Juried shows, good or bad?

© Estate of William Gedney, a talented artist you might not have ever heard of.

© Estate of William Gedney, a talented artist you might not have ever heard of.

Christian Patterson has an interesting post on his site about paying to play. While I have never been solicited to pay for my own show, and I agree with Christian that I would never consider it, I have entered many juried shows. Christian writes: “I rarely consider paying a fee to have someone view or exhibit my work. I cringe at the thought of paying application fees for juried exhibitions and portfolio reviews. It just feels so sleazy.”

I don’t feel, as he does, that paying a nominal fee (somewhere in the range of $30) is akin to purchasing pleasure in a dirty backstreet, but I do feel that one has to approach it wisely. Consider the juror and the venue. Picking jurors with whom I want to build a relationship with has been very helpful to me, since I live in Washington, DC and not Brooklyn, NYC. (I am more indiscriminate about the jurors in DC – as I can just drop off the work and invite all my family and friends). I’ve been to several portfolio reviews and they have all helped me immensely.

For those of us, who have not been fortunate enough to have photography superstar mentors or gallerists approaching us unsolicited, I think one has to do what one can to be plucked from obscurity. To paraphrase Colin Blakely’s lament in a recent post, “Doing something is better than doing nothing.”

One person commented on Christian’s site that “If one is talented and driven enough the success will come in time.” Yes and no. William Gedney was talented and driven, but unassuming and isolated. Despite knowing such photography luminaries as John Szarkowski, Lee Friedlander, and Diane Arbus, his work remained virtually unknown till after his early death at the age of 56 when Lee and Maria Friedlander organized the publication of his work in a book, “What was True.” So yes, success, defined as the publication of a book came in time, but it wasn’t in Gedney’s lifetime.

I believe that Vincent Van Gogh was a genius, but we all know that success for him came well after his death (even his own mother used his work to plaster a chicken coop, A CHICKEN COOP!). And I think we all recognize a few photography superstars who appear to remain relevant simply because of their Barnum and Bailey-esque promotional skills. My point being, not to dis C.P. or those who comment on his site AT ALL, but that yes, if you WORK HARD and are DRIVEN, and by driven I mean, get your work out there, doing portfolio reviews, juried shows, and whatever else it takes, you may have, to paraphrase Benjamin Disraeli, success in your time. And if you don’t, at least enjoy the process, for pete’s sake.

Photo Guru extraordinairre, Mary Virginia Swanson, encourages young/emerging artists to enter juried shows to build up their CV’s, meet peers, and gain experience (this information was gleaned at a portfolio review, but can be more cheaply had by purchasing her book, The Business Book for Photographers, avail thru her website). Doing just this has increased my name recognition, familiarized people with my bodies of work, and built up my cv so that when I apply for grants from the NEA, I actually get them (er, well, one to be exact, earlier this year).

It’s a sad fact that to be a photographer costs a lot of money, sad mainly because it keeps so many marginalized voices from participating in the process. I keep a marketing budget that I tithe from every assignment that comes in somewhere in the range of 10-20 percent. From this I enter shows, send out promo postcards, attend portfolio reviews, and occasionally go up to NYC. And while I do not love this, the reality is, no one is forcing me to do it, and if I don’t like it I can find something else more lucrative to do. But I don’t much like lucre, and as Rilke says,” In the stillest moment of your night, you must ask yourself a question: If it were denied you to create, would you truly die? If the answer is yes, you have no choice, if the answer is no, please go and do something else.”

What can I say? I enjoy the process. It’s the living death I’m trying to avoid.

Trade Deficit

Maybe we’re winning the import export battle after all

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BTW I’ll be flat-footing it in Southwest VA for the next five days so the blog will be silent.

Exciting Fall line up at the Corcoran

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© Annie Leibovitz

Just found out via Lenny’s blog that the Corcoran Museum of Art (yes, evidence to the contrary aside, it’s about ART!) will be hosting two photography shows this Fall, by the obscure photographers Annie Leibovitz and Ansel Adams. What! You’ve never seen their work before? Well don’t worry this Fall will be your opportunity. For those of you who missed the Corcoran’s landmark First Ladies gown show, fear not, your bubble-gum dreams and cotton-candy wishes will all be fulfilled cum September.

