Over the past two weekends I made roughly thirty-five prints (about half color and half B&W). Yesterday afternoon Leslie K. Brown, curator of the Photographic Resource Center at B.U., looked over my portfolio. It was a good experience — rather like I thought it would be.
What did I learn? I have some talent, some interesting ideas, and some distance to go. “Much of your work looks like the sort of thing other beginners chew through. Some of these,” pointing at some B&W trees, “are standards. Nice, but they’ve been done before and don’t say anything new.” Other images — especially from my recent work from California and from the Commonwealth series — she found much more interesting. The “End” sign and field from Dixon, Calif., and the Lake Chargoggagoggmanchaugagoggchaubunagungamaug store showed the most depth, she thought.
It’s a most unusual sensation to have somebody look at my work and dismiss large parts of it. Not that it was bad, just not unique or deep . . . just “pretty.” (For example: exhibit a.) I’m okay with it really. I started to suspect as much a few years ago when I was looking for my own place in the photographic community; and my focus and style have been evolving a lot over the last few years.
Having sold about a dozen images, though, there’s some dissonance. Most folks like pretty better than cerebral. The gallery world doesn’t like pretty.
The gallery and juried exhibit world likes series, cohessive collections of images that develop an idea. That’s the big message I took home from yesterday’s half-hour session. When answering the question “why should this artifact be interesting as an artisitc object?” having a set of supporting works around it certainly helps.
So what’s next? I need to ponder that some more, but I’m encouraged. If I focus on what I like, on what interests me, and if I take some workshops to help me focus my work, I’ll likely be in a very good place. And now that I’ve exposed the soft underbelly of my work, there’s nothing more to lose by going to some more critique sessions. Maybe tomorrow at the PRC again.