Earlier this month, the threatened burning of a Koran by Florida preacher Terry Jones garnered an obscene amount of world attention and media coverage.
Avril wants to hold the burning at the steps of a statue of Nicéphore Niépce, the inventor of photography, in the French town of Chalon-sur-Saône. The event is scheduled for January 11, 2011.
Surely, this won’t get the coverage that Jones received. But it will get some.
The real question is, is this a useful way for photographers to express their professional frustrations?
This isn’t the first such gesture by Avril. Earlier this year, he decided to burn his own images. As he described his reasoning:
I believe that public and private institutions don’t play their role into supporting the artistic life through the artists essential needs: money, grants, whatever you want to call it.
So my work has to be for free! All right! As it has no value I don’t see the need for it to physically exist much longer.
The back story is that Avril had worked for about a year on an architecture project on the centennial of Tel Aviv at the request of an Israeli art gallery. The resulting pictures were displayed in the gallery, released as a book, and received significant coverage in the press.
Avril was contacted by Israeli airlines, insurance companies, museums, and government institutions, as well as European magazines and municipalities, all wanting to use his photos. But none were willing to pay him for the privilege; the airline wasn’t even willing to part with a courtesy plane ticket.
Here’s the video of how Avril released his frustration:
And the Point Is?
So, what was the result of all this?
Avril was awarded some sympathetic press coverage on a slow news day and not much more. After all, if his images aren’t selling, why would anyone care what he does with them? And he conceded he scanned them all in advance, making the gesture rather hollow.
The mass burning at the Nicéphore Niépce statue, if it occurs, will be more of the same.
I sympathize with the financial challenges facing photographers today. In fact, I know of two photographers who are about to be evicted from their houses because they can no longer pay their mortgages.
Do you think these photographers are burning their hard drives in their backyards, hoping President Obama will save them?
Do you think they will march on Washington and torch their negatives in an attempt to summon public fervor — like the monks who self-immolated to protest the Vietnam War?
A Privilege, Not a Right
No. You know why?
Because they are too busy trying to reinvent themselves in an extremely difficult time.
Because they feel extremely fortunate that they have been able to make a living doing something they love.
Because they know not everyone has had this privilege, or will ever have it.
Because they know it’s not something they’re entitled to have, but something they must work for, every day.
Because they know that embracing the photographer’s life has always included its bumps and bruises, and obstacles to overcome.
And because they love photography too much to burn it.