Like Vs Love
I submit that we are in a somewhat chaotic state of affairs right now in our chosen field of making art by using photography.
Most would agree that we make work people like. The too broad analogy is that our tastes may be roughly similar, by the time we've framed it and hung it (or submitted it), there is practically universal agreement on the image's appeal. Often, as a characteristic of this appeal, the image goes into the viewer's realm of perception and just as quickly goes right back out, soon forgotten, not rising to a higher level of awareness. Viewers will say, "nice work" without lying or subterfuge, as they mean it. Everybody is pleased and not offended. But the work is quickly forgotten.
But love it? Be really passionate about it so that it is inescapable, in fact, gets under their skin and won't let go? Rare, most rare. This "must have it", the level of commitment that someone must purchase it, be it a collector, someone walking by on the street, a curator, a colleague? Actually put down cold cash for it? Almost never happens.
Most of us live in the "like it" world. Our work is accepted into shows and competitions. Our work fuels the need for huge quantities of imagery in this country. It is not unusual for work to be accepted, shown on line and then never seen again, having no physical manifestation whatsoever. After all, photography is very big these days and this huge machine needs massive amounts of pictures to keep itself fed.
But "nice" pictures, those that make no real statement, that carry a "pretty, beautiful or colorful" tag, those that don't extend, push or evoke a visceral response can so easily fall into wall hangings designed to fit in with the decor or color match the sofa. Honestly, photography can excel at this. Beauty prevails here, breathtaking scenes in nature, with utopian intent, are "art" to many.
I'll walk out the plank a little farther, as I know there is controversy in what I am writing. I would further venture that the beautiful imagery, that which has this near universal appeal, is most effective to a very large public out there, particularly now that many more can and are making these kinds of photographs.
Of course, there are other reasons to be passionate about the work. A photographer's work could be hot, a commodity, a genuine necessity on a collector's wish list. Then, it doesn't matter so much about the image, although it must've been deemed at some point to be "collectable". But now it becomes something to have, like a rare car. I just saw the Picasso show at the Clarke Museum in Williamstown, MA a couple of weeks ago and must admit I felt this way about the work. Okay, I admit it, I've never been that big a fan of Picasso's work anyway. Did I love this show? Not one bit. Too much overt ego for me, too loud. But genius? Absolutely.
Another reason there might be serious buzz about someone's work is politics. Say you're Native American and a museum in Idaho is embarrassingly deficient in their permanent collection of NativeAmerican photographs. You may receive a very warm welcome there.
Of course, this can backfire. I am an old American white guy, not a good race or age to be these days. Collections overrepresent us by a wide margin and are playing catchup in their efforts to represent photographs across a broad spectrum of races, nations, continents, cultures and ethnicities, as they should.
At any rate like versus love plays a big part in how our work is viewed, deemed worthy for acquisition in collections, be it in someone's home or in a museum.
So, where does that leave us? To consider our goals, to weigh the reality of our ambition and to make our work without too much consideration of whether it is purchased or not. Using sales as approbation or validation for our work is probably not such a good idea. Making our work for purchase is a business and is something quite different than what most of us do.
Let's all remember why we do this. We do this because, for some reason, we most likely need to. We are born to create, if you will. Plus, it feels good. So, go ahead, make photographs and never, I repeat, never, compromise your own standards.