is a blatant attempt to further fleece the fine-art photographer who is, in all likelihood, not making a helluva lot of money, anyway. This is not only completely unacceptable, it is contemptible. Remember, the photographers have already paid an entry fee, plus shipping both ways, thus have contributed sufficiently to the gallery’s coffers. However the director apparently feels that their pain isn’t quite enough.

Is this the only gallery to charge such a fee….nope. I have seen others. But it is one of the more high profile of the institutions to do so. I quit my membership a couple years ago due to the C4FAP director’s insistence that hardware was more important that images by having contests themed as iPhone and Holga (but never one for only digital images….huh) which is little more than shallow MFA narcissism. I was recently considering renewing my annual membership to show support, but that ship has left the building, and it cost me $15 to do so.

It’s a sad day when a photographic arts center, which is supposed to be supporting photographers, is actually taking advantage of them. They should be ashamed, but they aren’t.