Well, there’s really no question. The reviewers have it; the photographers don’t. The clues are everywhere. The reviewers get a free ride; the photographers pay. The reviewers go into the reviewing room at their leisure; the photographers queue up, flatten themselves against the wall, and wait for the signal from the staff person chosen to be the herder. The photographers are admonished not to pursue the reviewers; I’d be surprised if anyone told the reviewers not to aggressively try to sign up photographers.
It’s all about scarcity. There are a host of talented photographers producing much more quality work than can be accommodated in all the galleries, museums, and publications available. Art photography is like any other glamour profession. In journalism, acting, or playing basketball, the top earners make a fortune, and most of the aspirants need day jobs. So it is with art photography, but in photography, I don’t think it is the prospect of money that fuels the ambitions of most of the hopefuls. For whatever reasons, photographers crave exposure, and the exposure gatekeepers are the top dogs.
I had that point driven home to me in a most uncomfortable way at PhotoLucida. I was standing in the break room looking at another photographer’s work, when a third photographer came in the door, spotted me, and made a beeline in my direction.
“I just talked to Joe Moderotz [made-up name for a reviewer],” he said, “And he said that I should show you my work.”
I’d been reviewed by Joe the day before, so I answered, “Sure, just as soon as I get through looking at these.”
After five or ten minutes, I came around to his side of the table. He told me about the work that he’d brought to the conference, and asked me what I’d like to see. That seemed a little strange; usually photographers show other photographers whatever they want to show them. I picked a couple of series, and started to flip through the pictures, asking a question every so often. Something wasn’t right. This guy was treating me with deference, and enough of it that it finally dawned on me that he must have thought I was a reviewer. Now I didn’t know what to do. Should I say I’m just a photographer, or would that just make a potentially embarrassing situation even worse? I just kept on flipping and commenting for fifteen awkward minutes, thanked the guy, and left.
I’d seen the photographer/reviewer relationship from the other side, and I didn’t like it any better that way.