Metro Pictures is going out of business this year.
The NYC mega-gallery announced it a couple of weeks ago, and there were plenty of lamentations on Twitter.
Catherine Edelman, the long-time Chicago photo gallerist, closed her space to the public recently as well.
A week or two ago, a colleague wrote in a Facebook post that they didn’t make a lot of money in the arts, and felt like a failure.
These are not unrelated situations.
There is a significant lack of funding for creative fields here in the US, and I suspect even arts-rich places like England, France and Germany will be lucky to keep up their systems in the coming decades.
That’s where we’re at in the 21st Century.
But then again, someone seemingly dropped 69 million crypto-dollars on a massive jpeg, which set the world aflame, but also also begat questions about financial shenanigans rather quickly.
I’ve written extensively over the years, (but not in quite some time,) that the high-end-art-world is an unregulated commodities market, with all sorts of machinations, money laundering, and conflicts of interest.
Why am I writing about this, when there are so many other things to discuss?
Well, this is eventually going to be an article about the final batch of artists I reviewed at PhotoNOLA online in December, and as I didn’t go to New Orleans, there are no juicy travel details to share, nor tidbits about the humming sound in the review room, the yummy food at lunch, or the length of the bathroom breaks.
So I had to manufacture an opening rant out of other material.
But the more important reason is that I understand art very well, having devoted my entire adult life to the process, and I’m here to tell you making money off your pictures is not a good reason to be here.
Neither is fame, nor acclaim.
All three goals are elusive, unlikely, and fleeting.
Rather, art practice is about self-improvement and self-expression.
And those things are priceless.
I know that sounds cliché, or idealistic, but it is unquestionably legit.
In a world rife with stress, misery, and difficulty, making art on the regular makes us happier, more confident, and potentially more self-aware.
Those of us who commit our full souls to the endeavor, work extremely hard at our craft, and study art history, might occasionally have a moment where we make some real cash, or everyone is talking about us.
But that happens to very few people, and again, even if it does, it never lasts.
(Outside of a handful of photographers in the entire world. Seriously, the odds of becoming the next Cindy Sherman or Andreas Gursky are negligible.)
I understand it seems like I’m being negative, or trying to project a “realistic” attitude, but I’m not.
Quite the opposite.
What we do as artists is extremely important, because like being a proper Buddhist monk or nun, it allows us to clean up the energy we put out into the world, and make the human collective healthier, even if it’s in small amounts.
That’s the big news.
Having shows, selling prints, publishing books, being written or talked about, getting compliments, they are all nice accomplishments, and fortunately I can speak from experience.
But beyond a year or two when I sold a lot of art, I don’t make a lot of money either.
In the real world, businesspeople would laugh at my annual income, and I’m cool with that.
Because Capitalism is an imperfect system, and just because something doesn’t have a high financial value doesn’t mean it’s not extremely valuable in other ways. (Karmically, for example.)
I say all this because the world is in the process of slowly re-opening, and only now are people beginning to realize that 2019 might not be the best model to shoot for.
I traveled so much in 2019 that I grew sick of it, and ungrateful.
The things I took for granted now seem like platinum-and-gold-plated diamonds, but all the same, being on the road that much was not healthy.
(Not for my carbon footprint, my children’s mental health, or my hangovers.)
I’ve been preaching for years that endless growth is not only unattainable, and unsustainable, but unachievable.
Efficiency of resources, and energy, is a far more important goal.
And if you push yourself in your art practice, the difference it will make in your self-confidence and self-esteem will give you back so much energy you would otherwise waste on anxiety.
That’s the truth.
So today, we’ll look at work from six artists I met during the online reviews at PhotoNOLA, and tomorrow I’ll meet a whole new batch of photographers at the online reviews for the Month of Photography Denver.
That said, let’s pivot to sharing the second batch of my favorite portfolios with you, and honor the hard work these women and men put in to get their projects in front of my Zoom screen.
(As usual, the artists are in no particular order.)
We’ll start with George Nobechi, whom I met at PhotoNOLA in 2017, and published his work after that festival as well. George is a perfect example of what I’m talking about today, as he switched careers to commit to his photography, and studied in workshops with people like Sam Abell to learn his craft.
As a half-Japanese guy who moved back to his ancestral homeland in 2017, after living away for many years, he has a complicated relationship with Japan, and its history. So he poured himself into a project to understand the country, and himself better.
I’ve written many times of my love for Japanese literature and the 19th Century woodblock printers Hokusai and Hiroshige, and these photos channel some of that genius. Not saying they’re at the same level of brilliance, but there are commonalities in the vibe, and energy the work projects.
I’m sure you’ll love these photographs.
When I met Eric Kunsman, I had a bit of a laugh, as I’d heard of him obliquely only a few weeks earlier, in one of my Antidote online classes.
A student was experimenting with the idea of photographing pay phones, and after a polite amount of time, someone cleared their throat, and announced there was an artist out there who had committed to the subject so well that it was kind-of off limits to others at the moment.
And that artist, who remained unnamed that night, was Eric Kunsman, a professor and master printer in Rochester, NY. Eric told me he’d moved into a lower-income neighborhood, and in order to get to know his community and surroundings, he looked very hard, and noticed that pay phones were broken down relics in plain sight, as not everyone can afford a cell phone, or the attendant bill.
So he became a legit expert in the social and community dynamics behind pay phones, both in Rochester, and then around the US. The images themselves are both bleak and beautiful, which is a style I always appreciate when it’s done well, as it is here.
Ruth Lauer Manenti is another artist I’d met previously, and I published her work after the Filter Photo Festival back in 2019. She’d been trained as a painter, and I loved the delicate and gorgeous sensibility she created with objects, though at the time, I recall re-editing her work on the review table, as I thought there were essentially two groups in one.
Ironically, I did it again this time, (virtually,) as Ruth had moved outside with her camera, in pandemic reality, and photographed poetic, artful landscapes in her surroundings in upstate New York. I was most enamored of the photographs that seemed to step out of time, and will share them with you here.
Fernanda de Icaza joined me from Mexico, but I fell in love with a series she made while living in Japan. Frankly, Fernanda had two series from Japan, with her primary project being in a monastery where she lived for some time, in silence.
Those pictures were cool, for sure, but during a short break from that monastic life, Fernanda went to Tokyo to party her face off at dance clubs, and the wild, colorful, chaotic energy she captured was dynamite.
I suspect she appreciated this world all the more, for living most days with the quiet, but we’ll let you decide for yourself.
Stephen Starkman, from Canada, is an example of an artist whose work grew on me over the course of our 20 minutes. At first, the images seemed disjointed, as they were not “about” a subject or concept, per se.
But as you look at them, there is a consistency of vision, and a sense of beauty, that I really came to enjoy. I think you’ll dig them too.
Last, but not least, we have Rosalie Rosenthal, who makes photographs with her teen-aged daughter that consider mid-life.
There are Dutch vanitas-style still lives, and quiet portraits, which were quiet and thoughtful.
So to wrap it up, I’d like to thank Rosalie, and all the artists, for allowing us to share their hard work with you, wherever you are.