Discussing why things are so bad is one of the favourite topics of conversation in Poland. Most likely this is the favourite topic for all Poles, and definitely for photographers. We are masters in diagnosing the problems of Polish photography; lack of market, low prices that make getting a reasonable income impossible, lack of good exhibitions, lack of support from cultural institutions, constant hatred in the internet, lack of good photographic magazines, , low level of photography courses at universities, poor schools and so on and so forth. This list can go on forever. I actually think that each and every of the reasons in the list is a true and real on; well diagnosed and that these problems can be multiplied forever. Only that, in my opinion, they are actually a guise used to hide more serious ones.
Let’s take exhibitions. How often we complain about the lack of good exhibitions. Maybe not everyone will like this, but i am not surprised at the actions of people in charge of exhibition spaces. In their place I would be very skeptical about exhibiting photographs. Why? The reason is quite simple. Hardly anyone goes to such exhibitions or their openings. At the opening of the exhibition of Bułhak’s works there were maybe some twenty people. Even the authors of the exhibited works didn’t attend the opening of the Pinhole World exhibition. I’ve seen openings of really good photographic exhibitions at which more organizers than visitors were present. So, why organize photographic exhibitions? Thank goodness the Erwin Olaf show was visited by crowds or otherwise that would probably have been the last exhibition in the National Museum in Gdańsk. And it is not about whether we like pinhole photography or a particular author. A photographic exhibition is an event that is organized, above all, for other photographers, for the photographic society. In the tricity there are hundreds if not thousands of people who call themselves photographers and yet so very few of them ever participate in any exhibition. So, why organize them?
We complain about low level of photographic papers or about the fact they are just not there. Then, how many of us did actually buy the magazines before they went bankrupt? How many of us were actually ready do spend those 7 euros for a monthly? Even for a good one? How often did I see all those people perusing the periodical in a mall but then putting them back on the shelf cause they wouldn’t spend the money? So, how can we expect the publishers to provide such magazines, the magazines we don’t buy?
The same is true about traditional photographic magazines. I often hear all those complaints about materials disappearing from the market or about all the difficulties in buying them. We would love to live in the world where ‘every self respecting shop’ stores a full range of photographic products. Only, in order to have these materials a shop owner must invest money, real, hard earned money and why should he do it if no one will buy these materials? As an aside, I have recently seen a kickstarter project to restore a photographic material that was gone. The authors managed to collect four hundred thousand euros from a few thousand supporters; we don’t even buy the materials that are available. How can we expect them to stay available?
We complain about the lack of photography courses at universities or about the low level of the ones in existence. On the other hand, when we find one we will postpone joining it because… because there are so many reasons like the price, the distance, the something.And first of all we think that the school will always be there and we can always join; in a year’s time or in two or in then. Nothing more false; the university will probably still be there only will it still offer a course in photography and will it still be at the same high level? The university will either shut the course down or change it, maybe make its focus or level different; after all, why should it forever lose money?
The same could be said about every single element of the photographic market, about every single element that we find missing. It is not there, because the need of which we love talking is a verbal one. We love to say how important something is or how much we miss it but then we don’t participate. We don’t attend exhibitions, we don’t participate in competitions, we don’t discuss photographs (unless for the purpose of being praised), we don’t buy magazines, we resort to the cheapest available materials, with the possible exception of digital SLR’s for which we are prepared to spend a small fortune even if a smartphone is more suitable for our skills and needs.
It is not that we live in some sort of special, stunted country. it is not that there is some sort of fatum over us, that someone out there doesn’t like us. We are the only ones to blame; we, the photographers, the amateurs and professionals alike. We are to blame because we don’t participate, don’t buy, procrastinate. We don’t create a community only complain about the fact it is not there, that the basic things needed are not there. We find countless reasons to explain why things are so bad and at the some time we are not willing to contribute in any way to make things better. At leas most of us.