I Only Eat Cheese…

4 thoughts on “I Only Eat Cheese…”

  1. Lisa, let me first apologise for not having been around much lately. I’ve been very busy with other things, leaving little time for my own photography and writing and even less time to pay attention to what others are doing. But I felt that I had to make an exception in the case of your post because it touches on something that looms very large in my own current situation. I am referring specifically to this passage:

    “…some photographers are struggling with an expectation of themselves to perform. I guess jumping on the band wagon of what is a burgeoning major photographic festival is one way of getting known as a photographic entity but I just don’t think that work that is not an honest exploration of the form and the photographers place within it is particularly edifying.”

    Let me first of all clarify that I am not a documentary photographer, although I have taken some photographs of a documentary nature in the past. Nor am I a “street photographer” although most of the photographs I take these days are taken in the street. I am just a photographer. I just take pictures. And I suppose that this, above all else, defines me as an amateur; and that label doesn’t bother me in the slightest. But I am not content to potter along doing the same thing over and over, effectively going nowhere. I have a hunger to learn and an even greater need to grow and achieve; but photography, like any other art form, does not lend itself to empirical measurement. So, I have taken courses, I have entered competitions, I have shared my work on the web, yet despite reponses that are more often favourable than not, I still do not know if what I am doing is any good, if the direction I am taking is leading me anywhere productive, if I have the potential to be better than I currently am, or if this whole endeavour is a collossal waste of my time. I am not averse to making some money out of photography but that is not my primary aim and maybe, because of that, there appears to be no provision, no motivation for helping me. But I sympathise with the photographers so you are railing against because I am sure I am not the only one in my predicament.

    You concluded your post with this statement: “…I think the very best photographs are produced when the photographer is true to themselves first and foremost…” Because I am an amateur, I have the luxury of doing just that. I have worked in a commercial studio (many years ago) and I know how photographers who are “guns for hire” are constrained in what they can do to express their individual creativity. I am under no such pressure. But it seems that the very freedom my amateur status gives me comes at the cost of not being taken seriously by those who pursue photography as their livelihood.

    So my point is that I can understand how young photographers, looking for that breakthrough, will make use of any means to “get themselves known” and seen; because it seems that there are precious few means out there for unknown photographers to “get a break”. It reminds me a little of a conversation I overheard just the other day: a European migrant to Australia was talking to his daughter who had been born here, strongly putting his opinion that Australia should turn all refugees away and not allow any of them to set foot in Australia.

    1. XPat again a real well measured response… you are very intuitive!

      I have to clarify something as well, I hate the so-called division between ‘amateur’ and ‘auteur’ because well anyone that produces decent work to me is an artist. I respect your work and well I don’t know much about you except for the fact you are a photographer, you have a blog and you make some very nice images. I guess the debate I want to open up with this post is not about our status within the industry, but more our status as people who make work because they have something individual to say rather than just parrot whatever is a fashionable thing to say….

      I believe my student Nadia Janis has done this really well and her status in industry terms would be set as ’emerging’ which doesn’t really have those same negative connotations such as amateur having their first exhibition…so that kind of classification has changed and its a good thing…but I what I am trying to get across is that one or two of the shows I have seen as part of the Head On Photo Festival has included work which is self-consconsiously ‘arty’ or ‘reportage’ and while stylistically it is quite ‘on trend’ it is also as boring as bat-shit because it brings nothing new to the table.

      I do feel for some of the photographers that have exhibited that they have become part of something which is way bigger than the sum of its parts and I am not sure whether some of the people who have put work up have actually been ready with their own strong voices and opinions to put it under the pressure of what its like to have a photographic show. The blow torch of public opinion is what you get when you hang your work on the walls… How many of these photographers will tough out what that public opinion might say and continue is what I wonder about…

      I think that being a young photographer would be absolutely heaven now days. It was certainly competitive when I started out so I don’t feel sorry for anyone who enters into the field. I went through being told by an art director that it was very ‘trendy’ for one of the photographers I assisted to have a female assistant and when I rocked up at a magazine with my portfolio to be seen by an editor I was referred to as ‘one of those women photographers’. Subtle but a put down none the less. And all of this before they even saw my pictures. Today if you type the word ’emerging’ or ‘under 30 photographer’ into the internet there are at least a zillion more chances at achieving recognition or notoriety for your photography than there was in my day, which wasn’t that long ago. The same thing applies to me as it does to the young ones that come along now days, if the work is good enough it will find an audience and if you want a life time career in the game of photography then you have to fight for it.

