We Don’t Celebrate Living Photographers Enough; Just the Dead Ones

When is the last time you went to a gallery event or museum exhibit dedicated to living photographers?

If you ask any landscape photographer who one of their favorites is, I’m positive they’d say Ansel Adams with nary enough of them waxing poetic about how fantastic Varina Patel is. And for portraiture shooters? You’re bound to get endless talk about Avedon and not enough about the more specialized work of Lois Greenfield. When it comes to street photography, everyone is quick to talk about Bresson with little speaking on the genius that is Adam Miller. Why? Is it marketing? Partially, the answer is yes, but the other big answer is that the gatekeepers tend to spend too much time focusing on the work of dead photographers. Getting a bit deeper into this, they spend too much time trying to ensure ticket sales to those of white men–not enough women or photographers of color (but the latter is for a completely different article).

When I am invited to gallery or museum events here in NYC, it’s often about some dead photographer. The marketing behind it is in reverence for the work he or she has done. It makes other photographers come to the event. There is a big emphasis put on the fact that they were one of the first. That’s cool, but we’re a society that doesn’t really care about “the first” vs the best. Other photographers came after them, and have arguably done better jobs. And so if anything, while I don’t think it is bad that we celebrate these dead photographers for the roads they paved, we should also celebrate those who we currently have with us even more.

Sometimes the issues could be involving contracts; galleries surely do try to feature more living photographers than museums do. But I seriously don’t feel like we’re doing enough. I feel like curators should be working harder to curate the work and showcase that of actual photographers and artists and not those of Instagrammers with large social media followings. Just because someone has a huge social media following doesn’t mean that their work is good in an artistic way. It just means they do something that captures attention.

So if anything, this is a call to curators to please wake up. And while you’re at it – don’t wake up the dead; wake up the living.