Don’t know how I missed this comment from the “Crapshoot” post but It’s really good and worth bringing up front.
It’s admirable to think it could all be about the images, and it’s inspiring to think of the art world as a model. But this is about business, and business doesn’t work that way. Look at most of the content that goes into these stories or ads or whatever the assignments are: it’s silly crap to begin with. How can the hullaballoo that surrounds it not contain a degree of silly crap?
It’s pretty easy to sit outside the big markets and complain about how incestuous they are. Then you step into those big markets and you realize they contain whole universes. The competition is fierce. No, talent does not always rise to the top. But professionalism often does. A temperament and a capacity for managing the business environment, the clients and their often wacked out notions, peers, reps and agents, editors, the egos of all concerned, so on and so forth — and then on top of it to get shots: that’s what will get honed in those contexts. You don’t have to like it; hell, many of the people who go through it don’t *like* it. But most of those who manage to negotiate it one way or another will acknowledge they got something out of it, and that it made them “better” in some sense of the word.
Art, or voice, or vision, or whatever you want to call it, happens as an accident in this world. Everybody in the business is interested in it to some degree, but it’s rare that any of them get the chance to foreground it. Someone else’s expectations are always driving the car, and someone else’s credit card is always putting gas in the tank. Getting the job done — whatever the job is perceived to be by the ones who are paying for it — becomes priority one. Time matters; familiarity with the game matters; proximity matters; track record matters. You can’t blame people for minimizing risk when that’s part of what they’ve been explicitly charged with doing by the guys who put bread on their tables.
Also, the fact is that there are so many people working in those big markets that you often don’t *have* to go outside them. I guarantee you there are 20 young photographers in Brooklyn who don’t just know Nebraska (or wherever) but actually grew up there, and are willing to fly there tomorrow and work for a song. They are as hungry as anyone else, and a few of them might prove to be as talented. It may be vicious, but it’s also real.
Someone earlier nailed what may be one of the best strategies: do your time in a big market, endure it, get your game on, then take it to a smaller market and clean house. I have a good friend who did exactly that last year, leaving NYC after several tough but productive years and going to a smaller market, where he’s not just surviving but thriving, in part due to all he picked up.