What a great point. I spend a lot of time thinking about the commonalities of commercial and fine art work, but I never really thought about how they're inherently different, at this level.
One of the few virtues of being a dilettante, like myself, is that you are not too locked in to any one thing. If you're very good at one thing, especially if you earn your bread doing that one thing (or small set of things) it is almost inevitable that you will begin to equate "good" with "looks like this one thing". After all, you presumably like the work you are doing, AND it is demonstrably good because people will pay you for it. I think it takes a real effort of will to see the good in work that is radically different.
On the face of it, your argument is sound. Unfortunately, it doesn't hold water. And the reason why it leaks is that you are working on the assumption that people are one or the other. Not so; many pros are perfectly capable of enjoying work that has nothing to do with the way they earn their keep; in fact, it can be the very difference that is the attraction.
Iím sorry to refer again to my own experiences, but then they are the only ones Iím really willing to rely upon, so bear with me here, please.
Before I became a fashion and then calendar girl photographer I was totally besotted with the world of photojournalists and their doings. I was never concerned with Ďartí photographers because in my youth, no such animal had yet been invented and people who went around photographing peppers and other vegetables were regarded with a slightly raised eyebrow. Landscape wasnít anything that anyone held in high esteem: it was regarded as little more than being there at the right time, the reserve of those with no better outlets available to them Ė maybe something that still haunts me today. That was certainly the experience in the UK; from the little financial success that even the Americans achieved in their day, I guess their payoff was the bohemian lifestyle and the oodles of supposedly free love in the south-western states of the US of A or even, amen, Mexico.
My suspicion is, basically, that the latter part of the last century saw the commercialization of amateur photography to a level where it began to be accepted as an art form in itself, something fairly new if dedicated galleries were anything to go by. Even now, Iíd guess that within the European world, France is a leader in the acceptance of photography as a fine art. I believe that it was the appearance of modern office spaces along with the newly discovered/invented glamour of city lofts that lent itself to photography as an acceptable form of decoration. If not decoration, then art photography has no future beyond a sterile form of investment. That this would content many shooters isnít in dispute; that it has anything to do with their self-fulfilment as artists is doubtful.
Further, I think that the buying of photographs for domestic
decoration is probably a youthful interest; many of my age wouldnít seriously consider anything other than a really good painting or two as worthy of display; in my own case, I only hang photographs because they are my own and they mean something beyond the image: they bring back happy professional moments that stretch far beyond the merits of the images alone. But hanging other peopleís photographs, other than in the office, isnít on. However, other peopleís photographs, as in books, have always fascinated me, and it was lack of funds in the golden days of such publications that kept me pestering the local librarian but not the bookshops. I really envy people like Russ with his vast collection; it would be a wonderful way of passing the long, boring, otherwise tv-bound winter nights. But there you go Ė I didnít buy at the right time, and now that I can I canít.
So no, I wouldnít agree that being a professional photographer of women hinders or impedes oneís ability to enjoy W. Eugene Smith. But it takes a W.E.Smith to turn on the juices, and there are very few such men around these days.