I love the nonsensical notion that, by pricing photographic work at a level the market will bear, sellers are somehow hurting higher-priced sellers, and should therefore desist.

Someone here complained that most artists undervalue their work; the evidence, however--gallery walls full of unsold photographic art--is that most over-price it. The only judgment of value that matters is that made by the buyer. This lack of economic understanding, whether it stems from ignorance or from ideology, is the major reason many photographic artists fail at the business of art. I speak as a person who sells photographic services and art as a sideline business, so I don't exempt myself from what I write.

That photography remains a sideline business for me reflects my understanding of its economics, as they apply to me. Based on what I can earn either practicing anesthesiology or creating photography, the marketplace obviously values my years of training and experience in the former capacity quite a bit more than in the latter, even though photography is much more enjoyable and fulfilling. Whinge all I want about how things "should" be different, they aren't. Most photographers and artists,frankly, are nowhere near as "good" (ie, sellable) as they think. Rather than accept this, they find all manner of excuses with which to explain it away. Reality bites.

Reality: photographic art is a luxury purchase for the majority of fine-art buyers (not talking about commercial photography here, or about wealthy art collectors), which competes for their discretionary income with other forms of art and entertainment. Ultimately the buyer must evaluate the work and place a value on it, expressed as the amount s/he'd spend to own it, in competition with everything else on which s/he could spend those dollars. This valuation encompasses considerations of the photographer's reputation and notoriety; the technical quality and aesthetic appeal of the work as judged by the buyer; as well as available alternatives--a movie ticket, a kitchen makeover, a new shirt. This is why a signed original Ansel Adams print of just about anything is going to fetch a higher price than a signed original Mike Sebastian of the same subject. Ansel is a little better known, and by far a better technician and aesthete. This stuff is so basic and obvious you'd think everyone would get it--but denial is a powerful human impulse.

Obviously, there are levels of price sensitivity among buyers; some will pay whatever is asked for a work, for a complex and individualized mix of reasons. Most simply will not pay the prices demanded for photography by little- or unknown photographers and galleries. Another hard and unwelcome reality that stubbornly persists despite being dressed up in various disguises.

Similarly, the photographer should be able to realistically appraise the potential value of his/her work to the buying public, based on the same factors as above, and make some hard choices about whether s/he can expect to make a living selling his/her work. Here is where most photographers seeking to sell their work fail. That they have failed is self-evident, since no one buys the work. This failure does not mean the work is "no good"; that's not the issue. The issue is one of value in the marketplace in which we all must ply our work. These sellers may console themselves with the attitude that the buyers are philistines; that they've been undercut by competitors; that they just can't attract the attention that will bring sales, etc. The simple reality is that potential buyers do not share the photographer's assessment of the work's value, and it remains unsold. This is fact, and must be accepted--somehow blaming the customer, the competition, or other unseen forces will not change it.

Like it or not, photography is different from other artistic media; the public looks at a photograph and, at some level, thinks "I could do that", an attitude they'd not assume about sculpture or painting. We all know it's not objectively true; but perception is reality, and the buyer's perception trumps the photographer's objective truth in the marketplace. Photography is more famiiar and accessible than just about any other form of art, and from the point of view of a seller, is a bit of a victim of its own success. Familiarity has bred contempt.

You may disagree with the market's verdict on your work, but you cannot escape its judgment if you wish to sell the work. It is simply absurd to continue to offer work priced above the level most people are willing to pay, and then to whine about one's lack of sales and about how one is being undercut by competitors. Those competitors are offering something of value at a price people are willing to pay. We may turn our noses up at it, or not share its creator's assessment of its artistic merit, in which case we have the option to go into any gallery and vote with our dollars on something much more expensive.

Brooks Jensen, disparagingly referenced in a previous post, understands the economics of the photographic art marketplace, disagree with him as you will on the particulars of his execution of his business. However, he's sold a lot of prints that someone must have liked well enough to purchase.