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....
Last edited by Early Riser; 12-28-2006 at 08:43 AM. Click to view previous post history.