Over the hill?
In February I turned 35, which in many ways feels more significant to me than turning 30 did. I'm halfway between two spheres: early thirties and late thirties, each with its own symbolism. As a result of resting in this midpoint I've been thinking quite a lot about what age means lately. Age is a tricky thing--40 is the new 30, etc., and people seem to be getting younger all the time; but as I was riding the train home the other day I saw an ad for egg donation: women under the age of 32 only are eligible. Even though I have no desire whatsoever to partake in such a venture, it felt strange to be a full three years past the point where I would be considered "healthy enough." If I were to get pregnant again I would now be in the high-risk category, which feels laughable.
Recently Fraction Magazine posed the question: What do you think about age requirements in photography competitions? 35 seems to be the general cut-off point, again drawing attention to my advancing years. For some reason this debate floated into my mind as I was falling asleep last night, so here are my thoughts:
For me age limits almost feel like a feminist issue: how many women, including myself, have taken time away from other pursuits to raise children? I put quite a few things on hold at first, and didn't have the time to devote to shooting, let alone self-promotion. This could apply to fathers as well, as more and more men are staying home to do the bulk of the childcare. It also feels antiquated because it's now so much the norm to change careers several times throughout one's professional life. We've all heard the stories about lawyers and doctors quitting to become bakers or circus performers (anyone who's watched Oprah, at least). While I recognize that most contests don't impose age limits, thank goodness, are those that do excluding a whole host of potential talents?
In the comments section someone mentioned that perhaps finances are a consideration, with the idea being that those who have been in this business longer would be able to earn more from their work. But money is a tricky thing when it comes to the fine arts, as those struggling to make ends meet through our creative pursuits know, and I'm sure there are plenty of artists who can't devote themselves solely to art-making due to jobs that are done for financial security, which again detracts from the ability to get oneself "out there."
All of that said, I don't have a problem with competitions open only to women. There is a well-documented gender bias when it comes to being shown as an artist, and although this is a trend that seems to be turning somewhat, the cards have been stacked against us female photographers for long enough now that I think opportunities for leveling the playing field are warranted. The same holds true for minority competitions--giving marginalized groups the opportunity to be seen and heard is an important factor in the makeup of a healthy society.
I hope by the time my girls are too old to enter the "emerging artist" competitions these shows a.) will no longer exist and b.) there will be no more need for female-only/minority-only opportunities as the art world will be equalized enough to make such shows unnecessary, except in terms of curatorial themes.