I recently entered a local juried photography exhibition. Two of the eight pictures I submitted were accepted. They are very slight variations on these two:
Nice pictures to be sure. But postcard shots. The other six were as much or more interesting to me:
But for whatever reason they went no further. Which simply proves that what I value is less valued by some others.
This is an important point to hold onto when considering your art and its place in the world. It’s easy to get discouraged and to find yourself subsuming your own vision simply to please others. To produce the type of work that fits expectations and is already boxed in by those expectations. There is a clearly understood protocol for art show competitions – entries are expected to adhere to certain guidelines, and those guidelines, by necessity, act as a filter. Judging is not easy, especially when you have hundreds of entries to go over. Relatively rapid judgement based on easy-to-mark criteria very much controls the day. It’s tempting, as the one being judged, to allow yourself to mold your art to fit. I knew, when I entered the show, that the two eventual acceptances were the most likely to be picked. Ideally, of course, I would have liked all eight to get selected – I wouldn’t have entered them otherwise.
Still, it does rather beg the question, exactly why did I enter them? In truth, I was caught up in a subtle type of competitive peer pressure. My photography club friends were all doing it, I didn’t want to be left out. But I should have had more courage, perhaps the courage to simply say no. I will be pleased to see those two top pictures hanging in a gallery, for in doing so they will be candidates for prizes. Part of me would love to win those. Part of me recoils from the whole process. Part of me entered the less photo-competition-friendly photographs as a weird protest against being boxed in. A weird protest that I, thinking wishfully, would overcome the conventions of the process. Of course it didn’t, but I glad I made it.
Ironically and rather sweetly, the rejects will be hanging too. Three of them at least, in an upcoming non-juried show with no prizes and no entry fees. No $100 coffee table book either, one that we being encouraged to buy (again this subtle peer pressure). This will be ongoing at the same time as the juried show. This one is going to please me more.
Why is it going to please me more? After all, it’s only a work related show, one designed to showcase the art interests of the medical school employees and students and nothing more than that. I have been exhibiting in this for many years now. Showing what I wanted to show.
Showing what I want. That’s why. That’s why I enjoy putting my pictures on the web, here, on Facebook, on 500px, on YouPic, on Flickr. I put up what I want to be seen. It doesn’t really matter that much if it really is seen or not, although I watch for views and appreciate the likes, because the real satisfaction comes from the whole process, from taking the photograph, processing it, and eventually displaying it. Getting it judged – well, I’m beginning to realize more definitely (not least through the process of writing this article) that ranking a photograph not what pleases me.
So I think this may be the last photography competition that I enter. At least enter seriously with a regard to winning. My art and competitiveness do not sit well together. I need to remove competition from the equation. In truth, I was a fool to involve it in the first place. It is poison.