Thursday, February 17, 2011

Meet the Press

by Drew Martin

In the fall of 1992 I traveled as a photographer with a young British journalist to Ostrava, a Czech coal mining city on the north-eastern border with Poland. Our assignment was to cover a science fiction literature convention but it was also an excuse for me to venture into Poland for the first time, after I completed the shoot.

When we arrived at the venue, we went to the registration desk to ask about accommodations. The organizer told us the price of the room, which probably was not a lot of money, but I was naively shocked. With confused, but honest, astonishment, I said something to the affect of "But we are journalists!" This was followed by a shuffling of paper, a look of casual enlightenment and then the prompt handing over of keys for a complimentary room for the two of us, accompanied by a muttering of apologies.

The only other time I played the press card was when I went to the Armory Show (March 6, 2010 at Pier 92 and 94). I already had free tickets to it but I was carrying my two-year old son on my back and he was getting heavy and restless. The show opened later than I had expected but press got a jump start so I went to the press office and told them I wrote for this blog. They looked it up and checked it out and gave me a press pass for the event.

This past weekend my family of five met up with my parents, my sister-in-law and one of my nieces at The Whitney to see the Charles LeDray (work, pictured left) and the Edward Hopper exhibits. My brother's wife flashed her VMFA (Virginia Museum of Fine Art) docent card and got two free tickets. I sheepishly inquired about entrance for the press and the young man at the cash register asked if I had a press pass.

I was a bit confused because I thought that was something they would give me. I asked if he could look up this blog and he apologized and asked me again for $18, which I un-reluctantly paid. The money was not the issue (even though I think it's too steep) but I was a bit confused by it all. I asked myself "What is a press pass in this era of blogs galore?"

So after walking around a bit, I went back to the entrance to find out more information. The same man I had spoken to before explained that you can make your own press pass. He said "Just print one out and laminate it." Really? Ten minutes prior he made it sound like a Brahman birthright that I, the Untouchable, would be eternally denied, and now he was telling me to DIY. I thanked him and laughed at/to myself.

Curiously enough, when we were leaving and I was waiting for family members to get their coats. I heard another employee at the register say "Don't you have a current press pass?" There were two European men, one holding out an old, tattered press pass and the other by his side, empty handed. The employee honored the pass without further questioning but said they changed the policy; the press pass is only good for one ticket. The other guy chimed in, "I am with the press too!" But, like me, he couldn't produce a pass or even a business card. At that point she just gave him a free ticket anyway. Behind my composed self was a much more reactive version of me flinging out my arms and spouting "WTF?!"

It was an important moment for me because I realized it had nothing to do with the flimsy press pass. Not only was I not prepared with a silly-ink-jet-patch-of-assumed-authority-sandwiched-in-clear-plastic but I was not even sure enough at that moment about myself and my pursuits. I barely supported myself. I was spineless.

I am not sure of each museum's policies but it is apparent that anyone can make up a pass, no matter how bogus, just to wiggle in. So it really comes down to integrity and conviction. Do you believe in what your represent? Does it contribute to the discussion? Is your blog unique or as insightful as The New York Times, Art Forum or whatever else it is you hope to emulate or even surpass?

It is certainly a question of the validity and future of new/social media. A person with a popular Facebook page might have more eyes scanning his or her words than a newspaper columnist and a quirky blog with only a handful of followers may be digging deeper and asking more relevant questions than a big-name arts magazine.

Yesterday I took a couple minutes and made up my own press pass so now I am legit.