Tuesday, September 15, 2015


A common theme in photographic discussions, it strikes me, is validation-seeking. Lots of people want to "get their name out there." They want to sell some prints (and are thrilled to bits when they do). They want to do a book, they want to maybe go pro. They want to know how to get in to a gallery, or a museum. But what they really want, when you clear away the shrubbery, is for some authority to tell them that their pictures are good.

This is, perhaps, the motivation for joining camera clubs and forums, for seeking critique, and for ultimately modifying ones ides to conform. The community will offer validation, if only you perform a few minor tasks.

And yet, it's all somehow unsatisfying. So Bob, old Bob, who has been shooting for twenty years, gives you a pat on the back. Maybe Bob is an idiot? Is Bob's validation worthwhile?

Suppose you did get a legit gallery show, what does that gallerist really know? You got a book deal, yay, but isn't that mainly about what sells rather than what's good? Not having gotten either, I don't really know how it feels. Probably pretty good, probably validating.

But it doesn't matter. The trouble is that there is no central authority for what's good. There is no certification program for Goodness Judgers. If some guy says your work is good it means, generally, that the one guy likes it, and maybe he thinks he could sell some to... someone. Maybe he thinks it'll sell to rubes.

Ultimate validation doesn't exist.

Partial, conditional, uncertain validation? Sure. Pick your poison.

At the end of the day, there is stuff you like, and there is stuff that will be liked, or respected at any rate, in 100 years. To enter the latter category, you need to be first seen and then liked by one of the tastemakers. We don't even know necessarily, who these people are. At some point it became obvious that Stieglitz' opinions mattered, but it wasn't right away.

It is the job of the tastemaker to reach into the maelstrom and pull out work to bless. This is seen as rigged and dubious, but it is a necessary role. We cannot canonize all the good Art, there's simply too much of it. And yet or society seems to demand that some Art be canonized. Someone's gotta do it.

Will someone pull your photos out of the maelstrom? Probably not. It might happen, and there are things you can do to increase your odds, but it's not something to plan around. And what value is it, ultimately? Not as much money as you think. The secondary market is where the large dollar amounts appear. The primary market is the one where the artist gets paid. The adulation must be nice, but there an element of the arbitrary and random to it.

Having thought it through, I'm not that interested in working to make a tiny improvement in my odds. My validation has to come from me, because when you break it down, there isn't really anywhere else. If someone likes my stuff (and yes, smarty-pants, there are such people) that's great. But it can't be my reason for working.

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