Further To Fly

I have been in a bit of a self-imposed exile lately, in terms of producing and posting new work. There are many reasons for it, burnout is certainly part of it, but the other is the rather insidious nature of social media and the rat race that most photographers succumb to all in the name of getting noticed. I will not get sanctimonious here, or place myself above anyone, but the process of trying to climb higher, to turn your art into your career, has been largely on my mind for the past year. I have been unemployed for the better part of a year, from my day job of the office world. That has not been a hardship - I hated most of the jobs I've had to have in order to support myself, but since losing my last job, I have focused rather heavily on trying to push my art into a career, a way to make money. Naturally, one turns to social media these days.

It can be as savage a place, more so even, than real interactions.

One of the issues I encounter is my "genre" or a way of classifying my art. Am I photographer? Sure. But that's a starting point. That's only because I cannot paint. My pieces are put together by photographs that I take. So naturally, I am on all the expected photography pages. But it's not "pure" photography, whatever that is. There are no sites I can go on for mixed media, for montage, for composites, or whatever you decide to call it. And what do I find on most of these sites? Photographers trying to copy each other, trying to best each other, trying like hell to get to the FRONT PAGE. I also get a fair amount of criticism from so-called purist photographers, who mainly lack imagination and object to any "tampering" of a pure photo. On the other hand, there ARE in fact some people that arguably do what I do, in the same vein at least. The ones who rise to the top stop talking to you. The ones who rise to the top are safer in their content - no nudity, no religious subject matter, nothing that would cause a stir. Lots of children. Lots of beautiful ladies in lavish dresses. And then, legions of people all trying to emulate that style, that look.

It can get the better of you, and it did; this bitterness, this resentment wore me down over the last year until I wasn't even enjoying what I was doing. It seems that no matter what I do, I cannot climb higher, cannot garner the attention that others have gotten, cannot make the sales, cannot get the magazines. I have had some, mind you, and somewhere, deep down, I am truly grateful for those that do support me, that enjoy what I do. But I have also had a lot of disappointments over this year, and no matter how much you tell yourself to keep at it, to not give up, it can corrode your process until making a splash is all you care about. I have seen people I used to chat with on these sites, once they get some notoriety, turn into vicious savages - an ugly, swollen ego wielded like a blunt hammer, swinging away at the "less successful."

The truth is, I got tired of trying to climb, trying to get to the top, and I missed the natural thrill of creating "just because." I also produced, in this hectic period, an image I consider my personal best, one that I hold as a personal victory, and…it didn't do much at all - the ripples it created were no more or less than anything else I have produced. It can be a blow to your ego. What else can I do? What else does it take?

I would be remiss if I did not take this time to thank the followers and comments and support I do experience. In fact, in this 5 week hiatus, I have been pleasantly surprised at the level of viewership I have gotten in this dry spell, and I do thank you for that. The point is, that part of it should not be so important. It is if you want to get ahead, but it can also overtake the art itself.

I cannot compete with photographers. Portrait photographers who snap sessions with clients have a seemingly endless supply of images to post - usually it becomes an onslaught. This helps them make a bigger impact - the sheer numbers of their posts. In my best weeks, I can produce maybe two images. They take me days. So, photography sites are really not where I should be, but, there are no alternative sites that I know of to showcase my work. But I need to care more about the work than the attention, and that obsession with ratings, or numbers, or ranking, or whatever it's called can be a bitter road indeed.

I am trying to lay low to let the desire come back - to want to do this because of a compelling idea, not producing something for fear of winking out of existence and getting surpassed by others. This is a pretty raw confession, but then, if you have followed me before, you know that this blunt honesty is not new. In summary, I was angry that I cannot seem to get ahead, get featured, get attention, and nothing I seemed to do would change that.

I found this unfinished piece the other day, and to my eyes, with the perspective of this soul-searching month off, I found it to be, well, rather complete actually. It perfectly reflects what I feel, what I've just written about. The man has reached the end of the ladder, the ladder of success perhaps. He can go no higher, but still has his sites set on what is up there, past the frame, past where he finds himself. No matter the heights you reach, you always have further to fly. This is somewhat a sequel or a companion piece to an earlier one called "Further To Fall." The concept is the same, but this is probably the prequel to that one.

Michael Bilotta

July 5, 2014