Thursday, January 26, 2012

Reject

2012 is off to a roaring start. January is barely over and I've already been rejected for 2 shows. At this rate I'll surpass last year's total by June. The worst part is I can't even save the rejection letters. Instead of the nicely typed form letter they used to send (which I collect in a large file), rejections now come as generic email: "Dear _____, We received many bla bla bla...and yours was not bla bla bla..." Not really worth saving. In fact it feels pretty good to delete.

One of my more entertaining rejection letters, 2005, from Lenswork

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.

Guggenheim Application, 1954, Robert Frank

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.

Another rejection letter from my large personal collection

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.

45 comments:

Anonymous said...

Suicide is your only option.

Chris said...

To me the only option is to keep taking photographs, stockpile thousands of exposed and unprocessed rolls of film in a storage lot, and get famous once you're dead.

Blake Andrews said...

So if I combine the first two suggestions, fame is right around the corner.

Chris said...

Although on a more serious note, I know that my work isn't good. "Boring shit" as one unsolicited voice opined. I still like taking photos. Nothing will ever come of it, and that's ok. At least my mom thinks my photos are great.

SR said...

I remember a quote that said you've got the photo bug if you do it for a while and quit.... the photo disease you have for life. So just consider yourself terminally ill and enjoy every day the best you can and keep shooting. More seriously.... we all shoot good and bad images (Ansel's biographer was amazed when he first went to Ansel's house to be introduced, viewed prints and so many of them were mediocre.) Maybe ,if you want artworld acceptance, you should take workshops and elicit when showing prints to others their EDITING suggestions. Personally I find editing my own images often harder than shooting and printing. regards.

Walter Beckham's Photo Blog said...

Very good comments, all! Loved reading Frank's Guggenheim application, can you publish Friedlander's & Eggleston's in a future post? I'm curious about what they said...

Anonymous said...

hey, you know how google decided blogger would be awesome with a lightboxy display of blog images and everyone was like "who asked for this garbage?" and there was no way to turn it off? Well, there's a way to turn it off and go back to how it was. If you're interested. Poke around. I think it's a setting or something.

K. Praslowicz said...

OMG. I need to get around to finally submitting to Lenswork. A rejection letter like that would make me happy.

Anonymous said...

I think your biggest problem isn't the quality of your photography, but the genre. It's been out of fashion for some time and generally the only time you see street photography is by people who are already famous, or on self-promoting sites like In-Public. I can't remember the last time I saw non-historical street photography in a gallery or publication.

Stan B. said...

Remember Orson Welles in his latter years, traveling around with his "portable" video system in his suitcases looking to shoot the film that would somehow spark his comeback- felt sorry for him, and he had alrready had his 15 min!

Always wanted to curate an exhibit of personal best rejection notices. Mine was- Your submission was thrown out with the recycling.

Chris said...

Blake, if you're going to go the suicide route, you need to make sure you have lots of nudie self portraits first. You can't establish the sexy tortured artist cred without them.

Rai said...

I'm sorry! You could always print out the rejection letters, and prepare to throw them all back in the company's faces once your success explodes!

Sweet revenge.

Richard Bram said...

Blake, I have learned to my sorrow that being droll & clever, while personally extremely satisfying, will get you nowhere unless you're applying to the Surrealist unGallery of Fish-in-the-Air, Laputa. While curators may personally have a sense of humor, institutionally they have none. Here's a very funny column in this week's Financial Times on just this subject: (Perhaps Ms. Kellaway is reading B: ) http://tiny.cc/5b9pv

re: Chris - "If painting doesn't love you, all your love for her will be unavailing." - - - Dali

re: Anonymous 12:14 p.m.: This is why I curated "From Distant Streets," an exhibition of international street photography in a gallery in Louisville, KY, last year. 29 photographers from around the world had 3-4 photographs each in a massive and beautiful exhibition, and the University of Louisville Photographic Archives bought the work of five photographers (including one by a certain Blake Andrews) for the permanent collection. If it gets shown, it will sell - the hard part is getting it shown. (I can not help myself: Why are any of you anonymous?)

ed g. said...

