carlagirl photo.

practicing the arts of cogitation since the late 1900s.

what’s new?

Posted on | April 15, 2005 | 8 Comments

9 April 2005

In 2002, when I found out I had gotten a fellowship at Stanford, it seemed my career tide would turn. I had rarely gotten anything I’d applied for before, and this seemed real—it was year-long, it paid, and I’d gotten it as an independent. I quit my job and moved, expecting never to look back. I had worked my whole career to that point in the arts, but mostly in administrative, non-career jobs while doing freelance assignments on the side, so I couldn’t claim any particular title, no professional affiliation, never even a business card with my name on it—I think at that point even my College Art membership had lapsed; I couldn’t afford it.

Stanford was great; it got me back to California, to an area where I decided to stay and make my way, waving my independent banner high and proud—no PhD here!!! I already had an expensive terminal degree that only qualified me for jobs I didn’t want. The dot-coms had gone bust; I could even afford it. Though I’d never fully earned my income from freelancing, I seized the opportunity to try, rented an apartment from a high-strung nut in Oakland, and hung my shingle, so to speak. But it’s been a struggle. Freelancing is hard; if you’re not working you’re constantly looking for work, so all those grand plans of doing independent work in-between gigs never materialized. I didn’t even really have time to work on my site. Though I love the independence of freelancing, after a year and half I’ve come to the somber realization that it doesn’t exactly pay the bills.

But I wasn’t naïve, I thought. Riding high and hoping to keep some momentum going, I applied for other fellowships while at Stanford; the Guggenheim Foundation, the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum Research Center, The New York Public Library Center for Scholars and Writers, the David C. Driskell Center for the Study of the African Diaspora at the University of Maryland. One by one they turned me down. Disappointed, I also started applying for regular old jobs, some for which I was over-qualified, some for which I seemed just right, an occasional longshot: SFMOMA, Yerba Buena Center, SFF, IMOW, SFAI, CCA, CCP, Photo Alliance, SF Camerawork, African Arts, Heyday Books, Girlfriends magazine, LiP, Jon Sims Center, and countless ads on Craigslist. Oh, and a couple more stabs at grants—the Guggenheim again (because no one gets it the first time, right?), the William Johnson Foundation—and a writer’s agent who was a personal referral who never even acknowledged my materials. Hope clearly springs eternal. Again, one by one, if they bothered to acknowledge my application at all—and occasionally I even made it to second interviews—they turned me down. Up through yesterday, in fact. Is this field trying to tell me something?

What I have learned is that what you do and what you accomplish is not nearly as important as having the “right” credentials, knowing the right people, and playing the game. I work constantly but I cannot make it. I started this site to be able to give voice to my experience as a black woman who makes photographs and who studies images of other black women; that is what I do. Over the years I’ve often been overly cautious of what I say here, afraid I might offend some prospective employer, alienate someone in this very small world of photography and art. Well, how dumb that was—no one will hire me, anyway! Bitter? Yeah, I am. Constant rejection is painful, no matter how competent you believe you are. I turn 40 this year—you know it’s bad when you start to believe it’s your gray hair that’s preventing you from getting a job. But I think it’s also important that people who visit this site, especially young people or people who have this false sense that I’m a success in this field, as they tell me, know what the real deal is. What I keep trying to impress upon my partner is, that after two years trying to find a job or two or ten or something to support my work, I’m only as successful as my ability to pay my rent.

Out of those applications I sent out while at Stanford, I did receive an un-stipended residency at the Wurlitzer Foundation in Taos; I arrived Monday. What a lovely place; what lovely people. Thank you. Over the next 3 months I have the rare privilege to sit and think and write and try to forge a new career path for myself, far from the non-ringing phone. Mercifully, I have a couple of ideas, and haven’t lost interest in or passion for my work. One of the things I’ll be doing is overhauling the website, which I’ve been promising for ages but which, in the constant hustle of freelancing, I never have time to do. While it’s happening, you will see a few things missing (I had to get rid of the guestbook because it was getting spammed too much and there is no way to control that), I’m sure many bad links, but hopefully a bit of rejuvenation of something that means a lot to me and has hopefully been useful to many people.

So that’s what’s new.


8 Responses to “what’s new?”

  1. adrienne
    April 16th, 2005 @ 3:20 pm

    Hey Carla,
    The new look of your site is fanfreakingtastic! Right on! I’m glad you are telling it like it is. As Eduardo Galeano says, we really are living in an upside-down world, one in which the biggest criminals rule and the victims languish in prison. In a world like this, a talented, amazing, and productive woman struggles to pay rent at the same time that really opportunistic posers make mad money. Maybe if you plug Big Macs on your site, McDonald’s will pay your rent. What was Aaron McGruder’s rant the other day? “Pick up the McNugget, drop it if it’s hot, drop it if it’s hot … something about McFlurries and a hot apple pie, McDonald’s gonna kill me, but I ain’t afraid to die.” Fuck.
    Good luck in Taos!!

