If you haven’t noticed, I spend a lot of time on this blog talking about fine-art photographers who dirty themselves in editorial waters. (Examples here, here and here). Yesterday I asked, “Why do they bother?”
Several people responded with knee-jerk cynicism: “money, money, money.”
Is everyone aware that the day rate for the New York Times Magazine is $400? (Half of that if you are using an agent). I don’t know Justine Kurland’s art prices, but I’d guess they are somewhere around $15,000. If she is hurting for cash, I’m sure she could change the price to $15,400. What about Rineke Dijkstra? $50,400.
Set aside your cynicism for a second and consider this – a lot of photographers actually like taking pictures for publication.
A couple of examples:
- In 1998, Larry Sultan took an assignment from Maxim Magazine. Yes, Maxim. The story was called “A Day in the Life of a Porn Set.” Six years later, Sultan debuted The Valley at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
- In 2003, Mitch Epstein photographed the dying power-plant town of Cheshire, Ohio for the New York Times. Next month Epstein will be debuting his latest project, American Power at Sikkema Jenkins & Co.
Sultan and Epstein are two of the best photographers working today. Both have had long careers. Both continue to surprise. I’d argue that their participation in the world of editorial photography has made them better.
I’d never suggest that editorial photography is the right choice for most photographers. But I hate to see it dismissed as mere money-grubbing. Some of the greatest photographers of all time rarely did anything else.
One of my favorites is Evelyn Hofer. I’ve only purchased a few photographs in my life and two of them are by Hofer. Both were made on assignment. In the current issue of Aperture, Vicki Goldberg reviews Evelyn Hofer’s recent retrospective:
Hofer’s pictures were generally taken on assignment, which she never looked on as a lesser task. So much for the disdain of commercial work that art photographers used to express. Art perseveres, wherever it may be found.