Evangelizing Our Older Work
We had a fantastic time here this last weekend at the CPA opening of our exhibit "Photographs Off the Wall" featuring folios, chapbooks, and keepsakes. Reconnected with lots of friends and met loads of new ones. Getting out of the office always has its rewards.
Without a doubt, however, the lesson of the evening first came in a conversation with Ted Orland. I've known Ted for some 30 years since I took a workshop with he and David Bayles back in the early 1980s. Ted is an insightful, observant, imaginative fellow — as anyone who knows him will attest. He's also been a regular and loyal reader of LensWork since issue #1. After spending some time at the exhibition carefully examining our folios, he approached me with enthusiasm and proceeded to share his excitement about the concept. He confessed that he'd seen the articles and advertisements about folios in LensWork, but — in his own words — it never really "sunk in" how wonderful the folios were until he had the chance to see them here at the exhibition. He talked for several minutes about the possibilities he could see for this format of presentation and was overflowing with excitement and compliments — which of course thrilled me.
Only later, after the flush of the moment, did the lesson fully sink in. If you were to ask me, I would have no doubt been confident that anyone who has been reading LensWork since the very beginning would have a thorough and complete grasp of what a folio is and why I have been so excited about them all these years. If a new reader was puzzled, I would have understood, but a long-term LensWork fan? The lesson here is that no matter how "old" an idea or message might seem to us and how easy it is to assume that everyone who has heard (or read) it gets the point, the reality is that we can never repeat the key concepts too many times. People hear information when they are ready to hear it.
This pertains equally to our artwork. Just because we've moved on to new work that is novel and exciting, we should not turn our backs on the old work and stop evangelizing it. For example, I completed my Made of Steel work six years ago and haven't added any new images or content to that project since then. To me, it's a bit long in the tooth and I've moved on to newer projects. At the opening this weekend, however, I had a dozen or more people approach me with comments and compliments about how that work moved them, seeing it for the first time. It may be older work to me, but to them it was brand new, fresh, relevant, and moving. It would have been easy to overlook that older work when we were planning the exhibition and to focus only on my more recent output. I'm glad now we didn't.
I guess what I'm suggesting is that there isn't an objective measure of "old" or "new" work that applies universally; the very concept of old or new work is only relevant in a relative sense — old or new to the individual who is seeing it for the first or latest time. This was emphasized to me when another individual came up to me at the exhibition and talked about having seen some of the early Made of Steel images when we published them in LensWork #15, some 17 years ago. She was excited to learn that I now have a book of that work and she went on to say that for her, the Made of Steel folio was the highlight of the show. I would never have predicted such a response from such "old" work.
Brooks' books on photography and the creative process are available in print from Lulu.com, and as eBooks for Kindle or EPUB readers. As one of the membership benefits, these eBooks are available in their entirety to members of LensWork Online via download.