The other day on the radio, some interviewer asked his subject, a musician, which they would want most, a million dollars, huge popularity or respect of the critics. The musician pointed out that critics often don't get it right and can't predict future success so were not to be sought, being popular was nice, but money sure was handy, artists typically being short of same.
Arguably money is a very good marker for the greatness of your images - it's one thing to say nice things about your pictures, but to actually lay out cold hard cash to acquire them, well that puts things on a whole other level.
The problem with this thinking is that financial reward is often a matter of luck but it's hugely connected to marketing yourself and most photographers are not marketers, by inclination, energy or resources. The small number who are marketers, who push their work every opportunity and sometimes when there isn't one, who spend far more time selling their work than making it, who have absolute confidence in their ability and have the balls to persuade everyone else of the value of their work, even in the demonstrably clear evidence to the contrary, well they are the ones who sell individual large prints made by someone else and for huge sums of money.
Who wouldn't want to sell a single print for $30,000? After all, it really doesn't take any more talent or even effort to make a large print than a small one these days, with inkjet printers. But do you really want to give up creative time for marketing - yes, that's the problem.
To have the critics keen on you - well I'd guess it would depend on who the critics were, what kind of work they like and what their track record is. to have a single critic enthusiastic doesn't really mean a lot but what if most seem to like your work? I'd guess it would make a difference why they like your work - whether for originality or strength of seeing or just because you photograph the hot topic of the period.
Popularity is unquestionably nice - there's not a photographer alive, not even the hermits, who doesn't like someone admiring his or her work, but let's face it, some of those people buy black velvet paintings on street corners and only like the pretty pictures, not the ones you put your heart and soul into.
Perhaps the greatest appreciation comes from fellow experienced photographers, who can recognize the effort, see the tonality, appreciate the compositional efforts and get the message. But if the admiration comes from novice photographers who are only impressed with how expensive your camera is and how many pixels are in the image, then give me an informed non photographer audience every time - someone who may not appreciate the toning and paper surface and printer quality but who has an eye and can see and understand images. Someone who likes black and white and who likes images other than pretty landscapes and baby pictures. I have been impressed that these are not that uncommon. Among my patients there are a number who can tell me what I was trying to achieve in an image, who see what I see. I was back at the lime plant on Friday and took a copy of my book and they thumbed through it and the comments on images were perceptive.
Bottom line is we take our kudos were we can get them, but some are appreciated more than others.