Art commerce and portrait photography

Discussion in 'Ethics and Philosophy' started by Ray Bidegain, Dec 18, 2003.

  1. Ray Bidegain

    Ray Bidegain Member

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    I am a portrait photographer, have been for years and really enjoy photographing people, sort of. The thing is, soon as a client comes around and pays a commission fee then things change and it becomes harder to do "my own work". As a rule I do well with this issue but I still feel my strongest portraits are made when there is no commission involved for one reason or another.

    I am wondering how anyone else deals with this issue, do you keep your work separate from the rest, or do you try to make your work while on commission. Am I asking for too much? I am not complaining about the commission work exactly, I am glad to make my living doing portraits. I would rather do as I please and sell my work in galleries but people photography and galleries are a hard combination. Commissions are still the best answer, But I am left with this struggle.

    Anyone else in this boat?

    Ray Bidegain
     
  2. bjorke

    bjorke Member

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    There's an old saw about commercial and fine artists: every commercial artist wishes he could have the freedom to do his own fine art while every fine artist wishes he could buy lunch. I seem to recall hearing that from one of my art school profs :smile:

    KB
    Commercial Artist
     
  3. Cheryl Jacobs

    Cheryl Jacobs Member

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    Actually, I'm loving combining the two so far. I shoot portraits, but in a very 'fine art' sort of way. I choose the location (don't currently use my studio) and the mood of the image is largely determined by the subject (mostly kids). People generally know what to expect from my website and from an initial consultation. During the session, I shoot certain 'safe' portrait images first, and then we play.

    I have a gallery opening in February, and many of the images were made during portrait sessions (making sure, of course, that there's a signed model release in place.) I'm just now starting to explore this as a full-time venture (since my company made that decision for me :wink:) and it will be interesting to see if I still feel the same way this time next year!

    - CJ
     
  4. blansky

    blansky Subscriber

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    Ray,

    I'm also a portrait photographer and have been for a long time. I'm certainly not going to give you any advice but I will make a couple of points.

    1. I usually try to consult with my clients before the sitting to see them and come up with some interesting ideas. However often I get these ideas during the sitting and if the clothes etc aren't what I visualize then I will suggest we do some other pictures on a different day. No sitting fee.

    2. I will make myself assignments and arrange to photograph people I pick, to work on some sort of project. I will approach people I see and explain that I would like to photograph them.

    3. I've never really understood the way people seem to need to get into a gallery. If you have great portraits that you want to sell is there no other ways like the internet, designers, etc who would be interested in buying them. Plus there are the gallery type politics and commissions etc. Not for me.

    I really think that if we do the first two points I made, then we have the best of both worlds. A client base that pays us to do what we like to do and also a ready made batch of models to do the stuff that we dream up. Seem perfect to me.


    Michael McBlane
     
  5. Thomassauerwein

    Thomassauerwein Member

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    If a commercial client comes to you and asks about a project they have in mind, what their looking for and are asking you to do is translate their vision photographically based on your experience and equipment. Because your accepting their confidence you have a responsibility to satisfy their needs even when it compromises your aesthetic viewpoint. Even when shooting with people for your own image inventions not only do you have to adjust to accommodate their comfort and understanding of the concept but also leave room to allow for their subliminal influence to assist your concept. So the truth is we really never have complete control over our personal either. Doing as you please is a great goal but never an absolute when dealing in portraiture. I agree with Michael that unless your part a very select few the gallery road is not the answer. I was talking with Greg Gorman a couple years ago (a portrait person who has shown in galleries all the world) his response, "it's just not profitable" When I showed my portfolio to David Fahey this year his comment to me was "tecknical competency is a given, only 1/2 of 1% exceeds this level of competency to dictate their own terms and be profitable. There are very high priced portrait photographers who go and live with their subjects in an effort to know them well enough to make the connection between themselves and their instuments to the subject. I would say this is compromise, a very effective compromise. They still call these images their own yet it took the efforts of all parties involved. There are some galleries that are willing to accept work hoping for the best( I've been in a lot of them) but I wonder if it's more for the personal gratification of the owner and artist than it is about profitability.
     
  6. Cheryl Jacobs

    Cheryl Jacobs Member

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    Yup. That's what it is for me.
     
