Photography isn't an art

"A rather unsatisfactory term's work, and I fear not 'O' level material". B.T.G.

This was my school report for "Art" in the summer of 1980 at King's College School in London. "O" levels are standardized exams in British secondary schools and apparently a life in the arts was not in my future. When I suggested to my art teacher that I enjoyed photography, I remember his retort:

"Photography isn't an art, Isett".

Yes sir.

The only lesson here is don't listen to your teachers and assume they are always right. Don't be pigeon-holed. Explore all your options in life. Unless it's your Latin teacher in your General Classics report ("It's probably for the best that he and this subject now part company"), they may well be wrong. It wasn't until I was in grad school in Chicago working on an MFA in photography a decade later that I learned about pictorialism and photography's early struggles to be taken seriously as an art. I guess the message still hadn't made it to British boys schools in 1980 and it was as if "creativity" is only limited to certain designated arts, and never to be found in science, business, sports etc etc.

I didn't become a full time working photographer until I was 28 and often wonder what would have happened if Mr. Gilliam had embraced my interests way back then. It's hard to know if creativity is born out of resistance or nurturing but either way, I ignored his advice. A lesson I pass onto my kids. Trust yourself. Trust your instincts, most importantly, don't worry about your Latin report.