I don't know what to tell you, except that "I am Joe Shmoe" would be a great name for a group show.

Blake Andrews said...

@Walter Beckham, I'm not sure where to find Friedlander's or Eggleston's Guggenheim application. Frank's is easy to find online or a hard copy can be found in New York to Nova Scotia.

@Kip, I think they just send out emails now.

@Anonymous, I know better than to submit street photos to any of these submission calls. Richard's show existed outside any submission framework. It was curated internally which is the only way street photos generally make it into public.

So I avoid submitting any street stuff. This last round I submitted Diana photos instead.

I'm not sure "self-promoting" is a good word for In-Public since group actually does very little promotion.

Off on a long journey now...no posts for a while.

microcord said...

Geneva Anderson tells us:

Frank was no wizard with words and initially he produced an awkward one-page written summary of the project [for his Guggenheim application]. Photographer Walker Evans, who he met in 1950, was an accomplished writer who had penned over twenty book and film reviews. Evans contributed enormous editorial clarity and direction to Frank’s original application, turning one page into four and capturing the essence of Frank’s work and project. As a past Guggenheim fellow himself, Evans was a member of the foundation’s advisory committee and not only did he rewrite Frank’s application but he wrote his own independent letter of recommendation for Frank and, when it was time, voted to grant the fellowship.

In short, an inside job.

This map suggests that for this approach (with its excellent pedigree), you're lucky to be in the US and A rather than Canada, but that you'd have a better chance in Mexico, and better still in Honduras or Nicaragua.

Anonymous said...

Great and very funny post! I'm not a serious photographer, but I'm a scientist and I have to deal with rejection of my work all the time :)

John P. said...

Great post B.
I suppose being a bit more timid and less humorous in looking at the world saves you from a lot of these rejections (and denies you such an admirable collection!).

On the other hand not only you made me smile but gave me a slam dunk idea of my first 365-days project (so ubiquitous on flickr but never attempted one).

Read this post every day for a year and see what comes out of it. Maybe even take a self-portrait immediately after reading. There should be a jungle of expressions collected right? First today is a big smile.
I just hope I'll avoid that suicide mentioned above...

Anonymous said...

Hey B, of course you know submitting anything to Lenswork is pure folly. I'd wear the rejection as a badge of honor though in spite of your temporary insanity. Just out of curiosity I went to the Lenswork site and clicked on the latest podcast, I had to terminate after about 90 seconds and rush to the bathroom to puke the saccharine loaded koolaid.  I blame the freezing fog.

CH

Anonymous said...

Blake thanks for the verification on what you were submitting. I keep forgetting that street photography is only one of the styles that you do well. No offence, but Diana work is passe these days. Now that the Instagram look is so ubiquitous on social sites Diana's have lost their uniqueness. Maybe you need to do some more serious projects that have depth to them.

Richard Bram - I've had a problem with an angry stalker in the past, so I go anonymous whenever given the opportunity. I'm also not trying to promote myself, so I don't need name recognition.

Anonymous said...

I've been a commercial photographer for over 35 years, and have a great portfolio of commercial work that everyone comments on, but no one will hire me to do anything anymore, too old, they don't want to mix a 57 year old in with the 'kids' at the studio, they might not like working with their Dad.

That said, I have a lifetime of personal work that could never be catagorized into anything that would make sense in the art world either. So no joy there.

Walking around taking pictures with no end purpose, is something like visual turrettes, if you can't stop, it's something psychological, not art dedication.

Sometimes you just need to stop...

Read a story in the NYT about ten years ago about people restarting their lives. They talked to a fairly decent jazz trumpeter, who was studying in law school. He said you just have to say to yourself, either I'm not good enough, or I just didn't get the breaks, but after a while, it just isn't happening.

I imagined myself shooting until the day I day, but the expense of upgrades in digital, and the lack of labs in analog, means that it isn't going to happen. Sometimes it's just over...

Anonymous said...

