With respects to Doug, I'm not sure what problem this solution would solve. It seems to me that the biggest risk, one that is already pretty well "spread" around, is that artists will continue to ignore economic reality and cling to the old dysfunctional ways of doing things. The fundamental challenges remain: to offer a product to which buyers assign a value at least as large as the asking price; and to figure out how to make an adequate profit selling at that price.
To what aspect of this essential problem would artists' "pulling together [to form a co-op] to market their work" bring any improvement? Perhaps if a larger group could achieve certain economies of scale to help out on the cost side: bulk orders for supplies, maybe? Cheaper paper clips?:) More affordable gallery space?
I don't mean to sound sarcastic--just bewildered. But if the aforementioned artists persist in offering work to the public at a price higher than the buyers are willing to pay, then they'll have the dissatisfaction of failing, whether piecemeal or co-op-eratively.
I find fascinating the interface between economics and the art world, turned on its head like every other industry by the internet. I further find fascinating, and distressing, the responses of some artists to the global information economy's economic realities, as if somehow art, in its nobility, enjoys dispensation from the market forces so many don't understand, even as they are buffeted by them.
Denial and magical thinking predominate. Commerce, regardless of the good or service in question, is regulated by laws universal and immutable wherever free buyers and free sellers trade. "Should" and "deserve" and other like words are defined by the buyer. This is reality, a hardy perennial weed in the fantasy garden.
As I mentioned before, I'm coming at this as a newcomer, an unknown trying to get my work before the public and learn the ropes. Maybe for this reason I'm thinking about it with few preconceived ideas. It didn't take long--my first, modest, gallery show, in fact--for the scales to fall from before my eyes. I made plenty of business-side mistakes, but I was honored to have experienced the best opening and entire-run show sales in the gallery's history. But at 50% commission rates, months to get paid, and real money tied up in inventory collecting dust, I can't afford too many more such Pyrrhic "successes"!
For me, the gallery-sales model just makes no sense except as a marketing exercise, a loss leader through which I build the personal relationships that lead to further customers and sales down the road, via sales conduits that leave me feeling less like the anvil and more like the hammer. I'm content to do the best work I can, to continually expand my capabilities and vision, to build slowly, and to accept the judgment of the marketplace even as I attempt to "persuade" it to "buy" me!
A most interesting and informative thread indeed.
Thanks Michael. Well balanced and thoughtful.
A couple of points:
1) Picture galleries versus picture agencies. Picture agencies have traditionally been an area in which photographers have entrusted their work to sales and marketing professionals and enjoyed a win/win situation as a result (although this has changed recently - royalty-free images, etc.). Crucially, picture agencies have generally (not always) been run by hard-nosed business types who need no convincing of the need for pro-active selling. In the case of picture galleries, on the other hand, I have been repeatedly amazed that I get work accepted by galleries (including some quite prestigious ones) who then do no active promotion whatsoever. Merely operating a shopfront and hoping people will come by and walk in is not enough!
2) The diamond industry. What does this have to do with photography? It's arguably THE classic example of how extremely professional marketing and brand management, together with artificial restriction of supply, has led to a situation where a product is regarded as having high instrinsic worth and exclusivity for which people will pay big bucks (diamonds could in fact be sold for a fraction of current prices and still make a profit). The obvious point of difference between this industry and photography is that there is no conceivable way of restricting the supply of pictures on the market, but there are still some valuable lessons to be learned on how to create high perceived value. Like many other contrbutors to this thread, however, I have grave doubts as to whether any art photographer can generate sufficient market presence to generate sales which are in any way profitable in terms of the time and money invested (this is of course disregarding the possiblity of restricting supply and creating exclusivity through the ultimate career move of dying!).
Best regards to all,
All of these thoughts and philosophies about the best way to market art photography really depend on and are each influenced by one thing, the quality of the work. Whether you sell through galleries , ebay or the internet, how good the work is will affect the sales. Granted there are other factors such as name recognition, but the quality of the work goes a long way to giving name recognition.
Simply put, if you do beautiful work that people would love to see in their homes, offices, hotels, etc. People will buy them, from a gallery, internet or ebay. If the work is that good and your pricing is appropriate to the quality, it will sell.
