To answer this question let’s turn to the Oxford English Dictionary, that gives us this definition. Emerge/emerging; to move out of or away from something and become visible, to come out, appear, come into view, become visible, make an appearance, turn up, spring up, come up, surface, crop up, pop up, materialise, manifest one-self, arise, proceed, issue, come forth, emanate. To become apparent or prominent, become known, become apparent, become evident, be revealed, come to light, come out, transpire, come to the fore, enter the picture, unfold, turn out, prove to be the case, become common knowledge, get around, become known. Recover from or survive a difficult situation.
At no point in these possible uses of the word is their any mention of age.
There is no suggestion of an age restriction attached to emerging in that definition and yet photography grants, competitions and opportunities repeatedly restrict entry to those who they see as ’emerging’. In this understanding of ’emerging’ those initiatives are restricted to photographers between the ages of approximately 18 to 30.
I understand that this is often done as a box ticking exercise to secure and achieve funding. It is easier to get funding by focusing an initiative around encouraging engagement with the medium from a particular demographic. I have no problem with encouraging that engagement and in fact I fully support it. However, to restrict entry based on age is detrimental to the photographic community at large and exclusive rather than inclusive.
You can emerge at any age.
Some of my best students have been mature students. People who have sacrificed the security of an income to return to education to study photography. These students are always committed to their learning, their work fired by life experience and they are often from social economic backgrounds that had prevented them from studying earlier in their lives. Their age is not a defining factor relating to their ’emergence’ into the photographic community.
The argument often given by those staging age restrictive initiatives is that there are lots of other initiatives that allow general entry and that they are doing something different. That is true but the issue is related to the use of the word ’emerging’.
The moment that an age restriction is applied those students who are also ’emerging’ or starting out on their careers that do not fulfil an arbitrary age range are excluded from entering. So are those photographers starting out who have not studied at college or universities who are also beginning to work as a photographer. Therefore the work that is looked at and chosen as representative of new work being produced by these initiatives is not that. It is a part of the picture but not the whole picture.
So where and how do those photographers looking to get their profiles raised and their work seen who are not aged between 18-30 go? Well they could of course apply for any competition that does not have an age restriction but that places them on an unfair playing field against more seasoned and experienced practitioners.
I suggest that if you are going to use the word ’emerge’ in the title of your initiative you have to be more inclusive. You have to be more nuanced in your understanding of what the word means and not restrict it to a narrow understanding of what starting out within the creative industries means.
In short you need to stop ticking boxes and work harder to support all of those looking to develop their photographic practice, whatever their age.
Grant Scott is the founder/curator of United Nations of Photography, a Senior Lecturer and Subject Co-ordinator: Photography at Oxford Brookes University, Oxford, a working photographer, and 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).
His book What Does Photography Mean to You? including 89 photographers who have contributed to the A Photographic Life podcast is on sale now £9.99 https://bluecoatpress.co.uk/product/what-does-photography-mean-to-you/
© Grant Scott 2020
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