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Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Don't be a Crybaby because you are Rich

image by Diane Arbus

There was a little tizzy in the UK when the Shadow Culture Minister Chris Bryant said that the arts needed more diversity, that they were too limited in terms of class and were becoming dominated by public schoolboys and schoolgirls. Splendid though they might be, James Blunt, Benedict Cumberbatch, Eddie Redmayne or Helena Bonham Carter are not exactly the salt of the earth.

Cumberbatch and Bonham Carter have complained about prejudice  against toffs in the movie business the past, and they are now joined by Blunt who wrote this letter complaining about class bias. Blunt's letter is rather lacking in  awareness and possibly confirms the point that the Deputy was making.

I don't know if this applies to Blunt, but it applies to a lot of wealthy people I know. They have a blindness to their privilege. They have a sense of entitlement that is beyond the self-deceptive. I have friends who send their children to a very expensive private school (one of the best schools in Bath for schoolkids to buy drugs or pick up a teacher in town - if news reports from the last few years are anything to go by, but oh wait, they got a court order that told the local newspaper not to report the stories in full) at a cost of around £20,000 a child. With no irony, the parents insist "they're not getting any advantage. It's just like a normal school" ad infinitum. Well if it's just like a normal school, why don't you send your kids to a normal school and give the £40,000 you save to me, you ninnies. It will definitely make a difference in my pocket.

That sense of entitlement is everywhere. Including photography. Photography is creative. It's part of the arts where the investment is in the long term, where support from family, friends and networks is essential because to a large extent it's not what you do, it's how long you do it for. You need time to be successful and much as we do it for love, love doesn't pay the bills. A little money, no, a lot of money goes a long way.

If you can afford not to have a day job, if you never have to worry about rent, or paying the gas bill, or fixing the car (if you have a car), it makes a huge difference. If you can afford countless rolls of film, or memory cards, or lighting, or the new cameras, or a macbook or two, and the printing, and the publishing and the framing and the showing  - both at the start when the work is shit and at the end when it really isn't - all this makes a huge difference.

As does having the transport to get you somewhere, the luxury of time off a job to do a shoot, the luxury of not even having a job and just being able to pfaff around the world doing essentially pointless stuff for pointless money - simply as part of that vital learning exercise of learning what isn't pointless.

Then there are exhibitions to see, people to meet, competitions to enter, reviews to attend, and festivals and workshops and social networking and making contacts, and having the confidence to make contacts - which, in the UK at least, is a large part of what you are paying your £20,000 a year (non-boarding) for. To make contacts with other people like you who are going to help you out at some point in the future.

And I haven't even mentioned college! I believe in education which is convenient because I have a part-time job at a university, but how do people afford it? Answer is most of them don't.

The problem is people who have those privileges and can take all this stuff for granted don't really see them as priveleges because they don't understand what it is not to have them. That is how limited the imaginations of the entitled are. As a result a large part of the world gets shut out and, as the arts get increasingly populated by the privately educated, the possibility of getting a foot in the door of what is essentially a club reserved for the elite becomes more and more difficult. Shutting out more and more parts of the world.

And as it becomes more and more difficult so the photographic voice becomes more and more limited. It becomes irrelevant. I wonder if that isn't happening a little bit now, what with all this and that and everything.

What's the solution. I had a conversation with Francis Hodgson ( who you can see in, er, conversation with Mishka Henner tomorrow night in London. Has to be good.) before Christmas and he wondered how it would affect people's reading of images if they knew the photographer's background, especially if it's a particularly grand background. When it's working class like Bailey or McCullin, it only adds to the allure, what happens when the Chelsea boot is on the other Chelsea foot so to speak.

When the work is of the highest class, I don't think it matters. Who cares where Arbus, or McCullin or Moriyama come from. Nobody does Arbus, McCullin and Moriyama better than Arbus. McCullin and Moriyama. Top or bottom of the heap it doesn't matter, because you can be sure there way of thinking and looking at the world is more than simplistic - and is part of their work.

But if it's in the middle, not-quite-there photography which is what most everything is these days. Then the limitedness of outlook and the lack of depth might be down to something.

So there we go, How about that?  Former Hedge Fund worker, Peerage-in-Waiting, Finishing School in Switzerland, Daddy owns an Oil Well, Daddy has a Ministry, Oligarch Baby, It would be a bit mean though, a bit classist. Best focus on the work. The work's what matters. Money doesn't make a difference. Talent will out. Of course it will.

Read Francis Hodgson on the Murder of Britain's Photographic Heritage


john W MacPherson said...

If we want more diversity in the arts, more access to the arts, and better opportunities for all in the arts get rid of the effing intern system for a start. Or if you have to have an intern, pay them proper living wages. Tax free for the duration would be nice too. Make the arts a valuable place to work for all (particularly those at the bottom of the ladder) not just a valued place to work, where the value is only touchyfeely good. Bankers NEVER settle for just a warm fuzzy glow as reward, why should artists?

Stan B. said...

I can't afford to make prints, let alone attend all the festivals and reviews now necessary to establish one's brand. So I was rather pleased to enter a competition in which the work would be presented anonymously for judging.

So I was a "tad" surprised when the winner was a rather well known photograph that had already garnered significant acclaim. If I was familiar with the photograph, you sure as hell know the judge was. A pro photographer (who photographs for Nat Geo, Getty, Panos, etc...) was judged and awarded by a fellow pro for what used to be the remaining crumbs that were once afforded to "aspiring photographers."

Brenda B said...

Well, the essential point is that you just can't make pictures if you are poor. It's impossible. In the now, if you've got a job and you're lucky it's minimum wage and if you're not lucky it's a zero hours contract so you might only get an hour's pay for a week. And if you're looking for a job, part of that time you're living on £57pw until you are sanctioned when you will get nothing for a month or even longer.

Those in this conversation who thinks talent will out regardless can have no idea what it's like living under those conditions. It's barely survival, it destroys the means to stay alive over the medium or longer term.

If you are going to portfolio reviews and exhibitions and whatnot, you are already way, way up from that level of deprivation.

And to emphasise Stan's point - nobody is interested in photographs by the poor, only predatory photographs of us. There are (very) rare exceptions but thy do not prove the rule.