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Doubting Again

Posted by Tom Benedict on 09/03/2010

To be blunt, it’s been a rough couple of weeks.  I seem to go through these cycles from time to time, but this one is particularly bad.

Timing is everything, and this is no exception. A while back I submitted some artwork to a juried art show.  I had two pieces I was looking at entering, but could only afford to enter one.  In the weeks since, I received updates on the state of the show, when the show would happen, how excited everyone at the gallery was, etc.  I was looking forward to it.

Around this same time I sent a set of pictures around to an email group, and received a single comment back.  Not on the images I thought were the strongest of the set, but on an abstract.  The comment:  “What’s this supposed to be?”


A few days later I received my rejection letter from the jury.  My piece was not to be included in the competition or the gallery exhibit.  Thanks for your time and entry fee.


Past this it was mostly downhill.  I did receive some positive comments on some of my pictures, but with one exception it’s becoming quite clear to me that I really can’t judge how people will receive a photograph.  The photographs I get excited about seem to get a cool reception.  And some that I’m really not that happy with, or that I do as a technical exercise or demonstration of a technique, seem to get more attention.  I’m beginning to realize I really have no idea what appeals to people.  At all.

In some ways I’m reminded of the title of an Oliver Sacks book, “Anthropologist on Mars”.  The title came from a conversation Dr. Sacks had with an autistic man who referred to himself as an anthropologist on Mars, spending his life trying to figure out how these creatures around him live and interact.  It’s a pretty close match to how I’m feeling right now about my photography.  I honestly can’t say what people like.

All of which should be moot.  Art should come from within, after all.  But if you’re trying to use your art to pay the bills, or to cover the cost of more art supplies, it starts to matter a great deal.  In an earlier post I mentioned that I’d like to build three new KAP rigs.  The DSLR rig, in particular, would be a really good move, given the kind of photography I like to do.  But to get there from here requires money.  Money I don’t have.

So I started lining up some prints for sale.  I’ve done this in the past, and occasionally something will move that will put a little money in my photo account.  This is how I’ve funded a fair bit of my gear over the years.  But this time, looking at what’s sold and the photography I’ve done in the meanwhile, I’m left a little shaken.  What do I print?  What do I include in a portfolio when visiting a gallery?  Why was I rejected from the juried show?  Why is it more people have viewed a picture I made of the bottom of one of my cameras than any one of my aerial landscapes?  How come I can’t figure out what people actually like to look at?

As an added source of income, I also put a number of my photos up on Zenfolio.  Unfortunately I didn’t read the fine print before starting the work.  It turns out they will only sell prints at the vendor’s price unless you have signed up for a premium account.  What this means is that the print house that makes the prints makes money off of them, but the photographer doesn’t.  Well of course I could always sign up for the premium account, to the tune of $100 a year.  Only…  What if every picture I’ve posted is a waste of space?  After all, I didn’t get into that juried show.  Heck, a fellow photographer had to ask what one of my photos even was.  You can see where this is going.  Doubting again.

So right now I’m back where I started, with nothing to show for it but a bruised sense of self-esteem and a nagging doubt over my ability as a photographer.  No money for new gear, no real prospects on the horizon.

I’ve been told that every artist needs to develop a bit of a thick skin.  True.  But it’s hard.  I know I’ll come out of this funk soon.  But it’s never fun while I’m here.



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