In collaboration with Slate's photo blog, Behold, we are extending the conversation with some of their featured photographers.
When Aaron Blum left West Virginia to study at Syracuse University, he quickly realized there was a lot of misunderstanding about his home state. Combined with a desire to better understand his personal history, Blum began an ongoing series, “Born and Raised,” about Appalachia that includes not only the landscape with light that inspires his imagination, but also his friends and family. Photography is a way for Blum to tell a story and he hopes viewers of “Born and Raised” will understand his a bit better.
You will find some extra questions and answers below and can read the original Slate interview here.
Tell me about when you first started thinking you could pursue a career as a photographer?
I think I make a distinction between making a living as an artist and as a photographer. I make absolutely no money as a photographer. I make most of my money selling my prints and teaching college courses, but I don’t make any shooting for other people. I do a lot of workshops and freelance education work as well. So really I have a small art business that has a lot to do with photography, but I’m not sure you could call me a commercial photographer.
I was really unsure what I would do with my career after school. I had mostly art training and like any postgraduate was terrified of what was next. My mom and one other classmate really encouraged me to apply to some exhibitions as soon as I got out of school, and to my surprise I got a lot of good feedback and then eventually it just kept snowballing and then I won the Jurors Choice Award at Center within the first year of exiting grad school. I was shocked, and that’s when I thought maybe I could make this into a career.
You seem to have entered a lot of competitions and festivals. Is that so? How has that been helpful to your career?
I have entered a lot of things at this point, but I’m starting to slow down with that a bit, and from what other people have told me that is somewhat normal. I’m starting to only enter the things I really want to do. I entered a lot at first because it seemed like a great way for people to see your work, and it was. I made a lot of important connections that way. I started realizing that some were worth it some were not. I got way more rejections than anything else. I started to learn when to enter and what they were looking for. At this point my success rate is much higher. I will say that the connections I have made are invaluable; whether making them through a review or a competition those relationships have proven to be the most important thing in my career.
If you can pinpoint a "break" that advanced your career, what would that be? Or, perhaps a shift?
That’s really hard to say. Everything seems to be more about momentum and not one big moment for me. It has been more about taking one opportunity and transferring it into another. There have been big memorable moments for sure. Like I said earlier The Center award was big, being chosen to be the Carnegie Museum of Arts representative for the Leopold Godowsky Color Photography Awards and being recognized by the PRC in Boston was amazing, having a show with Doug Dubois my Professor and mentor at Syracuse was very rewarding, but I think the biggest moment was being named one of the FOAM Talents this year. I got cold sweats when I saw the cover, which read “21 artists that will define the future of contemporary photography” that was an amazing moment, but also terrifying. It’s a lot of pressure in a good way.
Your work is included in museums. Do you have gallery representation? If so, describe that relationship. If not, tell me about how you market yourself?
I do not have gallery representation. It something that I have thought about of course, and I’m sure I could sell more prints if I did, but I would also have to split the commission. I think you really have to find the right gallery as well. I have been always told it’s a little bit like getting married. You have to find the perfect gallery or set of galleries. So if the right one came along of course I would do it. For now though I have a presence online through social media and I keep in contact with the people I have met. I do portfolio reviews every so often, and if I need to get my work in front of someone I put out the call and see if someone can help me get some time with the person I want to see. Usually that works. If you are honest, and nice and help others in the community it will come back around.