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Sunday, April 10, 2011

Fine art photography, and places to show.

First off: This is pure opinion, based solely on my own experience. I claim no authority outside of my own experience in these matters, so take them as you may.

OK, so you want to show your photography as artwork somewhere. I haven't shown in many galleries so I couldn't begin to tell you how to go about it beyond just ask around and see what they say. You'll never know what kind of answer you'll get until you do and I believe that one way or another it'll be educational. A few years ago I called one gallery that a friend told me was interested in the works of local photographers and when I respectfully inquired I was treated to a barrage of rudeness from the manager that I just plain didn't expect, or deserve.

A few years later I encountered a gallery manager who was very nice and totally helpful. She explained to me why my (Then current)work wasn't of the subject matter they would be able to sell in their market. More importantly she went out of her way to make sure I understood because I informed her that while I had some commercial success, I was completely unfamiliar with the world of galleries. I left, well informed and wondering if I would ever get my work into mainstream galleries. I still communicate with her now and then on her invitation to do so.

I'd like to clarify something: My primary interest is success as a commercial photographer. Thats where I make my living. Art can be fun but it rarely pays the bills. Selling it can be a real (But still gratifying) challenge. How about some other venues? Coffee shops and restaurants. I've sold a few images here and there at both and one exhibition resulted in a commercial portrait job. Some places expect a percentage of sold work (I've seen the range from 15% to 50%) so you need to price accordingly. Odds are, the venue has a pretty good idea of what sells and for how much so it never hurts to seek advice from the owner/manager. On rare occasions, they don't know or care so you have to decide for yourself. Print sizes? Framed/Unframed? How much for each? What kind of frame will you use? If the frame looks like something cheap you got at Target, your potential customer will see that and it will affect their perception of your work and price. They will never forget, either.

Pricing- Like aspiring commercial photographers, don't sell yourself short. What is your artwork seriously worth? I refuse to sell any of my images for cheap. I put far to much work into them and when I print I use some of the most expensive materials in order to insure not only the highest quality image but archival permanence as well. Images printed just for display I may choose to print on more of a budget but that rare and really depends on the occasion but I never, ever deliver a cheap product to a customer. Like at the commercial level, giving away your efforts or selling them for far less than their actual value only gets your name out there and somebody who will work for cheap, or less.

Some places will allow you to move the lighting around, others will not. I've dealt with both. Try to avoid the places that don't allow proper position of lighting or inadequate lighting. If your work isn't properly shown, it'll never be noticed. Properly lit artwork gets it noticed. If you have a chance to show somewhere and the lighting is inadequate, consider a different venue. I'm not saying don't do it- Just be aware of your options.

How about details? Last year I had a showing at an incredibly unprofessional gallery which is no longer in business (Shocking, I know!) The first problem was in their promotional materials. Luckily I caught it before it went to the printer. They misspelled my last name. The email address I was using for all correspondence was one of my "" addresses so one would think it would be fairly easy to figure out how to spell my last name properly. They also had a few of my business cards, which should have been another clue. Initially I was told that they would take a 30% commission, which I felt was quite fair. By the time I was given a contract it stated 35%, which in itself was not much more but when I inquired about it I was lied to and in such a way that I told them that they should find another artist. If they approached me about in an honest and professional manner instead of just hoping I would sign the contract and not notice I would have agreed to the higher percentage without question.

About three days before the opening, one of my friends informed me that the link on the gallery's website to mine didn't work.- It was a "broken" link, giving the typical "page not found" error. Why? Because they once again misspelled my name. I was very angry and disappointed. My first action was to register the domain in they way they misspelled it, and have it forward to my existing site. I could not believe that after all our email communications, and my having to correct them regarding the promotional materials that they were still incapable of getting it right. Given the time until the opening I chose to not say anything until I arrived at the gallery to set up my images on the walls two days later. I had already signed the contract and was expecting many friends and associates there for the opening. I was obligated to see it through.

The day before the opening the owner asked me how things were going and I explained in a very calm manner how disappointed I was regarding how things were handled regarding the spelling my my last name and the (broken) link to my site. I kept calm and businesslike, never losing my cool throughout my explanation. Then she said something that made me lose a little control. She told me that if I had checked the link when she first put it up, she could have fixed it. I responded in a quiet but irritated tone that she had never informed that there was any link, and that even the most amateur of web designers had the intelligence to make sure links worked before a site went "live". Yes, at that point I was a little insulting and I didn't care. When she tried to put the blame on me that was enough. After that explanation, I informed her that it was time to change the subject because we had an opening to prepare for and her excuses were just wasting our time. A few minutes later I overheard her talking to her "curator" about how misspelling my name was no big deal and it happened all the time. A little bit later her "curator" came in to hand me a stack of papers. These were copies she put together of my bio and artists's statement. Imagine my complete lack of surprise when I noticed that my last name was yet agin misspelled. I thanked her, handing the pile back to her and informed her that they would not be needed because frost and foremost my last name was once again misspelled and I had brought my own cards which I would use instead. One of the things I do is whenever I have a showing is make my own promotional materials to hand out in the form of 4x6 cards with my self portrait and a statement, along with my contact information.
She actually seemed surprised by my statement.

After all that the opening went well, overall and I did end up selling a couple of pieces despite the owner and curator's almost complete lack of professionalism. The last problem came when it was time to pay me, which according to the contract would take place no later than 30 days from the time of sale, both of which took place on the opening night. The owner gave me many excuses until the 45th day, when I emailed her a copy of the contract signed by both her and I with the payment terms highlighted in bright green. I got my check a few days later. A few months after that she was out of business.

I have been recently asked to show an a local venue, but not until the early part of next year (Their schedule is already filled for 2010). I've checked the place out and it is well established, well lit and has an excellent reputation in the market. I'm looking forward to how it will go and have plenty of time to plan what I will show there.

I'll keep you posted, of course.