Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Bill Jay on photographic fame

I stumbled upon this while reading Alec Soth's rant about flickr. 

"I think we can agree that any definition of fame would include such phrases as “popular acclaim,” “known far and wide,” “public estimation and regard,” “household name,” and similar tributes. Now lay back and concentrate. Name an active living artist-photographer who is famous. . . . . . . (The dots represent time passing. Go ahead, think about it for as long as you like.)

Ready now? Good. Who did you come up with? Joel-Peter Witkin. Robert Mapplethorpe. Annie Leibowitz. Sally Mann. Who? Never mind – we have enough names for our purpose.

The next question is: how many people in the USA have heard of any one of these names? As I cannot hear you I will answer the question myself. Probably one thousand at any one time. More? OK, let us up the figure to five thousand although I think that is stretching it.

Here is the first conclusion: in a nation of 260 million even the higher figure does not represent “public acclaim”; it means that the name is recognized by only five persons in a quarter of a million. Now, compare. When a minor television sit-com actress of dubious talent declared her lesbianism she inundated every major news outlet for weeks, including the cover of Time plus seven inside pages, and her coming-out episode was watched by everyone in the universe except me. That is fame."

After attending a lecture of Soth's and seeing his work, I have to say I really agree with what he has to say about contemporary photography.

Bottom Line: Good photography is rarely popular.

Read the full article here!

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