I know you feel bad, but I do not really get the giving up angle. Either the work you do is good, or it is bad, and unless you cannot tell the difference, you should know whether to carry on or not. If the work is good, then why let the tastes of curators and their associated rejections stop you from producing work you know to be good.

Zisis Kardianos said...

Blake, what stands between you and the photography art world is the missing words and the sort of pictures you do. In other words, everything! It's that simple.
If you ready to make boring photos and garnish them with a pretentious concept, the success is just around the corner.
But to get accepted for what you are, man that's grueling.

I think you are already denigrading yourself by giving them Dianas and not street.
Dianas is a lost cause and frankly is just reborn pictorialism in disguise.

Ben said...

I looked up "chutzpah" in the dictionary. Chutzpah is charging $35 for a portfolio submission. I must have beeeen desperate. NEVER AGAIN!

Alex said...

I want to leave a comment about the brilliance of this blogpost. I wish my comment could be as funny as the post. Sadly I feel that it wont be funny at all.

Blake, the majority of what people like is not very good. Lots of good stuff is only appreciated years after it was made. I guess it all boils down to why we are doing it. Who do we do it for. What is the point? And do we earn enough to survive while doing it.

I think I should select some people whos work I like and curate my own thing. If I ever do, you need not apply.
I will contact you and make sure you are included ;)

Christophe said...

bah, stop applying and ceate your own show. Ask entrants to fork out 20 bucks and use the money to set up an exhibition for your friends and yourself (under a different name). Then send all the entrants a rejection letter.

Schulze-Wenck said...

Oh no - please don´t kill yourself unless I have bought all of your pictures, told the world what a freak you are and then you may go ahead with your dead wish... but it has to be one with a spectacular finish - just kidding!
It is a sad time for an artist to live in. Pea counters and calculators are holding the key positions in the big companies and ever since they have tried to commercialize creativity.
Photography is not a just a job, not just a hobby, it is a very strong passion - you can not just stop it like smoking ...
Keep on with what you are doing - your blog also is a treat!

Gustavo Gomes said...

Hey, it's the same here in Brazil. So many shows going on, so many Photography Weeks, so many bad photos on the walls... I'm sure they just care about CVs, the written project and about who you know. You got to have a project, no matter how bad or inconsistent it is. Last time I tried an application for a grant I realized that one of the jurymen shares a blog with one of the awarded photographers. There's a guy showing very dull photos of security cabins in Sao Paulo for the 10th time... etc, etc, etc.

Doug Brewer said...

well, this certainly paints today in a more surreal light.

in my defense, my whining is usually much more articulate than shown here.

Christophe said...

By the way, just got a rejection email myself tonight. Shall we swap?

Christophe said...

Sent today to someone who sent me a rejection letter:
Dear so and so, I thank you for the interest you take in my artistic endeavours, but I am sorry to inform you that I do not accept your rejection letter. I will show my work nonetheless at your gallery for the aforemantioned show. Please forward all necessary delivery details.


Sent today. Let's how THEY like it.

K. Praslowicz said...

That made me literally LOL Christophe

Nathan deGargoyle said...

Blake, Titles do help sometimes. However, if you can't be bothered to think of a title or don't think it needs one then "Untitled (#167, Willamette Valley-Diana series)" is likely to attract more attention. If nothing else it makes the viewer wonder what else might be in the series and, if this one is #167, it must be good to have missed the discard pile.

p.s.the 167 can be replaced by anyrandom number within a beleivable range. "Untitled (#100679246891, Willamette Valley-Diana series)" might not be quite as effective ;-)

chere pafford said...

This post is so funny. I too received mine this month and got one last month. My favorite? I took great care to put together some beautifully printed images and sent them to a local gallery; only to get them back with "Thanks for sharing" scribbled on the back of the portfolio. Nice touch. I am heading in the direction of 'screw all of you; I just like to do what I do'. And the very next thing I send images to will not contain any pertinent information.
When asked to explain my work, I told a professor in one of my very first classes: "If I have to tell you what it's about then I didn't do my job". That was my beginning self. Myself before I was a photographer. My zen self if you will. I think I liked her better.

