A bit of a rehash of earlier thoughts here and by no means an essential read but a means of pulling things together.
Today I received an exhortation – I think that’s the right word – to buy a $100 coffee table book containing the top 100 entries in the Saint Louis Photography Club’s upcoming show. Two photos of mine will be included. You can see them and get an earlier bellyfull of my thoughts on photography competitions here.
Now, I’m told that purchase of the book will provide some funds to worthwhile local charities and that’s a worthy goal. Still, I find myself resenting the invitation somewhat. Partly that’s undoubtedly because only two of my eight entries into the show made it into the final hundred with the ones being left out being rather more meaningful to me than the two that made it in. In other words, if what I successfully entered represents the type of photograph that typifies the finalists, I’m unlikely to find much of interest in what has been chosen.
This is always a conundrum about competitions and one reason why I don’t enjoy them. What it really boils down to is that I don’t like most photography. Why I, as a photographer, should feel this way has always puzzled me a bit, but over the course of a number of posts to this blog, such as this one and this other, that it’s becoming increasingly clear that I have a very individual sense of what is good and what is not, and much of what goes into that assessment involves far more than the image itself.
I had thought that perhaps the process itself of being admired and respected for a particular piece of work would somehow amplify its value for me but it hasn’t. All it has done is to educate me into what is judged popular versus what is not with regards to my own work. Now, with that knowledge, I could begin to tailor my own output to match these expectations, but that process has no meaning for me. I don’t take photographs to be popular. I take photographs to please me. Competitions work against this, generating such personal unease that I realise that I am fool to get involved. The work I do like isn’t popular, the work that is popular is work I usually don’t love and, if anything, like even less once it becomes anointed with some sort of acclaim.
So I need to take myself and my work right out of the competition equation. I said as much earlier. I also know how to involve my photography with others in a way that is meaningful and rewarding and this has nothing to do with popularity. It would make sense to follow this avenue, the practical application of my skill for a cause. And I will. But it’s inevitably not going be a large part of my photography.
So what does that leave?
It leaves me once again in a similar situation to the spring of last year when I also felt I needed to get away from my fellow photographers. I did so, withdrawing from the photography club for half a year and working further still on developing an individual voice. It worked. I am more satisfied with my photography today than ever, even as I move down avenues that seem to interest no one else very much. Again, I think I’m going to withdraw, remove disruptions, and work further on what makes my photography personal and meaningful. After all, what’s the frigging point if you don’t?