  7. Cheryl Jacobs

    Cheryl Jacobs Member

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    To clarify, I don't do studio portraits. I do everything on location, and typically they are unusual ones. I would not enjoy maintaining a studio and shooting there day in and day out. Also, I think there's a difference between a portrait and an image with a person in it. I don't think of most of my gallery work as being at all portrait-like.

    As far as the value of being in a gallery, it's about exposure for me. The more people in my target market who see my work in a positive, fine art setting, the more potential portrait clients I have. (Forgive the poorly constructed sentence there. It's late.)
     
  8. jnanian

    jnanian Advertiser Advertiser

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    i do portraits on the side for the most part. every once in a blue moon i get a commission to shoot a portrait, but i tend to keep my portraits separate from the work i do every day (weekly paper and habs/haer work) ...

    i'm not sure if it is that i don't want the commission to "taint" the portrait -if someone hires me to shoot something, they tell me what they want, and i do it ... i would rather decide how i want things to look - whether it is some sort of occupational portrait, or a character study.

    i used to part own a gallery with a few people, and realize the gallery-thing helps with "exposure" but that is about it. for that matter, hanging work in a café seems like more people see it. unfortunately if a **real gallery** thinks you are a
    "café-artist" - forget-about-it, they'll run fast :sad:
     
  9. Cheryl Jacobs

    Cheryl Jacobs Member

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    I guess I have a very different mentality toward portrait work. When I'm hired for a portrait, it's almost always by someone who has been through my website. And I almost always am given total freedom to shoot how I want. I just don't experience people telling me how they want the portrait to look. I do ask; every now and then someone will have a particular location in mind. More often than not, their response is, "I just want you to do your thing like the images you have on your website."

    That's why I don't mind doing portraits.
     
  10. blansky

    blansky Subscriber

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    As to the question of the client telling you what they want, that is a decision that you make before you agree to photograph them. Personally I, and it seems Cheryl, don't photograph people who tell us what they want. We have a certain "style" to our work and if someone wants something different that I don't feel like doing I would tell them to look elsewhere. It's never happened though.

    Sorry, it happened once that some dear soul wanted me to take a picture of their child with wings on. You know those insipid looking "angel pictures". So I said you mean wings like on a chicken, why would you want your child to look like a chicken. Anyway I sent her to the mall.

    What I have contemplated doing lately is to have a client come in, photograph them, not show proofs, just produce one print in whatever size that I like and that is that. Here it is. $5000.

    Reminiscent of paintings. They didn't show proofs, and say do you like this one, how about this one. They just did the portrait and that was it. Take it or leave it.

    Actually, I kind of do that now. When they come to see the proofs, I usually have a 16x20 or 20x24 that I like, already done. They usually buy it. But it would be fun to not show proofs.


    Just ranting...............




    Michael McBlane
     
  11. Thomassauerwein

    Thomassauerwein Member

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    Most my photographic revenues these days come through Lifestyle shots, People doing stuff happily within the environment my client is representing. I'm told "we need 14 shots at these locations with this geographically dictated type of people" sometimes they send art directers and people associated with the project and require some approval on concepts and props but for the most part I am left on my own especially during the actual execution of the images. I don't mind hearing imput or suggestion from all that are involved. To me it's part of the process. You've got to figure, by the time you shoot you've done 90% percent of the work focused on the objective and someone standing on the outside can see clearly and objectively something that may be a better answer.I can't think of an easier way to get credit for doing a great job! I even expect my assistants to pull me aside when they see something and make sure I hear it. BUT when it's all said and done it's my final word that flies, Yes thats a good idea run with it or no lets stick with the plan. To me these images are cartoons, cartoons are supposed to be funny half of funny is fun which is what it should be for everyone involved including me. My artwork is more srictly controlled by my concept yet I can't think of better way to integrate my subjects into my images than to listen to their interpretation of my concept. This way I know their focused on my image while i'm focusing my camera. It's so much easier!.
     
  12. Ray Bidegain

    Ray Bidegain Member

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    OK, so here is more of what I was thinking. Like the rest of you my clients know what I am up to and don't really come and ask me to take color portraits on canvas, or strap on chicken wings. I only do 50 or so commissions a year so I am not in a high volume studio chasing kids around with my camera. I think Ralph Gibson said it best when he said "I am not interested in selling cat s**t to dogs."

