American Photo
My Most Memorable Rejection
Eight well‑known photographers tell us about the ones that hurt the most, and what they learned from the pain.
November 2005
By Monica Cipnic
Photograph by Mary Ellen Mark

A shot from Mary Ellen Mark’s Falkland Road

Most photographers have stories about rejections that have stung them for one reason or another. Some about editors who turned them away with what seemed unnecessary meanness. Others tell about the hundreds of times they heard editors say they lacked the editorial "real estate” they needed for photo stories. Still others have heard that the work was "too political" or "too strong for the readership.” They've heard about the need for "finding the right audience” and have been advised to "come see us again when you developed your idea more thoroughly." The only salve for the wound is the knowledge that rejection is an experience that all photographers have faced at one time or another. Here, some well‑known names tell us about their most memorable rejections, and what they learned from them.

In November, Steidl is reissuing Mary Ellen Mark's book Falkland Road, her intense, intimate documentary project about prostitutes in Bombay, India. Those images, which helped launch career, were the subject of Marl’s most memorable rejection. Mark procured an assignment from an American magazine shoot the prostitutes of Bombay throughout 1979 and 1980 but the resulting images proved “too strong" for the magazine; eventually, a European publication picked up the story, leading to the publication of her book.

Today, Mark says, it would be impossible to find a magazine on either side of the Atlantic to assign a story like Falkland Road. Nonetheless, she advises photographers not to give up trying to get important documentary work seen. "Even though times are harder now, follow your heart and our dreams and don't be discouraged," she says. "I have always known that you have to fight or what you believe in." When you do get rejections of your photographic work, she says, “try and move on and look for other avenues to publish the work. And always make sure you own the rights to your pictures."