What inspired you to start taking photographs, and what is the primary inspiration for you to keep working in this field?
My introduction to photography was as an art student at the School of Visual Arts. As a fine arts major, photography was a required course. I had a chance to experience it along with sculpture, film, drawing and painting. The moment when my first print appeared in the fixer was pretty magical for me and after 1/12 years I switched my major to photography and graduated with a BFA. Part of my education was learning about the history of photography and that was one of the most exciting courses. I remember the Whitney had a show that concurred with the class I was taking and I was able to see many of the amazing historic images we studied in person and that was very inspiring. I loved the way photography offered us a window on life. The picture looked real, it seemed believable, but really it’s fiction.
It’s been a long time since then and I have been working in the field now for over 25 years. I’ve taught photography, and that can also be very inspiring. However, it’s when I think about photography’s past and history and what that means to the medium and imagery today, that I get very excited. I love the idea that we can revisit old ideas and period equipment and use them to turn it all upside down and make something new and very modern; the kind of work that embraces or references the past, but talks about the present.
In your opinion and experience, how can emerging photographers evaluate themselves as ready to start promoting their works and seek broader exposure for their photographs? What is one vital action you would recommend photographers undertake to find their audience, be included in exhibitions, and gain professional representation?
When I was fresh out of graduate school, I felt that I was emerging for a good long time. Now the venue for emerging photographers keeps growing with the speed of technology. There are so many competitions and portfolio reviews, that a young photographer today only needs a good body of work and some cash to register for a portfolio review in order to begin to get their work out there.
I think creating a significant body of work that is real and personal is the key to finding an audience. These days an audience is not really so hard to find with all of the networking and social media. Finding a gallery however seems a bit more complicated.
Evaluating one’s own body of work however, comes with experience. The best way to gain that is to work with/for an artist/photographer you admire.
How did it come about that you achieved the status of successful, professional photographer? What steps were involved in reaching your level of success?
For one, tenacity and also the love of the medium have kept me in the game for a long time. But it wasn’t always a pretty picture. I spent many years feeling like a “lowly artist” and took some hard blows of rejection that wore me down. In fact, I stopped making photographs for a time and went back to drawing and painting. What seemed a bit like defeat in the moment turned out to be a positive experience and eventually brought me back to making pictures, which in fact kind of resembled drawings.
I also think the combination of having created a body of work (SurfLand) that people were responding to and one that was well liked was the first step. Winning a book prize, was the second and they worked in tandem to create the possibility of having a monograph that served as an exhibition catalogue that I believe helped to get a solo museum exhibition. But really, if I look back I have to credit the work and the people who responded to it and believed in it.