Now, I’ve got nothing against Ansel Adams, a good guy. But I think the Nature Conservancy did a good job of media saturating him in the 90’s. I’ve seen five Ansel Adams’ shows in as many years without even trying. My point is let’s see someone new. And by that I do not mean the “Speaking Truth to Power” exhibit by Eddie Adams that was the Corcoran’s last banal attempt at social documentary (I believe the RFK foundation underwriting it had a lot to do with it, so I am not holding you, beloved yet wayward museum personally responsible). And if we can’t see someone new, let’s see someone we haven’t seen in every museum, gallery, and magazine cover we’ve passed by on the racks for the last decade. And yes, I have tried to avert my gaze.

The thing with Annie L. is that she portrays people as they wish to be seen, and I feel like i’ve eaten a really greasy meal when i look at her over-produced work. And when i look at her documentary work, sorry, same effect, i want to puke. No ambiguity in her photos what so ever. No questions asked, and certainly no answers given.

It wouldn’t even have to be someone new to the scene to appease this ire-filled writer. I think Irving Penn would do nicely. An exhibit of his palladium contact sheets in 2005 at the Nattie Gallery only left me salivating for more. Leibovitz and Adams make me feel like I’m watching that triumvirate train wreck Lohan, Spears, and Hilton over and over again on the news. (The news!) It’s like the Corcoran caught the bug that our national media has, that in spite of a multiplicity of channels and choices, we are in a groundhog day where we change the channel, pick up another A section and it’s the same story told over and over again. We do need more arts education.

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© Irving Penn

Art for fun!

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Sally Mann, Untitled from “The Motherland Series”

The only redeeming value of mindless computer work is being able to catch up on those educational videos that because of one’s lack of a good homeschooled edu, one missed out on. This week’s featurette is the PBS’ excellent series: Art 21: Art in the 21st century.

Sally Mann is one of the featured artists and we get to see her en situ, in studio, talking with kids, expounding on her upbringing and background, with her man. Good stuff. The kids clearly had an ambiguous relationship with their mother, but seem ultimately proud of Sally, her work, and their role in it.

I personally adored the sequence where we Sally at work in the field. Using her head to steady her 8×10 camera as she mounts her film holders in the back, she later queries to no one in particular, “Thirty seconds ok?” Sally Mann takes pride in the imprecise alchemy of her work. She doesn’t want the perfect lens, but she likes her photographs to have a little character, patina.

She expounds,” If it doesn’t have ambiguity don’t bother to take it, i love that aspect of photography, the mendacity of photography, it’s got to have some peculiarity otherwise it’s not interesting to me.”

To critics who wanted to create some type of artist statement to her ethereal work on dog bones, chewed and unchewed (think Irving Penn’s cigarette butts), she offers this, “Sometimes there doesn’t have to be deeper meaning in it, just art for fun, if you can imagine that.”

I can! I hope you all can too.

Consumed slideshow tomorrow night at Seward Belmont House, DC

Dairy Queen, Romney, WV 2007

Dairy Queen, Romney, WV 2007 © Susana Raab

WHNPA grant winner Susana Raab Lecture
When: Tuesday, July 24th at 7 p.m.
Where: The Sewall – Belmont House and Museum
Address: 144 Constitution Avenue, NE / Washington, DC 20002
(on the corner of Constitution & 2nd St. NE, next to the Hart Building)
Directions: http://www.sewallbelmont.org/mainpages/museum_directions.html

General membership activities for WHNPA will start the evening’s events.

Then Susana Raab will present a slideshow of her images from her project, “Consumed: The Culture and Legacy of Fast Food in the United States,” which examines the culture and the legacy of fast food production in the United States.

Come one and all!

Who the #@$% is Jackson Pollock?

