Musings on Photography


Posted in motivation, shows, the art world by Paul Butzi on March 3, 2010


I recently got some flattering email from a photographer I know and hold in very high regard; he told me he thought the work represented by one particular set of portfolios on my website was very strong and should have wider circulation. We exchanged emails a few more times, with him saying that the work ‘deserves more exposure’. (I’m not specifying which work nor who the photographer is because what I’m musing about is independent of who’s making the observation and the work).

I’ve said before that I’m of two minds about doing exhibits of my work. I do one little show a year, now, through an arrangement where I get a slot in a small gallery run by a group of photographers. Each year, I ponder giving up my slot, and each year I pretty much decide to go ahead, do the show, and kick the decision into the next year. And after I do the show, I reflect on what I got out of it, and I almost always conclude that it’s a cost and a hassle and I didn’t get much out of it, and that next year I’ll probably punt.

But the fact is that the show keeps me motivated and moving. In some sense it keeps me honest. And so I stubbornly cling to that one little show once per year.

The other part is that as time passed, I’ve become less and less motivated to do the work of promoting the photographs I made. I slowly drifted from actively promoting and thinking hard about ways to get more exposure and extract money from what I was creating, until I reached a point where I decided “You know, this is it. No more selling prints. I’m gonna put the stuff in some finished form on the website, and work in progress on the blog, and that’s it.”

The root problem, here, is that life is short and finite, and I’m increasingly aware that my time is limited, and so I’m getting fairly ruthless about deciding whether or not something is rewarding to me, and even more ruthless about not spending time doing things which aren’t rewarding. I guess I believe that the most obvious way to have a happy life is to categorize activity this way, and to the extent possible given your circumstances and obligations, do more of the stuff that makes you happy and less of the stuff that doesn’t.

And so I told this photographer, in essence, that I wasn’t much interested in promoting the work, that as long as I could get access to the things I want to photograph, I’m not interested in getting past the gates of the art world or the commercial world. His response was that I might feel that way now, but he thought the work could have a larger life than it does now.

I think that when someone you respect tells you something, you should pay attention. I am paying attention, and so I’m doing some hard thinking on this. When I create a body of work, do I have some obligation to get it some exposure? If one end of the scale is mercenary and ruthless promotion of work beyond its merit, the other end of the scale would be to hide work of merit under a bushel. My general observation is that on such scales, the optimum is almost always somewhere in the middle, and very rarely at one end or the other.

And so in the end I am in a muddle on this. It’s very difficult to see rewards to promoting the work that seem enticing to me, but at the same time it’s possible that there are rewards I’m not seeing.

10 Responses

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  1. Rusty said, on March 3, 2010 at 7:29 pm

    Perhaps the reward comes from extending yourself beyond where you are now. Perhaps you may grow as an artist, person or whatever. You won’t know until after you have tried or done it. Perhaps not for some time after the end of the project.
    Your SoFoBoMo project inspired me to extend myself and I am still finding rewards from participating in that.
    On the other hand, all time spent on one thing has an opportunity cost. We are indeed fortunate to have these choices.

  2. Chris Klug said, on March 3, 2010 at 7:30 pm

    Well, there are costs and benefits of public exposure and you are the only one who can truly measure those, so I will not pass on any advice. I will say, however, that the images from the M9 are and continue to be stunning.

  3. Edd Fuller said, on March 3, 2010 at 7:54 pm

    Are you trying to make an artistic decision or a business decision? As a business decision it comes down to a straightforward assessment of cost/ benefit and risk/reward. An artistic decision is not so straightforward. For me, the desire to communicate and share is a part of my creative impulse, and satisfying that desire is rewarding regardless of what form the sharing takes.

  4. Paul Butzi said, on March 3, 2010 at 8:00 pm

    Are you trying to make an artistic decision or a business decision? As a business decision it comes down to a straightforward assessment of cost/ benefit and risk/reward. An artistic decision is not so straightforward.

