Roadkill doesn't sell so well. Just sayin'.
Way back when, I decided the best way to give myself credibility as a photographer was to exhibit in the local art galleries. Stop laughing, it was a good idea. I put together several exhibits, one centered on my Ground Zero pictures, called, The Day Our Heart Stopped, and one called Serenity. There were others.
They were multi-media exhibits, with prose flashed on monitors around the photos, music, the whole nine yards. I spent weeks putting them together. I loved them. I gave birth to them. They were my children.
Serenity featured photos around Delmarva — the spit of land I lived on comprised of the Eastern Shore of Virginia, Delaware (where I still live), and the Eastern Shore of Maryland (where I lived at the time). The gallery was the Worcester County Arts Council (WCAC), housed in a renovated art deco building in downtown Salisbury. Yes, Salisbury has a downtown. Stop laughing. Barb Daugherty, who I’m still friends with, was the executive director of the gallery, and encouraged me to exhibit. Since I taught Photoshop classes there, I thought it was a good bet. It was a juried exhibit, which means it was judged and prizes were awarded.
I never do anything small. I built my own walls, out of wood doors painted white. I hung my own track lighting right on the walls I constructed. I hung the monitors — something not done easily a dozen years ago. I hung speakers. It was EXTRAVAGANT. It was over the top. I loved it.
The judge hated it. She circled the exhibit, peering over half moon glasses and shaking her head, pursing her lips. She muttered to her minions. They shook their heads, hair buns pulled hard against their heads. It looked like a group of librarians about to shush you at any moment.
I plastered a smile on my face.
“Hi, you’re the artist?” she said.
“Yes. I’m Mike Gatty.”
“Well, well, Mike Gatty, your work certainly is…
She spit the last word out like a wine taster spits out a bad vintage. She made a similar, puckered up face.
“Commercial?” I asked.
“Yes. Commercial. Appeals to the masses. Hallmark. Overtly tugs at the heart strings. Commercial.”
“Sellable?” I prompted helpfully, I had already sold a few of the prints.
“In an overt kind of way,” she spat.
Now let me back up. Did I mention what SHE exhibited? It was customary for the juror to exhibit their own work at the gallery when they were judging the competition.
Take a guess.
Unless you guessed, “Roadkill”, you’d be wrong.
Dead deer. Huge, black and white prints of dead animals in various states of decomposition. Some were full of maggots. Others were being torn apart by buzzards. Some where still on the road, others were headless tossed to the side, in a field. The prints were HUGE. At least 8×10 — 8 FEET by 10 FEET, not inches.
Road kill lady taught photography at the University of Maryland, Eastern Shore. Forgive me, those of my readers who teach photography, I am prejudice against you guys based on this experience. I know it’s wrong. But I can’t help it.
Now, I was a bit — miffed. Not that I didn’t win, but because I was dressed down by someone who thought the cutting edge of creativity was photographing roadkill. That, and, guess what won the competition?
A covered bridge. Yup. In snow. A pretty little (commercial?) covered bridge in the Amish countryside of Pennsylvania.
So there you have it.
Luckily, I learned a lot from Road Kill Lady. I learned that my work was commercial. In a way, this made me feel really great. What would I rather do? Commercial photography, or shooting maggot covered carrion? Hmmmm. I started thinking in terms of what sells.
I started thinking in terms of what is needed. I started thinking I was a commercial photographer.
The next year, I had made a bit of a local name for myself. So, I was asked to judge that same competition. I invited my mom to guest judge with me, and she said, oh, she could NEVER be able to pick the best photo.
She walked into the gallery. “That one.” She said, and walked out. It took 8 seconds.
The photo she picked was from Greg Poulos, someone I still keep up with from time to time. In fact, he published a book of photos from Ocean City, years later, and this photo was featured in a double page spread. It was a great shot of women at a beauty contest, and all you saw were shapely legs in the foreground, attached to hooker heels. In the background? An older gentleman salivating over his chin. It was FANTASTIC.
We got criticized for awarding first place to this photo. Big time. I went from too commercial to too pornographic.
“But look at the pretty photo of a covered bridge,” someone said, “or that nice sunset, what’s wrong with those?”
I gave up on gallery work. Fuck it. I’d rather shoot a green screen any day where people are hanging off London Bridge. Maybe that’s not for everyone, but it’s perfect for me. You can keep the road kill, sunset photos and covered bridges. I’ll take fake Cirque Du Soleil anytime. And, by the way, I only handle commercial events. Thank fucking God.