Oh well. Rejection is part of the artistic process, right? Nothing ventured nothing gained. It's just that it seems to be happening a lot lately. I can't actually remember the last time a submission of mine was approved.
Truth be told I may have a bit of a self-destructive streak. I don't have much patience for applications. They usually ask for a Resume or CV. I don't understand why. What could possibly be less important in judging someone's photos? It's like asking someone what color eyes they have. So lately I've been like, fuck it, I may as well submit the resume I want to, which turned out to be this:
I, Blake Andrews, do solemnly swear that I have checked off the requisite requirements for an artistic resume, having been included in a suitable number of approved gallery shows, publications, collections, bla bla bladity bla bla bla…
BORN Berkeley, CA 1968
EDUCATION Bla bla bla bla bla bla bla 1992 bla
SELECTED EXHIBITIONS The usual places, and some unusual ones too
HABITS I strongly suspect that I am stuck being a photographer for good
LIVING SITUATION In Eugene with wife, kids and four chickens. I have brown eyes.
In addition to a resume most applications ask for photographs to be titled. My photos don't have titles, at least not when they're not being submitted somewhere. Lack of titles can actually work in one's favor, since it's a golden opportunity to label photos Untitled. Or better yet a passive-aggressive nontitle that actually is one, Untitled (Woman Sleeping at 4 am by a Quiet Brook) or something. Curators love that shit.
I tried labeling a photo Untitled just to see how it fit. Perfect. But I didn't want every photo to have the same name. That might be boring, and the last thing I'd want to do is bore a curator. So I played with the word Untitled and came up with some anagrams and other variations.
Then came the artist statement. Since I didn't really have one I decided to borrow from Robert Frank's 1954 Guggenheim application. I figured if it worked for him I might have some luck using it.
But Frank's application was a bit wordy. That style may have worked in the fifties but people don't really communicate like that anymore. I think most curators nowadays are looking for something short and sweet, something that cuts to the chase. So I submitted a condensed version:
Project goals: To photograph freely throughout The Willamette Valley, using the Diana camera exclusively. The making of a broad, voluminous picture record of things in the valley past and present. This project is essentially the visual study of Western Oregon and will include caption notes; but it is only partly documentary in nature: one of its aims is more artistic than the word documentary implies.
This was a fairly accurate description of my project, plus it paid homage to a living legend. When I submitted the thing several weeks ago with photos, titles, and resume, I thought my acceptance would be a slam dunk. But no dice. Rejected. I guess I don't know curators so well after all.
OK, so I sabotaged my submission and I have no one to blame but myself. Although I'm still sorting out my exact motivations, I think part of me didn't really want a show. All that time and money that I would've spent printing and spotting and matting and framing is now freed up. I can get back to sipping daiquiris by the pool. So in one sense it's a bit of a relief, one less thing to worry about.
But it does raise the question of why anyone would bother. I look at photographers who have show after show after show in all parts of the world, sometimes multiple shows at once. How do they do it? It's a full-time job just prepping the photos, not to mention the rest of it. Then the show goes up, you hear no feedback, you wonder if anyone sees it, nothing sells. In a few weeks you take down the show and put it all back in the closet. Talk about a treadmill. And for what?
I'm guessing many photographers have asked themselves the same question. Doug Brewer raised the issue directly on FPN last week:
"Here's a serious question: Should I give up?
After decades of frustration, rejection and being ignored, I've finally come to realize that nobody likes my photography. I know we're supposed to only do this for ourselves, and yadda yadda, and I do, but we also want to share work with others, but at what point do I accept that others don't want me to share with them?"
Doug's post generated all sorts of interesting comments, mostly supportive. Keep at it, Doug. Follow your heart, Doug. That sort of thing. Which is fine in one sense. If you really feel your calling to do something, you've got to chase that star no matter what.
But the broader issue, not really addressed in the FPN discussion, is What if the star you're chasing is in fact a dud? What if you've devoted your life to something you're actually not very good at, but you don't realize it? I see a lot of photos in galleries made by people who probably believe in themselves, but that doesn't mean the work belongs in a gallery. But the thing is, the photographer himself can't tell. Everyone believes in their work. I feel great about my photos, but so does every other Joe Shmoe on Flickr. Maybe I am Joe Shmoe.
This is where outside arbiters can be very valuable. If one meets with continual rejection it might be a sign. Then again it might not be. You can't be sure.
I don't know what the answer is. I keep telling myself I'm done submitting to all these calls. Then sure enough I go and do it again. But if one continues to submit over and over again in the face of rejection, expecting the result to change, isn't that the very definition of insanity? That thought's occurred to me many times over the years. Yet I still reject it.