By HANK FAN
Consider this list of the most famous photographers in history: Robert Frank, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Edward Steichen, Ansel Adams, Diane Arbus, Richard Avedon, William Eggleston. I know I missed quite a few. Talent aside, do you know what they all had in common?
They all came from wealthy families.
This is a theme you can see repeating throughout history, and something I have been pondering of late. I love photography, I dream at night of making exposures. But the type of work I do doesn’t put food on the table. Being a practical businessman and a student of photography history, I often find myself asking, “Well who the hell was paying for rent and travel and food while photographer XXX was spending months documenting XXX??” The obvious answer would be mommy and daddy.
While paying jobs do come in after getting recognition for their work, the period in which the artist has the freedom to focus on nothing but their craft in building a body of work is so crucial and a luxury only afforded to those with the means. In other words, from a traditional standpoint the photographic art community from the inception of Magnum has always been a celebration of the exclusive, the elite.
The word snobbery is not far from the tip of the tongue. I realize the counterpoints can be offered in other just as well known photographers who came from meager backgrounds, but just do the percentage. In what other medium (whether it’s sports, art, entertainment, etc.) do you find that of the most well known, HALF are born into wealth?
This is just an observation that I find quite amusing that nobody has ever brought up. It’s not a statement on class or politics. A recent interview of Eggleston really hit it home for me; he is perhaps the exact same spoiled rotten child today as he was in the 60s. Never have I seen such arrogance and disdain of others from a celebrated artist. It is certainly nice to be a artist by trade, it is just that much sweeter, and dare I say: easier when someone else is footing the tab.
Speaking of inequities (truths) in photography, while I was working at MTV in Times Square, I would be in frequent contact with Getty press shooters there for the celebrities. I one time made the comment that “you guys look like male models” to one of them, as they looked like they cared an awful lot about their image with the tattoos and well trimmed goatees and long rockstar hair.
A scrumpier photographer overheard and said to me, “You have no idea brother, it’s bullshit. Good looking photographers get all the jobs.”
That was the day that I learned even in a field like photography, where only the talent and work should really matter, the simple overabundance of people today who can do just as good of a job means you have to market the shit out of yourself just to get work.
On the other hand, if you are talented, rich and handsome, the journey really is just that much clearer.