A gatekeeper is someone who prevents access unless they are persuaded to allow the person at the gate to pass into the garden. A conspiracy is a secret plan by a group to do something unlawful or harmful. Both terms are often used in relation to photography. Why?

I think the answer is simple but the reasons are complicated. Let’s begin with the simple part and at the beginning. The photographer makes work and then wants that work to be seen, recognised and potentially praised. For this to happen an audience has to be found that approves of the work. This is not easy. Making work is releatively easy but finding like minded souls who appreciate the work is not. This is when those who could be important in the appriciation of the work can be perceived as gatekeepers by those who find themselves hitting a brickwall.

In a sense they are right. There are gatekeepers who can prevent work and a career receiving the recognition they deserve but it is important to identify the true gatekeepers from those for whom your work just doesn’t cut it. Not all people who reject you and your work are true gatekeepers.

I have often been described as a gatekeeper from when I was an art director, creative director, magazine editor and now as a podcaster. To me this is ridiculous as I see myself as a gate opener. Someone who can give people an opportunity to speak and have their work seen. Of course I choose those people but this is not gate keepeing it is curating. My choices are based on what I think my audience will be interested in and the creation of a balance of voices and images.

My choices are never based on purely personal likes or dislikes. I aim for an objective curation without prejudice. However, that will not stop people from seeing me as a block to their ambitions.

The power of the gatekeeper has been greatly reduced by the democratic nature of social media. Work can now be shown and shared globally by anyone who downloads an app. The impact that this has had on traditional print publishing and the gallery space has also weakned the gatekeepers power. These are or perhaps were the true gatekeepers in my opinion. Those who constituted the establishment and who worked to maintain that establishment through nepotism and an agenda based on self-protection. This was certainly the case with the traditional photographic magazine. How often did the same photographers appear month after month whatever the quality of the work being produced? Friends of the journalists? Maybe. Lazy journalism? Perhaps. A lack of ambition to find new work? Definitely.

This is where the sense of conspiracy comes to the fore. The idea of a secret cabal of gatekeepers in darkned rooms supporting each other in the creation of a heavily defended world that only the chosen few can enter.

We all know that these exist but to describe it as a conspiracy is I think an over reaction. As I have suggested I don’t think anyone is that organised or insentivised to go to that trouble. A conspiracy takes time and collaboration to come to fruition. The photographic establishment have never been that focused or organised. The truth is that it is a ‘safety-first’ envirnonment where risks are seldom taken. The old and established are easier to promote if such promotion has worked previously.

The reality is that you may have to accept that some doors may be closed to you, some may not be the right doors for you to knock on but there are now many new doors that will welcome you. The responsibility for you is to work out which is which, to ensure that you don’t waste time, effort and money attempting to get into somewhere that is never going to let you in. In addition you need to ensure that you don’t see rejection as failure. Where once there were few options today there are many and some of those traditional outlets are far less important or influential than they once were. So, don’t waste time complaining about gatekeepers or promoting the idea of secret cabals and conspiracies. Find the friendly gates or build your own. Its not easy but it is possible.

Dr.Grant Scott
After fifteen years art directing photography books and magazines such as Elle and Tatler, Scott began to work as a photographer for a number of advertising and editorial clients in 2000. Alongside his photographic career Scott has art directed numerous advertising campaigns, worked as a creative director at Sotheby’s, art directed foto8magazine, founded his own photographic gallery, edited Professional Photographer magazine and launched his own title for photographers and filmmakers Hungry Eye. He founded the United Nations of Photography in 2012, and is now a Senior Lecturer and Subject Co-ordinator: Photography at Oxford Brookes University, Oxford, and a BBC Radio contributor. Scott is the author of Professional Photography: The New Global Landscape Explained (Routledge 2014), The Essential Student Guide to Professional Photography (Routledge 2015), New Ways of Seeing: The Democratic Language of Photography (Routledge 2019), and What Does Photography Mean To You? (Bluecoat Press 2020). His photography has been published in At Home With The Makers of Style (Thames & Hudson 2006) and Crash Happy: A Night at The Bangers (Cafe Royal Books 2012). His film Do Not Bend: The Photographic Life of Bill Jay was premiered in 2018.

Scott’s book Inside Vogue HouseOne building, seven magazines, sixty years of stories, Orphans Publishing, is now on sale.

© Grant Scott 2024

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Last Update: 05/29/2024