The work that Teri Horton says was made by Jackson Pollock. She bought the painting for $5 in a thrift shop in the early 1990s and now says she will not sell it for less than $50 million.

The work that Teri Horton says was made by Jackson Pollock. She bought the painting for $5 in a thrift shop in the early 1990s and now says she will not sell it for less than $50 million.

Just watched this fabulous documentary detailing former truck driver Teri Horton’s $5 purchase in a thrift shop of a painting that might be a Jackson Pollock. The film was co-produced by the legendary Don Hewitt of 60 minutes fame, and came to being after a legendary and felonious former art dealer, Ted Volpe, approached the film’s director, Harry Moses, about collaborating on a 10-hour documentary mini-series about corruption in the art world, a subject he said he knew well.

According to the New York Times: “Mr. Moses said he thought the idea was too outlandish and that it would never sell in the American television market. But he was struck by Mr. Volpe’s account of Ms. Horton, especially after learning that she, with the help of a Canadian art restorer named Peter Paul Biro, had found a fingerprint, in paint, on the back of her canvas and that Mr. Biro said he had matched the print to one he found later on a paint can in Pollock’s Long Island studio, now maintained as a museum.”

It’s a great documentary, part detective story, part art-world expose, with compelling character actors. One, Thomas Hogan, a former director and curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, comes across as particularly elitist and full of himself. When asked to inspect the painting he surmised,
“There are a lot of second rate experts in the world. I am not. Now if I had been a night watchman at the Metropolitan Museum of art for ten years, instead of a curator and director for 18 1/2, then you might say that my expertise is not so good. My expertise is very good. . . . My instinctive impression which I always write down was neat dash compacted which is not good. It’s pretty, it’s superficial and frivolous and I don’t believe it’s a Jackson Pollock. It’s dead on arrival.”

Teri, herself, offers some great soundbites on her opinion of the Pollock (which btw, remained in her hands because the friend that she originally purchased it for thought it too ugly and it didn’t fit through the front door of her trailer). After she learned of the prices that Pollocks sell for she said,” “Knowing what it was worth just blew me away. Something so ugly to me . . . that anyone would pay that kind of money for this type of artwork, if you want to call it artwork.”

Well, as Barney Frank said paraphrasing W.C. Fields, “The public is no bargain either.”

All in all, a great amusing, and (for me at least) eye-opening peek of the business of art.

Related reading: Tom Wolfe’s The Painted Word

Digital Images dominate . . . but with a downside

A friend passed this along from the SF Chronicle, an article which speaks to the democratization and ubiquitous nature of digital photography:

Bottom line: We’re in the midst of one of art history’s greatest transitions. If film was the medium of the 20th
century, digital will dominate the 21st century, with transforming effects for artists and nonartists alike.
“Everybody who takes digital photographs experiences them in the moment,” Beltran says, “and rarely goes back to look at them again. It’s really changed the way we think of photography to have this literally instantaneous image of something that just happened, and it dramatically changes the way we experience things.”
Beltran, who teaches photography and other disciplines at the San Francisco Art Institute, says she’s always been a gadget freak with an
easy grasp of new technologies. “I think there are many wonderful things about (digital photography), but to me there’s just a sadness in the way
it interrupts our being present — in the way we constantly think about recording something at the same time we experience it.”

To me, it is a bit about the law of diminishing returns, the fecundity of imagery available makes individual images less valuable to us. Our attention spans limited already by channel-surfing and video games have become programmed not to linger, to absorb and contemplate. People less and less print out photos to put in albums and collect for future generations. Perhaps hard drives will be passed down sacredly from grandparents to grandchildren.

Ironically, I believe this proliferation will just make beautiful meaningful prints more valuable, if the public takes it upon themselves to devote attention to the more complex images. I see it in contest judging all the time, the easy to read images make it to the top round early and often, while more complex images that contain perhaps greater levels of irony and information are passed over in the 5 seconds that have been allotted into assessing the photographs’ value. As a society we just don’t spend enough time in the act of contemplation. There are so many issues about the digital revolution, this article just touches on a few of them.