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 photo.net and photosig.com 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. Photo.net 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.