Friday, February 17, 2006

Photography and writing

One of my other interests, besides writing, is photography, and I have noticed, over the years, that the world of photography and the world of writing have many features in common.

For instance, both have sets of highbrow critics who talk the most amazing nonsense, and yet are taken seriously by oodles of people who really ought to be old enough, and smart enough, to know better.

I was reminded of this by an article in the Times, earlier this week, about the Deutsche Borse Photography Prize (fomerly known, in honour of its then sponsor, as the Citibank prize). In that article, Tim Teeman, who several years ago was one of the judges, relates how it felt to listen to other judges talking.
I recall one severe-looking judge looking at a selection of a photographer’s work and claiming: “It’s the new humanism”, to which another replied, “That’s what bothers me. The artist has a false naivety.” A third asked: “Is it too passive?”, to which somebody else hissed: “Too tasteful?”, and not to be outdone another spat: “Too nice?” (Being “nice” was the worst thing any artist could be accused of). Man, those judges were bitches, albeit of rather highbrow stock.
Seems to me I've heard that kind of thing before, in another context.

One man who writes very sensibly about photography is Ben Breard, owner of the Afterimage Gallery in Dallas. On his web site he includes a number of his own essays and reflections on the art. One of the most revealing of these is entitled The Untalented Photographer. This I found particularly interesting, not least because I am an untalented photographer myself (I will leave it to others to judge my writing).

Breard explains that it is often a difficult task to have to tell someone that their work really isn't up to exhibition standard, and may never be. But the bit that struck home with me is this. After Breard has, as kindly as possible, explained to people that he cannot sell their work, they pick up their portfolio and leave, eyes straight ahead. They very seldom pause, have a look round the gallery, and take the trouble to examine what he can sell.

It seems to me that there is a message here for writers. As far as I am concerned, it is abolutely sensible and reasonable to sit down and write your own novel (or whatever), without any consideration of market requirements at all. It can be as traditional or experimental as you wish: 40 pages or 4,000. Your choice.

Further, it makes perfect sense to go ahead and publish that work yourself, in one form or another.

What does not make any sense, to me, is to write without any consideration of market requirements, but then to expect that the market will somehow adapt to you. It just isn't going to happen.

So the smart thing to do, to avoid heartache and time wasted, is to make up your mind, pretty early on, which game you're in.


ivan said...

Not sure about this, Grumpy.
We have to be a little arrogant here.
I read somewhere that while all bestsellers are masterpieces, all masterieces are best sellers.
I don't know about masterpiece, but I have sold short pieces for big bucks while not actually thinking of the market. The most staid publication will sometimes take something that is pointed and even humorous. Editors are tired of what they themselves deem "dreck" and will sometimes take a chance.

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