    I’m trying to decide what to do. Is that a business decision, or an artistic decision? I’m not being facetious. It just seems to me that pretty much *every* decision comes down to cost/benefit and risk/reward.

    I’d just observe that ‘cost’ and ‘benefit’ may not be measured in dollars, or even hours.

    And, of course, one man’s meat is another man’s poison, so any valuation is necessarily personal.

  5. Ed Richards said, on March 3, 2010 at 8:24 pm

    I also think hard about this. One reservation I have about the WWW being the endpoint is that it is such a pale shadow of the work, at least of your LF work. I am not sure this is solved by bigger PDFs. Do some blurb books and giving them to a few libraries?

  6. Edd Fuller said, on March 3, 2010 at 10:36 pm

    I agree that most decisions come down to cost/benefit and risk/reward. But the way we calculate these ratios in a business context seems to me a lot more quantifiable and straightforward.

    The point I am trying to make, and it is a very small point indeed, is that determining how rewarding the effort to connect with an audience will be depends on how important an audience is to one’s creative process. And that seems like an artistic decision to me. Determining how important an audience is to one’s financial health is more of a business decision. To tell the truth, I am not sure how that helps, but it does seem useful to me to make that distinction.

  7. Martin Doonan said, on March 4, 2010 at 12:24 am

    Seeing this I thought 3 things relating to your specific position, that have wider application (I suppose):
    – What’s “more” in this case of exposure? If tens of thousands are viewing/downloading the pdfs, how does one beat that sort of thing for exposure? Or is it a “quality” of exposure (avoid the masses target the cogniscenti)? Would you want that direction anyway?
    – What’s “exposure”? If your decided end-point is web-presented pdfs, then surely a print show is moot. And who (see above)?
    – Why? Always the hard question. Why does it deserve more exposure? For whose benefit?IS the world going to become a better place (honest question) or is it about self-gratification (maybe some of both)?

    Of course you understand the whole realm of external appreciation better than me, and my view is woth slightly less than $0.02.

    It’s nice to have the options, though.

  8. Rod Graham said, on March 4, 2010 at 1:37 am

    I’ve become aware the last few months that my photography, good or bad, is my “legacy”—all I’ll leave behind when I’m gone. I’ll turn 60 years old this year, I have no children, no “estate”—nothing really to pass on to friends and family. and this has been weighing on my mind a lot lately. This whole feeling has kind of snuck up on me, but here it is, and I feel it strongly. I still work full time as a nurse, and on my few days off, I try to get out into the woods and let my dog run and shoot a few pictures. I’m not saying my efforts are “good”—whatever that is—but friends and family like them and I like one of them now and then, so I print a few to show around. It’s not a question of a business, but I’m not exactly sure what it is. My “legacy” is the most apt description I know. Oh, and for me, it has to be prints, something I can hold in my hand and look at and pass around. I like some of your work that you show here a lot; sometimes it looks a little like my wanderings around outside, not that many of mine are anywhere as good as yours, but I recognize the “seeing” of something that looks interesting and wanting to capture it. Does anyone else have this “legacy” feeling about their photography?

  9. Cedric said, on March 5, 2010 at 2:51 am

    I’m with Chris Klug, I can’t offer any advice but I can relate to your predicament as I was offered some wall space in a local gallery recently. It was flattering to be sure but there seemed little point in accepting the offer. I have no aspiration to be a professional photographer and I’m no artist. I take photos for a variety of reasons and I dare say, all of them selfish. In other words I do it for me so going through the effort of selecting photos, choosing frames, overseeing the hanging, helping out with the promotional stuff, showing up on opening night… well let me just say that’s not for me. But if it’s for you than why not.

  10. wanderingypsies said, on March 5, 2010 at 8:14 am

    Hi Paul. I realise that this is off topic, but I am wondering about sofobomo for this year. Have there been any discussions and directions other than the setting up of a committee and the dates of June 1 to July 31st?

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