This week’s post, The System, will begin after this important message . . .
I’m shifting my attention from drool. to HYPO, a newsletter. (I’ll still be posting to drool, but the posts will be less frequent.)
HYPO is not, like a blog post, public. It will be delivered directly to your inbox. The only way to see/read it is by subscribing. You can do that using the handy form, there on the right. If you are on a mobile use this direct link or scroll to the very bottom for a subscribe button.
HYPO will be different from drool. I’m excited about getting out of the blog box, escaping the social media giants’s algorithms, shaking things up, experimenting. I want to see what my newsletter can be, what I can turn it into. Come along for the ride . . .
We now bring you The System . . .
Recently I was asked to sit on a couple of arts juries, to decide on exhibition proposals and acquisitions. I gave it some thought, weighed the pros and the cons and, in the end, declined.
Well, you might be thinking . . . You, Tony, seem to have all sorts of complaints and/or thoughts about the arts system, why don’t you put your money where your mouth is and use these invitations to, you know, change things from the inside?
The answer is: I don’t believe the system can be meaningfully changed from the inside. The first rule of systems is to do whatever is necessary to perpetuate the system. If you put emphasis on being accepted, buying in, you get co-opted, no matter what.
In the case of an arts jury, sure, I might have enough persuasion power (or whatever you want to call it) to get something included that would not otherwise have been considered. But I still see this as, essentially, token.
Furthermore, it would feel to me, somehow, like collusion. I’d rather remain, as much as possible, outside the system. That way I can retain what I like to think of as my “observer” status. By remaining as independent as possible I have more room to move and critique.
You might also be thinking . . . Well, Tony, you participate in and reap some rewards from the system. Aren’t you being hypocritical here?
Another good question.
Yes, it’s true, I do participate in the system. I pay my taxes, stop at red lights, hold doors open for people, and so on. And, yes, I’m engaged with PhotoWorld™, after all, you’re reading these words, are you not? But one can be engaged, participate, from a position outside the system. What’s the alternative? Giving up? Becoming a hermit?
And I do reap some rewards. Get the occasional show or mention, make a print sale from time to time, and stuff like that. But that’s not a complete definition of success. The fact that I don’t feel I must conform or suck up to prevailing attitudes and systems leaves me free to be critical. It also leaves me free to see the world in way that’s less mediated by the prevailing systems of thought, politics and group-think.
Not that my work is radical or anything. I believe that to be effective expression must remain recognizable. But trying to see and render the world in a way that’s independent from how the powers-that-be want (demand) it be seen usually results in a more dimensional understanding.
But sure, I live in this world so am, by definition, a hypocrite.
But, you might wonder . . . What’s the point of being a serious photographer, putting in all that time, money and emotion, if you don’t get adopted by the establishment, if your work doesn’t get seen?
Well, my work does get seen. Perhaps not as much as it would be if I spent more time (and money) promoting it to the blue-chip movers and shakers of PhotoWorld™. But every book I’ve published has sold out, my two most recent exhibitions have been in art (as opposed to commercial) galleries in Groningen (Holland) and NYC (USA). So there are ways to penetrate the system without falling for it.
Besides, I do photo projects for myself . . . to learn, to get out of the house. Any other “exposure” is only a side effect of that primary impulse.
As to getting a pat on the back from the establishment: Fuck that shit. I choose to spend my time and attention on the periphery because it’s more interesting there.
(I also spend some time monitoring popular culture, trying to decipher that. Without understanding the status quo it is impossible to critique it. I want to occupy a space where I’m close enough to the system to see what’s going on, but removed enough to have a longer perspective.)
And, yes, I understand that the system will absorb, render effete and/or monetize any irritant it can. I understand that, until we get closer to the end, the system is pretty much unassailable. The edge either gets pulled to the centre and used, or is ignored.
So I’m not sure where choosing to operate and remain on the periphery leaves me, vis-a-vis having/building a career in photography. But this is the choice I make. I’m happy to let the chips fall where they may because, in the end, not only do I have to live with the system, I also have to live with myself.
(All images above are out takes from Official Ottawa.)