Awhile back I wrote a short piece titled, What is My Photography All About? which was a bit of a romanticized recollection of a portfolio review that was not all that great of an experience. Or at least not a positively uplifting one. I wrote that I came away from the review with insight and “some of these new insights conflicted one with another which was also expected. The one thing I naively always anticipate when showing my work is clear answers, either that it is exactly where it needs to be or it completely missed the mark.” Strant is currently in the midst of an open call for its next issue. In reviewing submissions I’ve received thus far I remembered that portfolio review. And I remembered what was and still is important.
My poorly printed portfolio wasn’t important that day. My photography might not have even been important that day. And after having presented to a panel of well regarded and knowledgable reviewers, and after having felt a bit of defeat, I later considered why I was better for having participated despite my less than inspired work. To clarify, I am not suggesting the submissions I have received for the open call have been bad. That is not the parallel I am making. They have for the most part been good and I am eager to coalesce the selections with what is hopefully more to come and edit everything into a cohesive publication. One thing I would like to keep in mind throughout this process however, and this is why I was reminded of my portfolio review, is that the next issue of Strant is not the end all. It is true, that amongst the good submissions have been some not so good. But they have been less than interesting for reasons perhaps you might not have thought. They have been uninspiring not because of the photographic work but rather what seems to be photographers more inspired by recognition and unfortunately the supposition that recognized work is therefore good work. In contrast, the good photography stands out as being from a photographer motivated by the desire to communicate a particular photographic point of view. Photography is fully subjective. And with enough searching, one can find an audience who embraces (or at least acknowledges) almost anything. I believe we should as photographers embrace that earlier on, relieve the anxiety of being recognized, stop all that searching and get on with producing good work. My poorly printed portfolio was because I was trying to be stand out not convey a point of view. By the printing decisions I made (tonality, paper, etc.) I was forcing my photography to be something it wasn’t and I was too busy trying to be recognized rather than trying to produce meaningful work. I do not believe that one should without thoughtfulness for what it is one is doing produce work. That is to say, while it is ultimately less important if your work is ever recognized it is not carte blanch to produce thoughtless dribble and call it your own point of view. Good photography is accessible. And while it might take a bit of effort on the part of everyone involved in the photographic dialogue to access some meaning, be considerate of what you as a photographer are doing. Ask yourself critically that question, write about it, and then photograph some more.
So what was important in that portfolio review? What is currently important to me as I receive work for Strant? The bigger take away I wrote in What is My Photography All About? was that time I spent with friends who had travelled in for the review and participated in some capacity (some of those friends were my critics earlier in the day) was “the insight gained from the portfolio review earlier that day will inform my photography so will that time spent with friends. In fact, perhaps it informs my photography even more so than the review. It clarifies to me that community is important and is probably more important than my photography.” Saying “probably more important” was a bit tongue in cheek. Community is most certainly more important than my photography and is a point of view I have embraced as a photographer. It is not for everyone, but it is my perspective. In producing Strant I am not solely looking to introduce an audience to the next great photographer nor am I looking to join in on the chorus of praise for currently recognized photographers. I am also looking for communal dialogue. I am looking to engage one another in conversation about photography. Most of that will be done throughout the submission process, throughout the creation of the next issue of Strant. As I said, the next issue is not the end all rather it is evidence that I had the opportunity to spend time with another photographer (even if only electronically) regarding what is ultimately more important to any one of us than in and of itself, a photograph.