I was a little surprised by the blowback from the Commentariat over Aaron Greenman's self-publicizing efforts. My question is simple: what else?
That is, what's the alternative, if you want to make a name for yourself as a non-commercial photographer, other than doing your best at taking an energetic stab at self-promotion? What's supposed to happen? Spontaneous acclaim? The world beating a path to your door because you invented a better mousetrap?
It reminds me of a story I heard about a fine-art magazine I shall not name, conceived and published at a prestigious Southern U.S. University using an alumni grant of $10 million. The overseers of the magazine had quickly burned through half the bequest when the powers-that-be at the Universty stepped in to put the reins on the runaway expenditures, saying that the idea was not just to waste the entire bequest. The way I hear it, the person in charge of the magazine peevishly retorted something like, "It was never our intent to make a profit."
That made me laugh out loud when I heard it. (I was in the publishing industry at the time.) What else? was the reaction I had—there are only two other alternatives—breaking even, and losing money. Had their "intention" been to bleed a handful of millions of dollars in just a few short yours, and go speeding on towards bankrupcy? Is making a profit so distasteful, so disreputable, that it's something to be avoided? Seems to me that if you have such a generous amount of seed money and you get to structure a publication any way you want to, the goal should be at least to break even after becoming established. Apparently even that was too grubby for the idealists in charge of that magazine.
I might be remembering those facts wrongly, or not quite rightly. But I wondered the same thing when readers were complaining about Aaron. He's a young guy with a family and he wants to be a photographer. Why should he be faulted for wanting to promote himself? What else is he supposed to do, to differentiate himself, and make a name, and rise even temporarily above the waves so he can actually practice photography actively for a few years?
Even if you think his particular methods ham-handed or not quite ideal, seems to me like we should cut the guy—and all the men and women like him—some slack. Because really, what other way is there? What else are they supposed to do?
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Featured Comments from:
Andy Kochanowski: "The blowback you heard was, I'd venture to guess, caused by the dissonance between Aaron's portfolio and the amount of noise he makes about it. (Not that all the marketing was successful—I follow this genre pretty closely and never heard of him before this blog entry). Another example of similar dissonance: Eric Kim. Let me hasten to add, Nothing wrong with marketing, we all do it to some extent. But if you wave your arms around hollering 'look at me' not everyone will like what they see."
Chuck Albertson: "Brings to mind an interview I saw a few months ago with Dame Judy Dench. She was asked what she looks for when reviewing a new script, and replied, 'Well, I'm usually looking for work.'"
Chris Y. (partial comment): "The whole thing did seem aimed at an audience unfamiliar with photography as art, so that's probably why it rankled with us."
Dan: "All success is based on some level of self promotion. When it's done skillfully you just don't notice it."