"Retiring" from Photography, sort of…

I am out of here

Ok, so, anyhow, I am “retiring” from photography and the photography community.  I’ve tried to come up with a better word than “retire” but it seems to be the word that most accurately describes what’s happening.

This previously made announcement has been met with various reactions.  For the most part people have been supportive and encouraging, even though they didn’t really know what this is all about.

What all this is essentially about is that I am refocusing energy previously used on photography projects to new tasks, endeavors and exploration.

In the recent past I’ve written about the contemporary state of photography.  Two particular instances are as follows:

When Satch and I collaborated on a piece for an exhibition at the Stutz I wrote an extensive essay about the state of contemporary photography and its relationship with the historical and contemporary concept of social currency.

The 2 Photographers Works In Progress project came from an idea that I had to promote photography as a fine art via social media and and an exhibition.  I wrote a piece about the inspiration for the project that contained some of my thoughts about the current state of photography.

I encourage you to take a look at those pieces via the above provided links since I am not going to reiterate everything said in those essays.  Rather I will touch on the crux of what I think about all of this.

“Everybody’s a photographer”

Last year Satch and I were visiting a gallery in Michigan for the second time in two days to take another look at a couple of contemporary works that we really liked.  The gallery owner recognized us and approached us to ask what our interest was and what we did.  I guess he wanted a quick assessment regarding sales prospects.  Satch told him about herself and her work. I was just going to stay still but he asked if I did anything creative, so I told him that I was a photographer.  Those words no more crossed my lips and he, somewhat in exasperation, said the infamous phrase, “everybody’s a photographer!”  That pretty much ended our conversation and we hit the door.

The unfortunate truth

I’ve come to realize that it is virtually impossible to develop and generate an audience, much less a genuine patronage community, for, as I practice it, photography as fine art.  The medium has changed from a light reflecting medium (a fine print) to a light emanating medium (a computer screen).  And, the vast majority of people have short attention spans and, in this economy, are not willing, or able to invest in original art.  (If you have read this far, congratulations.  Obviously you are not one of the many with short attention spans.)  Today one can view billions and billions of photographs by visiting picture hosting sites and click through them at breakneck speed thereby failing to contemplate what, if anything, the photographer is trying to say.  This results in photographs that are made to catch attention by being overly colorful, flamboyant, outrageous, etc.  It is my opinion that the HDR fad is a direct outgrowth of the internet based, light emanating contemporary photography phenomenon.

It’s like an earthquake

The shift in photography is seismic.  A good friend that is an internationally recognized photographer related a recent story that blew my mind.  A photographer that he knows exhibits in a gallery in Europe.  This photographer sends digital files to the gallery where they make and frame the prints for exhibition.  I suppose that his signature is stamped onto the piece, or some such thing.  Granted this bypasses shipping and customs costs (not going to comment on the legality of this) but the artist never gets to actually see and approve the work that is to be sold to “collectors.”

I know where my towel is (r.i.p. Douglas Adams)

Basically, I am throwing in the towel when it comes to promoting my photography, working for gallery representation and participating, in any regular capacity, in the photography community.  Constantly applying for fellowships and grants will do nothing for my art.  I would be wrapped up in the chase and the politics rather than making photographs.

My photography will now be completely personal with the exception of where I choose to use it to try to accomplish something like saving a local historical grain elevator.  I will continue to photograph, but only for myself.  I plan to have a annual exhibition of select photographs that I create over the course of a year, but no more big projects.  It will be a low key affair where people can come and look at what I’ve been up to, if they so desire.

At this point I feel that my current Polaroid/Fuji work is the path that I will continue to follow.  Recently I wrote the following about my direction:

I photograph within the environment that I know or find myself in – the world in which I live.  I do not find it necessary to travel to a locale to make photographs that present something exotic, unfamiliar or detached from my day to day existence.  Rather I endeavor to delve into my surroundings within the scope of where I live my life.

At all times and all places this approach enables me to keep my camera close by and make photographs wherever I find myself.

Just one more thing

There is, however, one past project that I want to be exhibited.  In January, 2011 Kyle Ragsdale Curator for the Harrison Center for the Arts! invited me to exhibit a selection of prints from my mid-1990’s Indiana Small Towns project.  This was the first time these photographs made from Polaroid Type 55 negatives had been shown.  I have approximately twenty more photographs from the project.  These photographs showed that in rural Indiana the financial crisis had already taken hold and was the precursor for the big crash of 2008.  I will be working on the remaining negatives over the winter and then Satch and I will begin to explore exhibition opportunities.  We would like the exhibit to be in a small museum or a regional/local art center.  If anybody has any ideas, please let us know.

What’s next

I will be using my energy and time to promote Satch’s art.  I feel strongly that she has what it takes and I completely believe in her work.

She needs time to concentrate in her studio.  I will be handling the ancillary duties and tasks that are involved with working to get her art seen and collected.

We are almost finished here

In summary, my photography from this point forward will become completely personal.  No longer will I be actively promoting the fine art of photography through organizations, etc.  I may from time to time submit prints into an exhibition that I believe in.

It has been a real kick to have this incredible recent flurry of activity.  The ending of the 2 Photographers Works In Progress project’s exhibit and the instant photography exhibit in Ireland seems like a good jumping off place.

I will continue to maintain a blog where from time to time I will post some photographs and write about that which I am interested.  If you want to know what I am up to the blog will be the place to find me.

Ron Kern
Written on January 18, 2012
at the IDADA Art Pavillion
Downtown Indianapolis

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