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A veteran gallery owner explains how to find what makes your work uniquely yours.
This article originally appeared on the Adorama Rental Co. blog.
Avoid the distraction of seeking a gallery and start taking a good look at the photographs you make. Not just the stuff you are doing now, but all the stuff you have been working on over the last few years. Find out what makes it different from everyone else that owns a Canon 5D and if you still can’t see it, ask some fellow photographers to take a look. Not your buddies or your family, but get some objective sets of eyes on that.
Go to a portfolio review or two or join a critique group. I just got back from Review Santa Fe and what a benefit it was for the 100 or so photographers that were there. All that sharing and feedback and critical blows to the head. It really was a workout for everyone involved.
Two very differet styles of street photography (l) Paul McDonough, 'Three Musicians,' 1978. Courtesy Sasha Wolf Gallery. (r) Alexandre Orion, 'Metabiotica 13,' 2004. Courtesy Foley Gallery.
Find what pulls all your work together. If you haven’t already, get an artist’s statement together on a body of work. What is it that you are really photographing? What is it that motivates you to make these pictures? Why is this subject important to you? Don’t write some theoretical crap or curatorial speak. Get right down to asking yourself, “Why do I make the photographs that I do?” Have a vision of life and depict that vision.
Your work is different (or it should be!) different from anyone you know. Might it be similar? Yes. But take the group of 100 photographers at Santa Fe and open their little black boxes of work and no one is the same and no one is photographing for the same reason. Yes, I could probably find similar themes and create a few categories that I could put people in, but there are more differences than similarities if you look closely enough.
Content and subject aside, how does the way you are photographing distinguish you? Does that style fit your subject? What if you did it different? What if instead of photographing those pumpkin patches on a tripod with a Deardorf at 6 AM, you photographed them at midnight from a cherry picker with a HOLGA and used colored gels to light it up? That’s a choice and that helpsyou find where you need to be and what makes you distinguishable.
Michael Foley is the founder and director of Foley Gallery in New York City’s Chelsea District.