Yesterday I got some bad news that I wasn’t expecting. I don’t really enjoy sharing this, but I’ve promised honesty here and this is too big to be ignored. I was shocked, to be honest, and hurt. I’m still hurting and suspect I may be for some time to come. I’m still not quite sure what the news amounts to, but it certainly feels bad.
If you’ve followed this blog at all, you know that I just printed a bunch of large images to take to my gallery. I sent an email to the owner asking if there was a time when she might be in the gallery so that we could meet when I dropped off my prints. I got an email back from her that I wasn’t expecting. It felt like she was telling me that they no longer want to represent me and I still think that’s what she’s saying, though she doesn’t use those exact words.
I was truly shocked at this. I mean sick to the stomach, hands shaking, the whole works. I’d had a lot of contact with the gallery recently and they new I was developing new work. I’d had no indication that they were considering dropping me from the gallery. It would have been nice to know before I spent hundreds of dollars on ink and paper and did all this printing, but of course it’s up to them what they do.
What she said precisely is that they had been evaluating their artists from a business standpoint and returning the work of artists without enough sales. She further said that the images I’d sent them recently weren’t a good fit for the gallery. This is gallery speak for ‘we don’t want them.’
Over the last several years I’ve produced very little new work as I’ve been building motorcycles instead of doing photography. The work I did produce wasn’t sold, though I don’t know if that’s because it wasn’t shown much or it wasn’t received well. I recognize entirely that I made the choice to stop photographing and supplying them with new work to sell. I’d feared for some time that they would drop me for lack of production, but I’d only recently been contacted by them about a couple of sales and asked if I would be interested in participating in large volume sales to hotels, hospitals, etc. I had no sense that this was coming.
Now, re-reading the email, it’s clear it’s a pretty strong message that they’re not going to keep me with the gallery, but it does not say that precisely, so I’m not entirely sure. They’re very nice people and may not have wanted to be quite so blunt as that. But that’s certainly what it feels like to me.
I did write back saying that I had just printed a bunch of work for them. I sent images of what I printed. She responded that they would look at the images and get back to me. There is also the possibility that I could continue to submit work to them as I do more this year. I’m sure they would at least look at them.
There are many things that go into a gallery’s decision to choose or drop an artist. They may simply have decided to go in another direction. They may have taken on another photographer with similar work. They may not be selling photography at all. Who knows?
I don’t really expect to hear anything positive from her about the images I sent. I’m proud of every single one of the images or I wouldn’t have printed them. I may simply have burned this bridge when I chose to start building motorcycles instead of doing photography. There are some that are beautiful images of a beautiful landscape but may not have enough “artistic” value. That’s always a trick with photography. I want a photograph to go beyond simply a record of a beautiful place or time. I know they do too.
So, back to how this is making me feel. I feel awful! This gallery has sold a lot of work for me. Tens of thousands of dollars worth. When they selected me for the gallery, it was a huge validation of my work and the sales over the years was a further validation. I felt like a real, established artist, something that I had never really felt in my long creative life. Mind you, this didn’t happen until I was in my fifties, so it was a long time coming.
I had gotten very comfortable with the feeling that I had a reliable outlet for my work; that I had probably the best gallery in the state representing me. I no longer worried about whether I was good enough, something that used to plague me and I know plagues all of my artist friends.
What’s more is that I don’t know of another gallery in the entire region that I think would be worth approaching about selling my work. I’ve visited every one that I thought had potential, and I’ve shown my work in some of them. None of them could sell my work. The gallery I’ve been with could. It’s not always about the work, it’s also about the gallery’s reputation, their clientelle, etc. This gallery has been around for 25 years or more and they do a fantastic job of reaching out to their community. They do a great job period.
In addition to that, they also mount and frame my work, which means I don’t have the substantial expense of doing that. I bring them prints. They decide what they want to hang. They frame it and sell it. My expenses and my risk are minimal.
So, losing this gallery would mean to me that I would likely never again have an outlet for my work. There would be virtually no reason to ever print another photograph. I don’t even have room in my own house to hang my work and it’s expensive to do anyway and would be hard to justify. Of course I have this blog and other online stuff, but I will have no place that sells work at good prices.
I know that what has been hurting me since I got the email is the sudden feeling that my work and therefore my self is being rejected as inadequate. I haven’t felt that in a long time and it stings. I know consciously that this is not the case. It’s about the fact that I haven’t been producing and the gallery is moving on for whatever reason.
Getting my subconscious to accept that this is not a repudiation of my work is the hard part. This kind of thing immediately strikes at an artist’s sense of self. You immediately start questioning the work you’re doing. Are the images I printed really worthwhile? Am I making art or just taking ordinary snapshots? Am I wasting the time and energy I’ve been putting into photography lately? What will I do if not this?
I’m trying to get back to a place where I feel that I have real ability as a photographer and artist. I’m reminding myself of the work I’ve done, of the galleries I’ve shown in, the shows I’ve had. I even had my work published in my all time favorite photography magazine, Lenswork. I’m honestly still quite proud of the work I’ve done within this project.
I know I’ve taken some wonderful images; things that I had no idea of when I began. I wonder if maybe I haven’t gone deep enough into some things and made a real body of work of them. I like the overhead tree branch things for that, and the bark as well. I think each could be its own body of work in itself.
The difficulty is getting my gut to feel what I know in my head. I’m slowly getting back there, but without an outlet for my work, I’ll feel very limited. I know I’ll question whether it’s worth doing photography if no one sees it and takes it home to live with it.
In fairness, lots of people see my photography and probably enjoy it, but there’s a big difference between seeing a tiny screen image and clicking ‘like’, and seeing a big print beautifully framed in a gallery setting and then taking it home to live with it. There’s no comparison.
In time, I’m sure I’ll lose the sick feeling I have in my stomach. The conscious knowledge will seep into my unconscious and I’ll feel okay again. Writing this is helping already. I actually don’t have any doubt about my ability or worth as an artist, but this news was a shock and that hasn’t passed yet.
I’ve been afraid that this shock would stop me from pursuing my year long project, but I can feel now that it won’t, or at least it shouldn’t. I’m glad for the fact that I’m going out every day with my camera. I am inevitably drawn to photograph something every day. I don’t always have something that I love at the end of the day, but most days I have something and some days I have many things I love.
I’m still thinking about making a book out of this project too. I have no idea why, except that I love the idea and think others will enjoy it. As I’ve said, I have no way to distribute a book, but maybe I will even pitch some publishers. My brother is a writer with many published books to his credit. He’s also a dean of a law school on the side, wink wink. I don’t know if he could put in a word for me, but I’ll ask if an when I get there.