I have read several posts lately on the photo worlds over-emphasis on emerging artists. With today’s announcement of the Critical Mass finalists, it got me thinking that perhaps this is because the blog community is primarily composed of emerging to early mid-career artists. There is lots of chatter about emerging artists online, because that is really the only forum that has embraced them. Traditional institutions, publishers, and galleries, rarely take a chance on them. For instance, artists featured in the MOMA’s New Photography series, almost all have previously had a solo show at a major New York or European Gallery. They are rarely 20 something’s right out of school. In fact the only artist I can think of who had immediate success at that age with little to no experience was Ryan McGinley.
The commercial world also tends to favor experienced photogs. While it is extremely difficult to maintain a long-term photo career, it is still less likely that a photo editor will take a chance on an untested photographer. Perhaps the truth of the matter is, that it is challenging to be an emerging photographer, and it is challenging to be an established photographer. However, I think Joerg Colberg has a point about age discrimination. There is certainly a bit of favoritism to the idea of the young emerging artist. But you can look at the internet, with its built in anonymity, as an opportunity for people of all ages to have a chance. We rarely look at the bios of artists on WIP until we have decided we are interested in showing the artist. So we don’t know their age often until we have decided to show their work.
Of course it is important that there be opportunities for everyone, no matter what their age. I certainly hope that the powers that be in photography, are willing to give everyone an equal chance. I struggled for a long time with the feeling that I was starting this too late, and if I was not in my early twenties I was too old to compete. But now I realize that was my own folly. So maybe getting miffed that “emerging” folks are getting all the attention is ultimately unproductive. It seems that your only option is to focus on doing the best you can at whatever stage you find yourself in your photo career. Most women learn early on in their life that there is always someone younger, prettier, smarter, thinner, with a better handbag, waiting in the wings. So at some point you have to utilize your wisdom and experience to show your merit. Cause their is always going to be a long line-up of “hot young things.”
And as the Malcom Gladwell New Yorker article so interestingly pointed out, creativity comes to fruition at different times for every person.