Outside of New York City, photography exhibitions have become rare over the last five years. Besides the pay-to-play competitions, the single photographer exhibition seems to be reserved for photographers who are no longer alive.
Alas it seems, the only place to see photography by mid-career photographers is online; either on websites (if you take the time to search for them) or following your favorites on social media, which anymore, has all the excitement of watching beige paint dry.
Museums, galleries, and even collectors have become confused and weary of the current photography climate. It’s increasingly hard to see the good photography through the endless generic forest of smartphone photos being posted by everyone. Over the last couple of years I’ve seen the establishments give in to this bad trend by hosting exhibitions by those with a massive social media following.
All Buzz and No Honey
Believing, that those huge numbers of people will flood the gallery in hopes of turning a few of those followers into collectors and ideally into return customers. In smaller numbers, museums have tried to host similar exhibitions with the hopes of selling memberships. This has almost nothing to do with the art they are showing and everything with their survival. Those institutions are suffering the same way artists are right now, with people asking why go to a museum or gallery when one can see for free on his phone.
Serious Collectors Are Becoming Rare
As the younger generations would rather look online than hang them on their walls. Currently the average age of the collector of my photography is over the 40. There is an excitement when walking into an exhibition. There is no comparison to viewing a physical matted and framed print over a low resolution post on social media. The joy of meeting the artist, other artists and collectors cannot be replaced by pressing “like” on Facebook.
It Was Not Supposed To Be This Way
When The Philadelphia Museum of Art announced the annex of The Perelman Building, there was optimism that traditional and contemporary photography would have a place to live in Philadelphia. The photo above was taken at Julien Levy Gallery, first floor, Perelman Building in 2009 during the Daidō Moriyama: Tokyo Photographs, a show curated by the newley appointed Peter Barberie.
Street photographers like myself rejoiced. A show featuring a contemporary photographer, shooting black and white, that provoked without being contrived or forced. It wasn't exploiting a trend. It was what it was. It was memorable.
Was it advertised, well received, profitable? The public wouldn't know those answers, but one only has to look at the next exhibit that Baberie launched. Without naming this solo exhibition that was more of a citywide spectacle event, it had a ton of corporate sponsorship, loads of hype, and record breaking museum visitors (even if they had to throw massive rave-style dance parties in order to claim high attendance numbers.)
Broken, Needs Fixing
After the spectacle, the dancefloors removed, and the billboards were stripped of its images, photography in Philadelphia was none the better. It was a risked gamble that profoundly affected a genre and the solo photography exhibition. If I'm wrong or out of line, all I ask if for you to direct me to a contemporary photographer's solo exhibition anywhere in a Philadelphia museum or gallery today.