    What I am talking about has to do with me finding my groove, that part of my work that flows with out my thinking about it getting it the way. I sometimes have a hard time finding that groove when I am doing a commission. I find myself doing a sort standard iinterpitationt hat I know will work and will be beautiful but lacks that feeling or voice i see in my best work. I see portrait photography as a collaboration between the sitter and myself so I accept thier roll in the making of it, I don't have issues about the control of the photography part.

    I do sometimes have issues when it comes to choosing which image to print and the size and presentation of it. I have to accept that it is thier money and they should have a say in the final piece. I have though about doing what one of you suggested about making my choice and making it he only one available for 5000.00. Sounds great but I think they want to continue the collaboration and my clients pockets are not that deep. When it comes to pricing I have always tought that all the print sizes should be the same price, but that is a hard one to sell as well.

    The gallery thing is like most of you. I have a need to interact with people as they experience my work. When my work goes home with someone to thier house, thier friends and family see it but I don't get the emotional hit because I am not there. I also find that the portrait shows I see in most galleries are celebrity portraits, which do not interest me. I want to know that my portraits transend the beyond people who know who are in them.

    Ray Bidegain
     
  13. blansky

    blansky Subscriber

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    Hi Ray:

    It sounds like you are like the rest of us that are going through phases and questioning the way we work and do business.

    By the way I lived in Portland for a year and while there I worked at Pro Photo. I talk to Doug once in a while.

    When I had my studio in Canada I got tired of the corner I painted myself into photographically and sold it after 10 years. I was in a rut and needed to re-evaluate. I have done that a few times in the 29 years I've been doing this.

    I have also contemplated, like I mentioned before, the concept of no proofs, but here is your portrait, take it or leave it. I 've also contemplated the idea of a 4x5 framed in a miniature method costing the same as a 20x24. I've contemplated why we price by the square inch. Why not price by the image. The more I like it the more it costs.

    I have already instituted that all pricing includes the frame, usually of my choice. I have been working on a concept of miniatures, contact printed 4x5 one and only for X number of dollars.

    I just think that we all go through these phases when we re-examine our business and sometimes make changes and sometimes we don't. When I am in a rut sometimes I take a workshop and that helps, sometimes I just get drunk. Whatever.

    As for the gallery thing, I just have never been bitten by the bug to need that kind of headache or adoration from gallery prowlers. I like the complements as much as the next person but it doesn't make me want to search it out. I display my pictures in beauty salons, fat farms, dentist offices vet clinics and a couple of other places. That is gallery enough for me.

    Anyway nice to see your participation in the site,



    Michael McBlane
     
  14. Ed Sukach

    Ed Sukach Member

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    You too, huh!!!
     
  15. jnanian

    jnanian Advertiser Advertiser

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    the people i photograph are just plain folks that don't have that kind of money.
     
  16. blansky

    blansky Subscriber

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    Jnanian:

    When I wrote the $5000. per print I was stating an ideal scenario, perhaps being flippant.

    None of us usually have clients like that but it was meant to state that we should perhaps be more in charge of our business and have creative ideas in marketing and not just stick with the ideas that have been used for years. The public doesn't know much about any of this and if they want our work, they will generally be willing to pay what we ask, within reason.

    As for the collaboration with the client on conceptionalizing the image, I think we all do that before the sitting to a certain extent.

    Also as Cheryl stated we generally do fairly standard fare initially and then branch off into more creative ideas. This also gives us, and the person being photographed time to warm up to each other and get used to each others rhythm.

    Michael
     
  17. jnanian

    jnanian Advertiser Advertiser

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    michael:


    we all have our tricks to warm people up
     
  18. Ray Bidegain

    Ray Bidegain Member

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    When I wrote the $5000. per print I was stating an ideal scenario, perhaps being flippant.

    Michael:

    Thats a relief.

    Ray
     
  19. Jeremy

    Jeremy Member

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    That's good to know. I very much enjoy the work done both by yourself and Cheryl and was contemplating contacting one of you concerning some portrait work a couple of years off. I saw the $5000/print comment and I began thinking of ways to make it work with a self-timer or radio slave :smile:

    Just FYI, portrait of me and my fiance.