Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Our Audience

In the past I have written about being careful not to work to please the customer, to stick to your principles and to follow your heart, which is all very well, but few artists are so self centred that they can work in a vacuum. The other night on CBC, Milton Glaser was being interviewed. This design consultant (who came up with the I Heart N.Y. concept) was commenting on creativity and pleasing the customer and other art issues - basically all the same things we struggle with as photographers. At one point he quit his commercial studio because he and his studio had such a strong reputation that everyone wanted them to just do more of what they'd been brilliant for in the past and he wanted to move on and felt he couldn't do this in the same organization - even though he'd started it.

The other day I posted the picture of the moving leaves. I rather like the image but it's been on my office wall for three days and not a single person has commented on it - and they normally do comment on my latest pictures. Clearly they don't get it. Now, my patients are for the most part quite well educated, people with university degrees or highly responsible jobs many of them. O.K., they aren't art experts, most of them. What do we do when not a single person goes out of their way to comment on our images?

When we make some more normal images and so get positive feedback for those, it helps us then move out on a limb to do more interesting work which may be appreciated by a much smaller audience, or even no audience. When there is no history of appreciation because we have never done "normal" work, it can be a bit more challenging. In that case, it can take a very strong personality (ie. being very egotistical) to be able to work in an environment of no positive feedback.

That in the history of photography there have been a number of people who quietly worked away on their own, not sharing their work with anyone only to be discovered late in life or even after death confirms that it is possible to work without appreciation. The significant difference here though is that these people didn't put their work up for evaluation and so never had any negative feedback. For those of us who do submit to shows, contests, publications and posting to the net, it is no longer possible to think that "well, my work is great, it's just not discovered yet".

I have been scouring and for good colour work that I might then be able to comment on and the work that rates highly on these sites is frankly pretty mundane - oversaturated colours, cute babies, naked women and overly photoshopped skies. used to have editors picks of the week which were quirky and much more interesting and several times I have been able to point you to wonderful photography but unfortunately they don't seem to do it that way any more, picking instead themes which seem to generate a lot of cliche images.

Some people are "photographers' photographers", that is they are most appreciated by other people educated in the nuances of fine print making and photography in general. Others seem to be most appreciated by galleries because their work is different and fresh (not to say weird).
I guess the trick is to find the right audience for our work. It doesn't have to be a large audience (unless we insist on making money from our photography). Fortunately the net is huge and the varied tastes of people using it, well, it doesn't matter how odd your taste is, there's bound to be other people with similar interests. Hey, if Alberta can have a gopher hole museum, there's a place and an audience for us all.


Alexandre said...

Hi George,
sorry if this sounds like spam (feel free to delete this comment if you think it is), but if you're looking for good colour (and B&W) photography, you might want to take a look at It's basically an online gallery, with a very strict screening system, so that only a handful of images are published every day, and the quality stays quite high.

G Dan Mitchell said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
G Dan Mitchell said...

George, thanks for another of your thoughtful and thought-provoking posts. This is a subject I've thought about quite a bit - what it means to be "appreciated" and/or "understood" - and how to place oneself against this issue.

Like you - if I understand your situation correctly - while I take my photography very seriously, I do not have to make photographs in order to make a living. I have another great career in a different area of the arts that pays the bills. I have come to consider this liberating and, while I would not refuse a photographic career if the right opportunity came along I'm not exactly pursuing one in the commercial sense either.

There is a great model in American music, the very original turn-of-the-century composer Charles Ives. Whatever you may think of his music (and it is often anything but conventional) he faced the question of of do I create the work that I believe in and find myself unable to support family and self, or do I compromise my art in order to make a reliable living?

His answer was "neither."

Ives pursued a long and successful career in a field completely unrelated to musical composition while passionately (an important word here, I think) composing in the evening, on weekends, and on holidays. In the end, he produced a wonderful body of original work that makes him arguably the first great uniquely-American composer.


Edie Howe said...

G. Dan Mitchell pointed me here via Twitter. He also pretty much echoed my thoughts with his comment.

I live and work in Yosemite; And while my work is indeed self-pleasuring to a degree, I can't deny that when someone sees a print and gasps, it sends a frisson of delight down my spine.

Um, that definitely sounds a bit rude, doesn't it? Still, I see a correlation between artistic work of any sort and sexual pleasure. Whether it's to make others happy, or to please yourself, it's all good. Just be sure to set boundaries on your tastes and what you'll do to please others.

Rajan P. Parrikar said...

Apropos of Dan's remark on Ives - the word "amateur" in its original etymological sense captures Ives and those like him. Today, unfortunately, "amateur" has assumed a pejorative connotation and is often equated with dilettantism.

Geoff said...

Hi George

There will be images you create that other people will not take notice of. You are an artist using the photographic medium. An artist does not compromise, if an image has a special value to you then do not concern yourself with what others say. It is this stance that is of ultimate value.

It is in the nature of art to present the viewer with what an artist creates. The public's opinion is irrelevant. The discerning public want to see what you want to present to them as art.

47whitebuffalo said...

hi, just roamed in from JEM, and found your comments about 'audience' interesting--same issue with writing and other art forms.
--and, you mentioned looking for color photography for possible commentary...well, her work might not be what you're after, but Yi-Ching's wake up new blog might give you something worth commenting on. Sometimes her compostion is delightful. Worth browing her archives--perhaps. suite yourself. Hope you don't mind if I wander in from time to time to see what I can learn. I'll try to post something instead of just lurking in and out. thanks..

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