Creative: Visual Diary #016, Paris Photo and March

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It had been three years since I felt the Blurb timewarp. This timewarp happens when you venture into the world as a cog in the Blurb machine. A timewarp of old, pre-C19 age, might be heading to a country to do fifteen events in fifteen days in three different cities, or perhaps spending nine weeks straight on the road with no days off. Those timewarps are mostly over, but the new timewarp feels similar in some ways. A short period of time, a long list of things to accomplish, and a fervor that comes from being around something that gets your blood going.

Paris Photo 2023 did not disappoint.

There was great photography and great books to be had. There was the catching up with familiar faces. There was meeting new people and learning about their work and printed successes. But what was perhaps the most interesting aspect of the entire week was the public’s pursuit of all things photographic. On the morning I attended the event I encountered a thousand people waiting to gain access. All during the day and into the night, the crowd continued to surge. Shoulder to shoulder, lining every wall and open space. Yes, the public’s interest in photography is at an all-time high, or at least it feels that way.

You may love or hate an event like this.

You may love or hate the industry side of the business. You might feel this is an exclusive club and you aren’t invited. You might see and hear things you don’t understand. That is all part and parcel, and if it really bothers you then you have two options. You can vent and rage, or you can attempt to better understand what is happening and why. The photo art world is a business. I know it’s fun to wax poetic about pseudo-intellectual nonsense and how the world should be but in the meantime, the photo-art world continues to expand and adapt, with or without you. You can attempt to dismiss it all as “crap,” which only makes you look disconnected, or you can truly study what’s there and use it to your advantage as you work to get better.

The photo fair, in great part, is about curation.

Making sense of the zillions of images and printed pieces. But even with great curation, not everything will resonate. That’s okay. Do you like every book you read? Every film you see? Every painting, design, or illustration? Then why on Earth would you think that everything photographic is going to be your “thing?” Attending an event like this is educational, inspirational, maddening at times, confusing at others, but the key is to attend. (If possible.) There is no right and wrong.

Comments 10

  1. Many thanks for the interesting and informative view of Paris Photo. I’ve never been, but you’ve tweaked my interest for next year. This year I stop being a photographer. That is to say, one that gets commissioned and paid to take pictures. Now it’s my turn to decide what I shoot and how I shoot it. I know very little about the art photo world, but I’m keen to learn and find out. You’re absolutely right when you say it’s the only open genre in photography. I find that exciting. At the moment I will be taking photographs for my own enjoyment, should that materialise into something others might appreciate, great. Thanks again for the insight and encouraging words in what appears to be a very negative industry.

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  2. Well, Dan, it may be better on the outside, but once you’ve been inside long enough, you’re formed for life. Sure, there are other avenues open after closing the business down, but I have yet to find any. There was something about getting the commission that kinda validated what followed. When you do it only for yourself, it feels that none of it really matters a damn anymore. I discovered rudderless freedom.

    Yesterday, I watched and made some iPhone pix of a very old, sunken, wooden boat that had been floated back up to the surface from where it lay, taking up space, for months, near the port entrance, only a mast showing, a danger to other boats. Perhaps the thing was about sixty feet long or more. I guess that’s why the money (a lot, the crane was huge; there were divers) was spent on towing it and eventually lifting it up onto the hard at the yacht basin. It’s next stage is demolition. I felt like I was at a funeral.

    So yeah, the pictures I made. It might be the iPhone quality – I can’t use the Nikon at the moment because the vision in my right eye is temporarily screwed – but whatever the reason, enthusiasm collapsed very soon after putting the files into my computer. It just didn’t matter. All I had done was waste time watching. In essence, the photography was actually no more than an necessary unnecessary excuse for just hanging around. I have used the analogy before, but ads for the Energizer bunny come to mind, and the suspicion of being no more than a toy, unable to stop going though the motions. Not good, and not cool.

    Perhaps once you’re out you should stay out – completely.

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      Hey Rob, my advice. Leave the camera at home and just take a pen and paper. Amazing what this will do us. But after doing this for an extended time, the camera takes on new meaning.

  3. Rob, I can probably count on one hand the amount of times I’ve actually been thanked for my work. As I’ve been working for 40 plus years in the same business, I assume it’s not because my pictures were poor.
    Nothing feels more empty than submitting commissioned work without any acknowledgement, good or bad.

  4. The late Terence Donovan, one of Britain’s most successful commercial and fashion photographers, is credited with saying that the most difficult problem for the amateur is finding a reason for making a photograph. As one currently living in the latter world, I can only say that Donovan was correct. The point, I guess, and which puts the ex-pro in an even more difficult position, is that when you know that you can pretty much do anything you want to do, the act of photographing something is not, of itself, always sufficient motivation to make you do it.

    Much is made of setting up personal projects. I first took that route years ago with the Coke bottle. After a while, I didn’t know at which point the idea had died – or reached fruition – because I simply lost my way in what had become habit, a compulsion, even.

    Neil. It seems that nobody says thank you unless they have got you to do something for nothing. As with your own experience, the closest reached to a thanks was getting more work from the same clients. That’s why I put so much emphasis on getting the commission: it was both the personal validation – and the thanks – rolled into one. Perhaps a formal thank you after the event could raise fears of raised prices next time round?

    Another point I should make is this: my pro work was what it was for the simple reason that it was the kind of work I most wanted to do. There was nothing else on my desires schedule. I guess that’s what made eventual, enforced retirement so painful. For years after the ending of the business I could hardly live with myself. God knows how my wife managed to accept the new idiot she found herself slowly inheriting. She did, a couple of times, tell me that she hated photography. I had imagined her to be referring to one or two son’s of that we had had the misfortune to be away on shoots with, but now, as I write, perhaps not; perhaps her reference was to where the game had put me. I shall never know. If she and I meet in the next life, bet the farm that it’s the last question I’m likely to ask her.

    Dan. Though I have always enjoyed the written word, why would it be any different than photography? Where the pleasure in writing without purpose? The closest I got to using language professionally was with some calendars: once, when a client had made his selection of the pictures to be published, I wrote a little bit of nonsense that appeared alongside the photograph for each month. I had no idea at the time that I had created a template for all future calendars for that client. My presentation for his second calendar had no accompanying copy, and he was quite upset. He told me that he had had no idea what the hell I had been referring to in my scribbles, but that he liked it. I suppose that references to Flying Purple People Eaters had no meaning to a lover of classical music. From my point of view, thanks, pop!

    With luck, I’ll discover that once I get my camera eye fixed, I will put away the iPhone and reignite the affair with a real deal camera. At least for a while, which is still a lot better than nothing.

  5. Just read an article you wrote for Blurb on snapshots and it totally resonated with me. Curious as to what small camera did you buy?

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