We spoke with New York City-based photographer Dana Stirling about publishing a book of rejection letters.
What inspired you to document your rejections and make this book?
I made this book in the beginning out of frustration. I wanted to make something that I could look at and not only be inspired by it, but will make me happy. This book was not made out of anger towards those who rejected me, but more from a place of self-doubt and trying to reclaim my artistic passion. I had a period of several rejections in a short time span. I was worried about my work, and starting to think it might not have a right fit out there. Once I actually made the book and showed it to people, I saw that they could relate to it in many ways. People started to tell me about their rejection letters and the different styles and comments they received about their own work. I realized that people were happy to finally be able to talk about their rejections without judgment. It made people feel comfortable to talk about their own personal rejection. Now, my goal is to make people happy with this book. To see rejection in a more humorist way, not so seriously. I hope that this book can inspire others, as it did me.
Over what time span did you received these rejections?
I’ve been submitting my work for the past 2-3 years to over three hundred places. The latest letter I used in my book is from 10/29/2013. There might be earlier ones, but places that never replied (which are rejections in my eyes) could not have being part of the book as they are not written. As I continued to make this book into an edition of 150, I decided to make it in other colors: Purple, Red, Orange, Green and Grey. I liked the fact that each book holds a different point of view, a different feeling and emotions that is associated with its color.
Why did you decide to print it as a swatch book?
I think that a “traditional” book would have given it a narrative. All of the rejection letters are the same. Nothing is more important then the other; Therefore it made no sense to create it in a ordinary book format. This way, the fan allows you to look at them in no real order, and also you see them all at once. I like the idea that the book is connected in one place – it keeps it all from falling apart. The rejection letters always seem to come out of a template, like color swatches. They are templates and they are all generic even though they pretend to be unique.
What does this series mean to you? What do you hope it will mean to others?
I think this book means a point in my life that I am able to understand rejections and the art world (as much as this is even possible). I used to think that rejection was an indication about you as an artist, about the quality of your work. I think this book allowed me to re-think this idea of what it means to actually be an artist and to allow myself to fail. These rejections are a small part in this large path of shaping yourself as a person and artist. If we don’t learn to embrace these rejections, these “failures” we won’t be able to see our success and push forward towards it. I hope this book helps people. Allow them to look at my letters, and see themselves. It should inspire, and also make you smile and think about your own rejections with a sense of humor instead of sadness and despair.
What has the been the biggest lesson you’ve learned from rejection?
I think the biggest lesson is that you should always try again. I was rejected from several places over the years, yet now some have shared my book on their website/social media/blog and more. Your work might not fit at this moment, but it might in a few months or years. Sometimes it depends on the person that looks at your email and work, in that specific time and moment. You should always try again, never give up, try and show your work to as many people as possible.
What kind of response have you received to this series?
The reaction I got online from people was mostly really amazing. People have been contacting me to actually purchase it (something I wasn’t expecting) and in addition to say that the book inspired them to carry on, to submit to more places and felt that they are not alone in this situation. Some bad comments I saw were mainly criticizing my young age. Many people felt that I was too young for this kind of project and that I should get more experience, and more rejections before I could make this book. I was sad to see these reactions. I would think that people, with experience, that have being rejected, would see it differently. I felt as if they looked at me as someone who is wining about my situation, and that there are many people out there that were rejected. I think these people missed the main point of my book. This is not a book about quantity. This book was made to share my story, my personal emails in the hope that other people could relate and see that we ALL get rejected. We ALL get these email, and we are all talented and work hard to show our work. We are in the same boat.
I think rejection is for everyone.
No one can own rejections. I’ve been told that– you are always
too young until you get too old.
And I think that’s something very true in the art world. People I’ve met in person, and `friends and family are very supportive. Almost each of them started to share the long list of rejections they have received. I felt that people finally started to talk about these things out loud, with their peers, and feel safe about it – no judgment.