Open Letter to Photographers / Artists

Many, many thanks to all who have submitted work to this year’s Unbound4! exhibition at Candela Books + Gallery.  We had well over 400 submissions for this year’s call for entries.  This is exciting for us and when selections from this work are added to the work from the seven invited artists, we will be able to put together an incredible collection of work.  As with previous years, it will be an eclectic show but as we are developing new collectors and adding to the Candela Collection, it is exciting to see price points from a couple hundred dollars up to over 20k.  So we get to spend the next couple of weeks selecting work, thinking about combinations and quality and curiousities.  This is actually a lot of fun to do.   But it is work and not taken lightly.

I would like to say a couple of things though before we get too deep into judging and brandishing our thoughts about the work.

First, I would like to put out there, that we do this in the spirit of supporting the photography community.  I almost wrote that we do this in the spirit of love for photography but that sounded a bit goopy.  And as we do put this exhibition together with our own agenda in play, I think it is fair to say that we do this almost completely out of a spirit of community as we feel we are a part of this community.  We want to make this exhibition series and associated events successful for all the accepted photographers and keep it painless  – no fees – for all the photographers we take a pass on for this year.

Which brings me to my second main point.  I was just at the annual AIPAD photography fair this past weekend.  And I had two separate conversations with two photographers who introduced themselves to me as someone I had rejected for previous Unbound! exhibitions.  And they told me, in their own words, that it’s cool if I don’t like their work.  They were kindly letting me off the hook a little bit so that we could have a pleasant conversation about the fair or about our different projects or whatever.  I appreciate the sentiment that these photographers are cool with the rejection but I want to make a point about the subtext here as this has happened to me several times before at different photography events.

Not getting into Unbound! means nothing.  Rejection from other competitions, exhibitions, grant proposals… those rejections mean nothing.  Yes, getting into a competition is cool, over-the-moon excellent.  And we hope that if you get into Unbound4!  that you will see that as a genuine compliment.  If you get in to this show, we are going to spend our time installing your work, looking at your work, promoting your work, trying to sell it off the walls, maybe end up buying it ourselves, and finally returning it if it isn’t sold.  Getting in to this exhibition means we really like your work.  Not getting in does not, however, mean the opposite.   Not getting in means nothing.  We reject a lot, A LOT, of quality work.  Our gallery is only so large.  We have invited several artists, as we do each year, and so some of the space is spoken for, which means of the 400+ submissions, there are 1,300 or 1,400 images to consider and we are looking for maybe 25-30 pieces.  Sure, it is pretty easy getting down to the most serious contenders for the show.  But we probably begin the real struggle once we have maybe a couple hundred images or so to consider.

Regarding the numbers…

Of the approximate 420 submissions this year…

33 — I personally know well and consider myself to be friends with 33 names on the list.  I am close friends with 5 or six names on that list.

60 — Because I have been a reviewer at portfolio reviews for several years I am familiar with the work of many additional people.  And I am going to call these folks familiar acquaintances and much of this work is great too.  Literally… great.  In this familiar category, there are about 60 names.

40+ — There are countless faculty members among these submissions.  I couldn’t count them without going through a lot of the resumes and CVs but let’s say there are 40, or even 50, professors in the mix.  And I don’t know how many students either.  And one would assume that professional artists would be numerous as well.

26 – The number of artists who have been in previous versions of Unbound!

ALSO — I have 4 former students of mine, 3 former interns of mine, at least 6 other VCU affiliated people, a few collectors, a few museum professionals.

Politically, I am a dumbass.  I should probably figure out the most *advantageous* show for the gallery.  I should probably pander to this important person or that friend I am going to be seeing somewhere next month.  But that is not what I am up to here.  I am hoping, somewhere deep in my cold dark heart, to celebrate photography with a great party and create some sales for artists and to develop a collection that one day will be attractive, I believe, to a major institution.  And that will be a truly nice moment, when this idea finally comes together.  In the meantime, we keep doing what we do.

So, please, PLEASE, take your (possible) rejections in stride people!  It does not mean that we “don’t like your work.”  It simply means there was not room – in this one show put together by two well-meaning people – for your work.  If you have confidence in this work, that is all that matters.  You should endeavor to find an audience for that work.  Your audience and growing that audience are what matters.  Your rejections mean nothing.

Candela has given feature shows to people who have been rejected from multiple Unbound! exhibitions.  Sometimes, this group show is not the right thing for certain types of subtler work, or work that derives its power from its larger concept or within its project.  And there is surely work that we just didn’t recognize for its brilliance but which brilliance will slowly seep into our aesthetically and intellectually dim noggins.  We’ll get it one day hopefully.

After we finish with our deliberations, I may have rejected some of you four times from this exhibition.  Or more times even, if I have juried some other project that you have applied to.  That means nothing.  I still will look forward to seeing your project again.  I will still enjoy watching it evolve.  I will still hope to offer my ideas regarding your work for you to absorb or to ignore as you see fit.

Or maybe you have gotten into the Unbound! shows a couple of times but get rejected this year.  You can safely assume your current submission was in the running but that maybe we were a little harder on you this year.  Not to worry.  Keep sending your work.  And please never, never assume that we don’t like something because it was rejected from one isolated opportunity.

I will always maintain that rejections are like art vitamins.  And it is true.  And actual opportunities are like a strange and beautiful flower or the perfect nightcap.  All of it is good for all of us.  It is ultimately about moving forward and you can only do this by making, sharing, being generous with your peers, trying, succeeding sometimes, failing sometimes and by submitting to Unbound5! next year.

And lastly, we are grateful that you shared your work with us.  We view it as an opportunity for us to have a look at what you are doing.  And we hope to keep up with you in the future.

So, thank you.  And we will be in touch via email very soon.

G. S.