      I once started a post on lightstalkers that asked people what was the worst crappy job they had done… I still reckon I win with the job of postering electricity poles in the dead of night in winter being chased down the streets by drunks and having abuse and rubbish hurled at me from cars. I kept this up while I was shooting for some very big titles because I never had the luxury of a steady income. But I still believe I have something to say that might change the mind of many or make people question the status quo so I did it because I had to. I fought for my right to have an opinion!

      So while it is a massive undertaking to get your work up on the walls, whether you are someone that shoots for a living or not I just want people to think about what it is they are trying to say, achieve or create by doing so. And while I understand the idea of the ‘Catch 22’ scenario you mention that pervades most artistic endeavour, particularly in Australia, I do have to say that the arts- dramatic, musical, literary or visual are all the same… many are called but few are chosen… and you have to believe in what you say….

  2. Points well taken, Lisa. But I guess what I was trying to say in my admittedly round-about way was that you can’t blame a photographer for trying to get noticed. You are right in pointing out that it is a tough world out there and the odds are stacked against the newcomer. So one takes whatever chances come one’s way. If anything, the blame lies with the curators of the exhibitions for allowing work of inferior quality to be shown. I haven’t seen the shows you were writing about so I cannot comment on them specifically. But, in principle, how else is a photographer to know if his or her work has any value if they do not try to have it exhibited (i.e. subject it to the blow torch of public opinion, as you said)? And yes, the ground-breaking photographers are those who either have new things to say or have the creative ingenuity to say things in a new way, a way that adds new dimensions to the existing canon (with a small c). But if I understand correctly what you are saying it is that the successful photographer requires three things: self-belief, an artistic philosophy and the creative ability to represent that philosophy pictorially. If this is in fact the case, I would guess that the photographers who push themselves forward are the ones with self-belief; and the issue of artistic philosophy can be broken down into two questions: does the photographer have a philosophy in the first place and if so, does that philosophy contribute anything to the evolution of the art. Is it really necessary for a photographer to be able to defend his or her work by explaining it in terms of a philosophy. I know that there is a school of thought that holds that a photograph that needs to be defended is a failure and whether or not you subscribe to that idea, I’m sure that there are many photographers of real merit who operate at an intuitive level and could not articulate their philisophy, even if they cared to. William Eggleston comes to mind. for example.

    On a side note, I found your comments about the ‘under 30 photographer’ very interesting. Are you implying that there is overt prejudice against unknown photographers who are over 30? If so, why do you think that is?

    Someone once said that great art is what publishers an curators say it is and I think there is more than a modicum of truth in that. But cynicism apart, I believe that the most trustworthy aribiter of quality is time. The problem is that new art cries out for immediate appraisal and people have to make judgement before time has been given an opportunity to consider its verdict.

    1. Hi there Xpat this is a very belated reply and I have posted something else about Headon since you wrote this… I certainly agree with you about several of the statements you have made especially the last sentence! About the under 30’s thing, yes I think there is a lot more available to them than there was when I was in that age bracket and I do believe that publishers, galleries and the like have an imperative to find the next new glossy star that is cheap to buy at the beginning but hopefully will develop into a very good investment for them. (Being cynical here but anyone who has it together but will die really young is great for art investors as the work is then sought after and the price goes up…Nasty but the nature of the beast…) Whether that glossy new star is old or young is not a problem but I do know that I have been passed over for jobs where an editor has gone for an ‘unknown’ because they were cheaper…But you are right, time and a good PR agent will be the test in how our work is remembered…

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