Suspended Dreams: The Unknown Musicians by Mark J. Davis
In this commentary, I'd like to break form from our usual discussions and focus for just a moment on the inspirational aspects of this photograph. In fact, this entire project by Mark J. Davis is inspirational for what these musicians can teach us photographers.
The title of the project is Suspended Dreams: The Unknown Musicians. I suspect it would not be too far a stretch for us to imagine a project that describes so many of us — "Suspended Dreams: The Unknown Photographers." Whether one plays the guitar or makes beautiful photographic prints, the challenge of gaining an audience is daunting. So many photographers find the culmination of their hard work stored away in archival boxes, rarely seen. Similarly, it would be so easy for a musician to store his instrument safely away in its case, rarely to be heard. But the musicians in Davis' project have chosen a different path. This fellow has the courage to sit and play in spite of the fact that no one appears to be listening. The woman on the far right seems far more interested in the architectural details in the ceiling than in his musical performance. He plays anyway. The cluster of people outside descending on the steps at the very right edge of the photograph probably can't even hear his guitar. He plays anyway. We can't tell from the photograph, but it doesn't appear to be a particularly populated location. He plays anyway. That in itself is a powerful lesson.
I can't help but take this train of thought one step further. I don't recall ever seeing the functional equivalent of this street musician in the form of a photographer. That is to say, what would prevent a photographer from doing something similar? What would happen if one found some public place where one's photographs could be on display for passersby? What if we were to find some public wall and affix to it a dozen images for people to see as they walked by? Would they look? How could they not? If they don't, would we photographers have the courage to present our artwork when almost no one is paying attention? I have no idea how the logistics of such an exhibition might take place, but if we are the creative people we think we are I'm assuming those logistics could be imagined with a little creative thought.
Would our egos allow it? Well, this musician has an ego, too. It cannot feel comfortable to play his guitar in a public place for no one! Perhaps it's a matter of subduing our pride and recognizing the simple truth that in order to gain an audience one must present one's artwork out in the world where the audience is. It seems to me manifestly easier to get our work seen by taking it into the world — even if it takes the courage of this musician — than it is to gather an audience inside our closet where our work can currently be found.
And there is one final element that I think is worth discussing about this musician. Notice that he is not selling admission tickets, he hasn't priced his work at elite gallery prices, he isn't trying to persuade his audience that his artwork has investment potential — he just plays. He recognizes this is a combination of performance and practice. It's called "paying your dues," and it's part of the process of becoming an artist.
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