I recently received a form email from the Center, Santa Fe rejecting my entry to their upcoming portfolio review. My first thought was surprise. While I was certainly not expecting to win the Santa Fe Project Competition, which has one winner out of 800 or so entries, I felt pretty confident I would get into the review. So it shook me for a moment to get, “the thanks but no thanks” response. The email included a link to the juror’s statements, just in case you were interested to hear why they did not select you.
A project or series which is early in development will not hold up to one that is more fully developed or complete. Technique in and of itself does not constitute a good idea. Conversely poor technique will detract from a good idea. And for me technique must support your idea. I will draw upon what [previous juror] Rixon Reed said “There were portfolios that contained wonderfully exquisite prints but were too derivative of works by other well-known photographers”. These were eliminated quickly, as they were measured against the established works. There are very few new ideas, however, there is, your personal, fresh vision and point of view.”
–Donald Woodman, photographic artist
Hmmm, so which of the above did I fall into? Racking my brain with self-doubt, I started to consider the strangeness of the entire “competition” process. How exactly do you shift through hundreds of portfolios in one day, which include a mere 10 to 12 digital images and decide what is better? I suppose there are some projects which perhaps fit more easily into the winning slots than others, almost like the photo project prom queens. While other work might have just as much value, but not present as well in the constraints that these contests impose. ( And yes many that have no hope at all.) And who exactly are these people judging you? I have been applying to many of these things this year, and so far not one has wanted the same size jpegs, the same number of images, the same length of artist statement or the same supporting materials. Oh yes, and all of them have a fee. It is sort of like filling out college applications. Not something anyone looks forward to. But as much as part of me wants to chuck the whole process, I continue to solider on. Mostly because I continue to see people careers get launched by these emerging artist lists, shows, contests and events. Look at the CV of most art photographers who have a certain level of success, and you will see that most of them have been in the same contests or on the same emerging artists lists.
But of course there are plenty of people who are successful who have never entered or won anything. What my little rejection taught me more than anything is the importance of editing. You have to willing to throw away images you love if they are not adding anything to your work. So I put every one of my images on the wall and started from scratch and made my edit tighter and stronger. So thank you Donald Woodman, photographic artist and Nancy Sutor, Interim Director of the Marion Center for Photographic Arts, Educator, Photographer, your rejection was the best thing to happen to my work in a while.