Not so long ago, I used to be part of a photography organization that had a space where members could hang their work for sale. The space also had lighting equipment and printing equipment that members could access. The organization also had a magazine where photographers were challenged to submit photos based on a given theme. The First Friday shows also matched the theme. Anyone with a checking account and a camera could join regardless of skill level. And every member received a free member t-shirt.
Being a paying member, however, did not automatically give you the privilege of being able to hang your artwork on the wall; members had to pay extra for that. Members also had to pay extra to use the lighting equipment, pay to have their work featured in the organization’s magazine, and members even had to pay to print photos at the facility. And that free t-shirt? It only came in one size.
There was no filtering process in terms of the quality of work displayed on the walls, nor in the photos that ended up in the magazine. There was no recognition for Best In Show. Whether or not members hung their work, or got into the magazine was based solely on whether or not you had the capital to pay for the space. Even though we supposedly had themes every First Friday and for the magazine, there were no consequences of any kind if someone didn’t follow the theme of that month. As such, there was no cohesiveness to any of the First Friday events, and no cohesiveness to the magazine.
The members of the organization did not even get to choose the cover photo for the magazine. That privilege belonged to the editor, who also happened to be the self-appointed leader of the organization, and who also happened to own the space. The editor never shared the criteria for how the cover shot was chosen, or why a certain photo became the cover shot to represent the theme of that month.
The self-appointed leader of this organization – who looked more like a drunken fraternity pledge than a professional curator – treated First Friday events more like a college party rather than as a venue to connect photographers with potential art buyers, photography editors, photography agents, art directors, or media buyers. The gallery was filled with friends and family members, and random people off the street who were more interested in the variety of microbrew than the photographs on the walls. On top of that, because the free magazine was distributed to local pubs and coffee shops, the free magazines ended up in the hands of college students, random people on dates, and sports fanatics. In other words, the magazine and the First Friday events did not exactly attract a photography-buying crowd.
The organization began losing members, the magazine stopped printing, and he eventually lost his space.
For the record, I have never worn my free t-shirt… ever.