Saturday, 19 October 2013

Networking

We had a visitor this week, an old acquaintance from our Bristol days.  She and my partner were colleagues at the old Bristol Polytechnic, where they started down the sparse and stony track of an academic career.  But now they are both international jet-setting professors at the height of their game, so the conversation tended to be of that name-dropping, jet-lag and hotel horror-story, "when I was in Melbourne last year" variety -- a game I am neither much interested in nor qualified to play.  I have long tried to follow the advice of Rumi: sell your cleverness and buy bewilderment.  So I made the tea, and put food on the table.

But it was interesting for me, too, though, as Liz's job title is Professor in Photographic Culture.  She is adamantly not a photographer; she has established herself as a facilitator, curator, historian and theorist of photography, with several books to her credit which are required reading on photography degree courses worldwide.  She knows and is known to pretty much everybody who is anybody in photographic education, which these days includes a large number of eminent "practitioners".


So-called "networking" is a curious thing.  It's very much the way of the modern world.  Kids are expected to "network" their way into employment (we used to call this "nepotism"), first in unpaid internships (we used to call this "exploitation") and then into career paths where the ruthless use of contacts is expected and encouraged (we used to call this "climbing the greasy-pole").  This is another game I have never been much interested in playing.  On reflection, having Liz in the house was, I suppose, a major networking opportunity.  But I was happy to make the tea, put food on the table, and swap photo-gossip.

I suppose this could seem like a self-limiting form of pride.  Here I am; here is my work; take it or leave it.  But I prefer it that way.  There's a reason so many eminent artist-photographers have ended up teaching in colleges and universities: there's no living to be made otherwise.  Apart from that fortunate handful, there are many thousands of wannabes out there networking themselves to nowhere, and hardly making any worthwhile work in the meantime. I'm happy to stay out of their way.
A handsome face, that fine young man,
and deep his knowledge of the Classics and the Histories.
All call him Elder,
all grant him the title of Scholar...
But he doesn't have a post yet...
and he has no knowledge of planting and reaping.
Winter's here. All he owns is the ragged cloak
he uses to cover his books, not himself.

Han Shan, Cold Mountain Poems XLVI, translated by J.P. Seaton

6 comments:

Huw said...

Mike,

Another excellent photo from what you call a dull place - although without the trees there may not be much to redeem it.

And no photo gossip to pass on? (Although can't imagine what photo gossip actually is...)

Huw

Mike C. said...

No, no gossip-mongering here! Besides, who cares whether Martin Parr has mellowed in recent years, or which big-name photographers are certifiable lunatics (quite a few of them, it seems)?

Mike

Huw said...

Maybe the reason you're not selling prints for £10,000 a go is that you're not a lunatic?

Huw

Mike C. said...

It's a theory, but I've always thought the lunatics are the ones paying that much for a photograph...

Mike

Andrew Sharp said...

Mike

Networking with a purpose probably means cultivating contacts that you think might be useful and then discarding them when this turns out not to be the case. Either that or you're lucky that the people you get on with also turn out to be useful.

I've had quite a few experiences where someone thought I was better connected than I actually am only for the promises and contact to evaporate when reality finally dawned.

I believe that Rutherford said of his experiments on the structure of the atom "and may this be of no use to anyone whatsoever". The spirit of doing things for their own sake was alive and well then and is still presumably alive and well now; but with an understandably low profile.

Mike C. said...

Andy,

Agreed, but I think our take on that is now just a remnant of a sensibility that has actually become historic, along with antique values like "honour", "loyalty", etc.

In fact, I think quite a few of our values were historic when we were young, but we thought we were reviving them. It turns out we were probably mistaken... Though I read that Marxism has become fashionable again in younger academic circles.

Mike