Zisis Kardianos said...

Nice work Chere! In some shots the differential focus is used in a very compelling way. I frequenlty encounter hints of Keith Carter which I presume is known to you. As in the #7 of the Indian series with the boy and the birds.

omphoto said...

As someone who has had to notify people that their photographs were included in an exhibition, nothing is more frustrating than the unnecessary extra dialog about which "Untitled" photo was selected. It makes the curating of a show so much simpler if you just put a title on it.

loongan said...

Blake, I'm Malaysian located 70% of the world away and yet I know of and love your blog, and everytime you rant or whine (sorry!) loads of people leave comments and stuff. What more do you want? I have 55 followers on tumblr that don't ever say anything to me. Oh wait, except a couple of guys who told me that they like my photos. And because I really like their photos too, I value their opinions 100times more than someone who doesn't even know who Robert Frank is. I have a copy of Lenswork which my friend bought for me from US and even though I quite like Josef Hoflehner and Douglas Stockdale and even some of Brooks Jensen's own work it is largely an uptight-ish "fine-art" type publication that does not appreciate the subtlety and humour of your work. Honestly I feel your work would look out of place in Lenswork. Then again I only have one copy to base this opinion on. Eek!

anyway the solution is to move to Tokyo:
http://www.americanphotomag.com/article/2012/01/future-photography-alive-and-well-tokyo

best of luck! btw I've started writing about my photographs and stuff a lot more since I discovered your blog. I think photographers should take themselves less seriously and you are my inspiration. Thanks man.

Sincerely,
Hsien-Loong Lim

Simone said...

Zisis, my thoughts exactly -submit your best work, which in my humble opinion is your street work.

Anonymous said...

What a crock of shit the applying for for shows & ultimately the rejection letter is.
Who gives a fuck if they like your art enough to give you grants, shows or buy it?.
Awards are medals of mediocrity.
Getting a grant, show etc is confirmation that what you do will either sell or is what the competition committee likes the look of & or wants on there gallery wall.

NOW Here is what you should do stop the whinge get a GROUP SHOW up.
And do it 2 to 4 times a year until someone looks at your figures for visitors or sales and then over time get recognition that way.
Personally I make art for me and no one else.
I couldn't give a fuck if someone doesn't like what I do. I say "Poor them" :-(.
But if someone likes my artwork or someone buys it then they share my sense of style and taste, I say "now good for them" :-).

Now dont get me wrong I do have self doubt in what I do.
But I'm confident in the fact I've made something that satisfies my rules on style, beauty, texture etc... and fuck it yeah I fucking like it!
At the end of the day for me its not about the money, money it does make the world go round, but nah I love doing it, doing it.

Confidence is sexy.

Life my new found friend is a roller coaster so whatever happens learn to love it. Good Luck.

ANON

Blake Andrews said...

The three jewels of training:

Great Faith
Great Doubt
Great Effort

Anonymous said...

Anon again,

Your better off asking other established artist what they think honestly and constructively about your artwork.
Sorry for the F'ING This is a subject I am passionate about.

Blake Andrews said...

The fourth jewel:

Great Cussing

elizabethhosking said...

You defiantly need to be a little insane, i've learnt that much.

patricia said...

that Rueben looked scrumptious! can i stop by for lunch some time?

please know that several years ago a writer submitted the work of Mark Twain under his own name to many publishers and received only rejection after rejection.

even when you're dead and famous, the rejection letters still roll in.

that's art baby.

Anonymous said...

as funny as I found yr anti-resume, u do realize that its ALL about the CV dont u?

the ppl who decide these awards and shit haven't got a fucking clue what's good work, or what's contemporary, or what's innovative.

but they are at least intelligent enough to realise that they don't have a clue...

so how do they choose? well, they just look at the resume and accept whoever went to the right art school and already got selected for a bunch of other crappy shows.

how else do u explain the total mediocrity that so often gets the breaks? u can be sure that it's mediocrity with a great resume

lots of love, another Anonymous