  2. Carla
    April 16th, 2005 @ 7:49 pm

    Adrienne, you fuckin’ rock! You are such an amazingly true friend. (Lisa, you, too!) (and Aaron McGruder is brilliant)

    Sometimes, though, you should just keep watching Queer as Folk and leave the e-mail alone! I should never have checked it this evening. I seriously contemplated not having it, not having a phone, truly treating Taos as a retreat, a sabbatical. Of course, in my current professional state, I could not do this; current projects were still pending and, well, new opportunities could come up and I can’t afford to let those go by! But sometimes I just have to acknowledge that I am a fucking chump. (okay, maybe I’ve been watching waaaay too much QAF, where every other word is “fucking.”) Two weeks in Taos and I’m still getting my dizzy stress headaches, I still have a stress rash, and for what? Why am I bothering? Who painted “kick me” on my back? I guess it would be different if I were actually in a field where there was some promise of a payoff in the end if you work hard. But why are we scrambling for crumbs in a shitty profession? What is it that makes people like me stay in the arts? The glamour? Ha!—where? I can’t even express how sick of this all I am, how truly done I feel with the whole thing. I’m going back to watch a bunch of selfish boys fucking.


  3. Lisa
    April 16th, 2005 @ 11:34 pm

    Carla, thanks for the shout out!
    First, let me just say that you are NOT the only one in this field who seems to have a “kick me” sign permanently attached to her back. These last few months have been full of on again, off again projects and people who don’t seem to understand what an invoice means! Sallie Mae doesn’t take excuses, so why should I???

    Anyway, I’m so glad you are on-line these days, even if it kind of messes with the sabbatical. Your site and your work have truly been an inspiration to me for a long time. Thank you for hangin’ in and doing what you do.

    Fuck. (Just thought I would give that a try)

  4. adrienne
    April 17th, 2005 @ 1:37 pm

    I think I started something.

    Maybe that can be a new way to end messages and letters? Forget yours truly, cheers, peace, take care, and keep it real (but never love) and end your letters, when appropriate, with a simple “fuck.”

    What upsets me the most is that this is exactly how the bad guys want you to feel, Carla. Bush Inc. wants a super-talented, beautiful, creative, compassionate Bla-lesbian artist/writer who makes a difference to feel too tired and sick of it all, too overwhelmed by the uncertainty of freelancing, and too worried about rent and the future to write a book about Maudelle.

    Double fuck.

  5. Carla
    April 17th, 2005 @ 2:02 pm

    Okay, Ladies, I got two words to put it all in perspective: Amy Goodman.

    She spoke in Taos at 9:00 a.m. this morning after speaking with Jose Ramos Horta in Santa Fe yesterday, having breakfast with Amira Hass this morning, and before heading to Las Vegas this evening to speak at the American Broadcasters (or something like that) convention before being back in Manhattan to tape tomorrow (I still maintain she cannot possibly have a personal life). She’s a true, real, tangible inspiration and reminder of the importance of our singular (currently apparently unpopular) voices no matter what our daily work is. I left feeling inspired and humbled and not quite ready to give up. Besides, what evil corporation would have me when there are sooo many others who want to be there?

    Fuckin’ A. (okay, now I’m starting to feel a bit immature.)

  6. adrienne
    April 17th, 2005 @ 2:42 pm

    May we all take Amy’s inspiration and make beautiful things and smash empires with it!


  7. Lisa
    April 18th, 2005 @ 10:32 am

    This might be considered off topic but I wanted to comment on what you said earlier – about your writing on the site and trying to be careful about your comments so as not to “burn bridges” in your career.

    I have been having an inner debate about this for the last month. When I first thought about having a blog and a website the idea that I could be free to do whatever I wanted and just post it seemed so liberating. Then once I started, I got all concerned about the way I might be perceived. Was the blog too silly? Was I writing enough about ART? If I got personal would that put my professional status in question? I was making myself crazy until I just decided to get off the pot and just do something. So I am moving forward and trying not to let the self-consciousness paralyze me (or stop me from posting about Alias and aerial photography in the same week and with equal excitement). But still, I have been less than brave all things considered.

    I have not launched the website yet and so far, I have opted for keeping my real name off the blog – not really getting into the nitty-gritty about professional projects or how I have navigated through the maze of obstacles in this roller coaster of a “career” (if you can even call it that) in the art world. But then I see what you have done, Carla, and I feel really lame. Like I should just stop worrying and put my name and face all over the blog and let it all fly!

    Sorry if I’m rambling – guess I just wanted to say that I relate to a lot of what you said in your first post.

    Hope you are still enjoying the dvds!

  8. fab feline
    April 21st, 2005 @ 10:29 am

    I discovered your website about 3 years ago when I was doing an online search for Black photographers. Since then, I have revisited the site often. I really like the updated look! I want to, first of all, thank you for compiling and providing such an amazing variety of links. Secondly, I want to thank you for giving me, an aspiring Black female photographer, a little insight on what to [possibly] expect from the industry when I graduate from college. The definition of success is relative and highly personal but I wanted to say that, in my eyes, you are successful! That said, I do understand the points you made in your blog. :)
    Good luck on your sabbatical in Taos! I look forward to reading your next blog entry.


  • CARLAGIRL PHOTO was founded on 14 February 1999 by Carla Willliams, a photographer, writer, and editor, born, raised and heading back to (yea!) Los Angeles, California.

    It was established with two goals: to be able to make my own work widely available for free, and to make accessible my research about artists of the African Diaspora, especially photographers, and in particular women. As it developed it grew to also include GLBTQ artists.

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