David points out that it is expensive in both time and resources to produce art work, I can wholeheartedly agree with this. However I have to disagree with the rest of his premise that such expenses are so great that the artist will not profit from the investment. Simple fact is that if you spend time and money and produce lower quality work, it will not sell, and your investment will be a waste. If you produce really high quality work, you may profit well from your investment. Plus that payback can go on for a long time. I will continue to profit from trips I do today, for many years from now. Trips taken 4 years ago, and already paid off by print sales, still have many prints available for sale. I can continue to profit from this for quite some time. And when one has 50 trips behind them, and 200 or 300 saleable images, it is possible to sustain yourself for quite sometime. Now this sounds like a pretty simple business model, and it is, but it is all dependant on one thing, the desire of people to buy your work and that is no small thing.
For those contemplating pursuing art sales as a way to make your living, please take note that unless you are incredibily talented and fortunate, it will be nearly impossible to gain financial indpendance by doing photography part time. This is not a part time profession. The vast majority of those that make a living at this do nothing but photography and invest tremendous amounts of time and money into it, and even then most of them don't do all that well.
If it's of any benefit to those who are considering such a move I will tell you what gave me the encouragement to close my studio and pursue my personal work. Maybe Bill and others who have made that similar decision and have seen it turn into a fruitful career can tell their stories as well. There might be enough of a pattern to those stories that could be useful as a guide for someone contemplating the "move":
I was quite content shooting studio work, after 20 something years, I had a large, well equipped studio and a pretty healthy list of clients. When I turned 40 I had the realization that for the last 20 years I never use a camera unless someone is paying me. This was not why I became a photographer. So at 41 I went out west and shot some landscape. I did a few trips in 1998. The first trip did not yield any useful images, the next two trips yielded "Death Valley Dunes" and " Mist and Hills". In 1999 I got married, bought a house, moved in with my new wife and started the next phase of my life. In all of 1999 I only went out one day to shoot a landscape, I wasn't even intending on shooting for real, i only went out to do a film test, that test was "Winter trees". The following year, 2000, after moving my studio to an even larger space, I thought I was settled into my life. I did decide to make a trip or two that year and shoot some more landscape. So off I went to Death Valley.
The town I lived in had quite a few galleries and co-op galleries in them. By this time I had about 20 or so images that were half decent but I hadn't even printed them for real. My wife thought that it might be a good thing for me to join one of the local co-op galleries, at least I would have an excuse to make real prints of my work. It made sense so I joined.
Spring of 2001 I had my solo show. I had no expectations, and to be honest I was anxious that people would not like my work. I knew too many pro photographers who did the gallery thing and I always thought it was more of an ego trip. If people did not respond well to my work, I would certainly not show it again and it might have also discouraged me from even doing it for myself.
My wife and I planned the show together, which I have to say was one of the most enjoyable times of our marriage. After much effort and anxiety the show went up. It was 22 16x20 pieces framed, selling for $550 each. After hanging them I had a chance to see my work all at once. This was the first time, standing in the middle of them, I started to notice similarities, I guess one would could call that my style. I did notice for the first time a propensity for centered composition. You'd think I'd have noticed that before, but nope. It can be very enlightening when you are surrounded by your work like that.
I wanted to know the honest reaction that people had, and I knew if I introduced myself that they would find something nice to say, whether they liked the work or not. So instead I eavesdropped on people. What I heard was far better than I could have hoped. And people didn't just say nice things, they bought nearly every piece and multiples on many, I made very respectable money for 3 weekends of showing work I loved to do. I couldn't believe it. At this point gears started turning in my head and my wife was already there. Why not pursue this?
The following week, after gaining some confidence from the show, I dropped my portfolio off at 2 NYC galleries and had an appointment to make a live presentation at a third. By the time I showed up at Edward Carter Gallery for my live presentation, I already had 2 offers from the galleries that I had dropped off at. ECG was a beautiful gallery, one of the nicest I have ever been in. After removing 2 Ansel Adams prints from the wall, Edward Carter sat down and told me to hold my work up where the AA prints had been. He sat there poker faced as I held up one print after another. While I'm holding the prints up, I'm facing 2 more AA prints, and there are 3 more AA's behind me. AA, the gold standard of landscape photography and an idol of mine. I'm thinking to myself,"Who am I kidding?" I sat down next to Edward after my "show" expecting to hear the polite rejection, but trying to remember that I had 2 offers in my pocket already.To my surprise he too offered me representation. A week later at ECG, one of my prints was hanging next to an Ansel Adams print. About a year later I had about a dozen galleries representing me. It was all hard to imagine.
