[Originally published in an old blog on February 9, 2012]
I’ve quit photography a few times, the first time in the 1980s. As the art on display got worse and worse, as the praise for the same works gushed and gushed, I thought, “Fuck it. This is a stupid way to spend my life.” And so I quit.
Once I quit for nearly six years. From about 1990 to 1996. I “dropped in” to my local university–thought I might as well get make a real contribution to society–and ended up at grad school at Harvard. I sold my Hasselblad, sold my Leica–the gear I purchased with great determination working minimum wage jobs. I had no camera.
I finished my undergrad degree in three and a half years while working part-time at a camera store. At the Kennedy School, they assigned almost a thousand pages of readings the first week. It was a busy time. My mind was occupied. I didn’t think about photography much.
But that changed in the summer of 1996. I remember it, walking through Harvard Yard, crossing in front of the steps of Widener Library. I looked over at a clump of foliage, a bit of grass, and it hit me, it jumped out at me. It was an image, sort of frozen there for a second or two. They kept coming, relentlessly. At a camera flea market I bought a Crown Graphic, a cheap 4×5. I put it away, in a closet. Then one night, late at night, I made my first image–a flower on Polaroid film, illuminated with a moving flashlight. The first image in years and years.
Time moves on. Art gets better, art gets worse.
The Damien Hirst multi-continent spot image paintings exhibit is the sort of thing that made me want to quit in the past. I’m sure his work has discouraged a generation of real artists from their calling.
The New York Times has a nice article on the show, published a few weeks ago. You may have seen the piece already.
It can make a younger man despair. As I said to myself in those younger days, explaining to myself my reason for quitting, “There’s nothing to get.” Certainly, nothing you couldn’t get with more assurance as a doctor or a lawyer or finance professional.
I’m not quitting, of course. Not this time. I’ve long ago reconciled myself to the fact that something is wrong, deep at its core, with the art world. It is depressing to think of this moment in time, with more per capita wealth than ever before in history, and to ask what we have to show for it, what will future generations think of us?
It is gratifying to hear David Hockney pushing back. It is gratifying to see reviews in major publications finally coming to grips with the cancer which they themselves have spread.
I’m not quitting. In fact, I’m more determined than ever.
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