That's when I knew that I would pursue this aggressively. However one does not easily walk away from a business they spent 25 years building. After trying to do both well during 2001 and 2002, it became clear that I had to make a choice, it was a very hard choice, I would have to walk away from what was then my life's work. At the end of 2002, I officially closed my studio and devoted all my time and resources to my personal work. However even that devotion to my new work had to wait until almost 2004, as 2003 was completely pre occupied with building a house addition to hold my new studio and darkroom. When 2004 rolled in, I was now able to really devote myself to my new work. At this point I have been a full time landscape photographer for 3 years.
Well that's it. Can others who have made the same choice tell us the story that led them to art photography careers....
i don't know, it seems that ebay has a huge audience of people always looking, be they collectors, other photographers or someone looking for "IT" ...
(ebay) it is a great place to get exposure i suppose, the fees aren't THAT much, and the more exposure a photographer ( or any artist ) gets the better. a friend who owns an art gallery here in rhode island once told me ( maybe 20 years ago ) people slowly become known and slowly sell their work. ebay, cafés, prestige-galleries, online galleries that promise instant success, local co-ops, selling cards at bookstores, marketing to interior designers &C doesn't make people a success overnight. this thread has just reinforced my friend told me --- it takes a lot of time and effort to be successful.
this has been a great thread!
No matter how talented, you're never going to just decide to do this, take pretty or even beautiful pictures and then make it simply because you want to or feel you are more deserving than the next person. The artist's path is littered with hopefuls like these that never got anywhere no matter how good or deserving. It is the painful reality of this life. Back to what I said earlier. It takes an element of luck... and not the kind you create for yourself. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.
It's easy being a legend in one's own mind. Reality is a completely different thing.
This has been an interesting thread and I would like to add a few observations.
I know of two photographers who sell prints on the web and seem to make money doing so. Dave Beckerman in NYC http://www.davebeckerman.com/
and Mike Johnson http://theonlinephotographer.blogspot.com/ .
Beckerman sells B&W inkjets from 35mm film and Johnson inkjets from digital. Johnson puts up some type of print each week for either $55 or $95 and if my memory is correct has sold about 10 of the $95 prints each week since he started a few weeks ago.
Beckerman's images are mostly street shots and architecture of NYC, very good but nothing spectacular. Johnson's are usually interesting, but nothing exceptional.
They sell prints becuase they have cultivated a presence through their web sites and specifically their blogs that generate interest. Johnson in some ways also has an advantatge similar to Brooks Jensen in that he is well known to most folks who have been in photography for a long time as an editior of various photo mags and currently writing for Black and White Photography. So he has an audience that due to sheer numbers will generate some kind of print sales. Interstingly enough, I don't believe Johnson, Beckerman or Jensen have any kind of gallery representation. In Johnsons's case, his website does not promote his photography but is more like an online Pop Photography magazine. Selling the prints seemed to pop up as a nice alternative revenue stream.
As with many things, the examples above point out that sometimes salesmanship or the online personae can be just as important as the images themselves.
Like someone pointed out above, it takes years to be successful. Johnson and and Jensen have been involved in writing about photography for close to 30 years each and Beckerman while having a website/blog since only 1999 has been photographing for 30+ years.
Brian... you asked before if I had some problem with you? To be completely honest... Yes. It is the fact that you think you can treat this like some factory job, put in the time and mass a body of work in a few years that will sustain you. What about growth? What about developing further? That is what an artist does. Did Van Gogh sit down and paint 30 Starry Nights, Crows Over a Wheatfield, etc. and then sit back and live off his riches? Give me a break.
I'm far from famous or wealthy at this but I do feel that after 3-4 years I'm on my way to a reasonable career at this, If you chose to read my story about making my move, and it would be great if you told us yours, would you say that I was lucky or that I made very logical choices based on the results of succeeding choices. To me it all seems like A led to B, B led to C, etc.
Do you think the photos that you have taken are the result of luck as well? I can't imagine that you would think that given the years of experience you have and the efforts you've made.