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Pricing Fine Art Photography for Gallery etc.

Curtis Miller

New member
Ken,

Herein lies the problem with judgments of artistic merit. I'm not one to argue that artistic judgment is entirely subjective. I think people who know something about art will likely generally agree on what is good and what not. But, with that said, it's a delicate proposition nonetheless. I don't take any offense at your remarks. In fact, I appreciate the compliment that it is nicely crafted and beautiful.

It's certainly true that my photography is not offensive or challenging. Whether it's purely scenic and appealing only to a simple rural aesthetic is another matter. In truth, I have little interest in purely scenic photography. You'll find no pretty sunsets or waterfalls among my images. I think they all speak to an existential mood that is very specific to me, but which I think others will respond to. There is certainly a risk that the subject matter will distract or misdirect some from the meaning of the images but that's a risk I have to take along with my feeling for what these scenes convey to me.

As I said earlier, my photography is not about clever ideas or high concept. You could easily say the same about many of the classic photographs in history. I don't think that means it's without merit. Working this kind of ground is difficult, but it's the ground I want to work. I don't doubt that at the highest echelons of the fine art world, this work would not get any attention. But I'm not necessarily aiming there. I'm aiming higher than where I am now but have no interest the kind of audience I suspect you are thinking of.

I'll have to think about the music. Your point is well taken as to the audience's expectations.

I approach the photography as an art, but the business as a business. I have to have a business model, pay attention to profitability, work to accomplish my financial goals. But the photography is done purely for art's sake. I wouldn't dream of shooting something just because I thought I could sell it.

Thanks for the suggestion about FotoFest Paris. Paris is a beautiful city with lots of beautiful art. I spent a few weeks there a couple of years ago. As a painter, it was really inspiring. All the wonderful work at the Musee d'Orsay, the Monet water lilies at L'Orangerie, the Louvre of course and the Pompidou. I got to stand in the field where Van Gogh shot himself and see his and Theo's graves. A bit romantic perhaps, but still pretty cool.

I'm a fairly traditional, romatic, expressionist kind of artist. Not too traditional mind you. My last art heroes were the Abstract Expressionists. Pop art was fine, but too cool for me. But Conceptual art is complete drivel as far as I'm concerned. Stuffing your hand in your mouth repeatedly and videotaping yourself may make an intellectual statement about art, but it's not very interesting to me and I certainly wouldn't want to own the video. I am an artist for what are now pretty traditional values. Give me Motherwell, Rothko, Morris Louis, Ad Reinhardt, even Monet and Van Gogh.

I know I have to do something to distinguish my own particular version of what I do. I know that I'm not breaking any new ground. In time, I expect to deepen and clarify my vision and make it more distinctively mine. For now, I'm learning to make beautiful images, learning to compose, to control value and contrast and color. There may need to be something more distinctive that separates my photographs from the gardens, for example, from others. But the landscape photographs mostly say just what I want them to say.
 

Asher Kelman

OPF Owner/Editor-in-Chief
Get some more internationalized reviews. Why not take time this fall to attend the Lens Culture's FotoFest Paris portfolio reviews in November? Stay over and visit Paris Photo and also visit the Kertesz retrospective that will be at the Jeu de Paume at that time. This will help to give you a better perspective on the wider art market, of which photography is a part.

Approaching the venture as a pure business proposition seems logical but it's not effective. The market is not logical; nobody needs art...except artists.

Good luck. You're on your own! <g>
Ken,

Who do we know is even qualified to even submit to FotoFest Paris Portfolio Reviews? One is supposed to be experienced and ready to go worldwide, LOL!

Asher
 

Curtis Miller

New member
Good point, Asher! I wasn't thinking international just yet! I'm actually enjoying this little discussion. It's more interesting talking about what kind of work you are doing or want to be doing than discussing finances and marketing.

Curt
 

Ken Tanaka

pro member
Yes, there are exceptions. Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, Lewis Hines,... Vintage prints of historically significant photography is garnering high prices due largely to its scarcity and linneage.

But if you want to follow the contemporary international photography world you need to keep tabs on publications / sites / organizations such as Aperture, Lens Culture, ARTNews, Conscientious, et.al.. That world has zero relationship to the hobby photo world.
 

Ken Tanaka

pro member
Ken,

Who do we know is even qualified to even submit to FotoFest Paris Portfolio Reviews? One is supposed to be experienced and ready to go worldwide, LOL!

Asher
The organization is not pre-qualifying portfolio review applicants. (Apparently they're more interested in getting the entry fees. <g>) But I think they're trying to avoid getting motley collections of flower close-ups, baby pics, and sunsets to review. Given what the schools are pushing these days they're likely to get a lot of stuff like Carrie Schneider and Reneke Dijkstra wanna-bes. (Photo art is very definitely becoming feminized, like so many other aspects of urban life.)

Lots of young folks, many who have been "assisting" for other photographers, yet another form of strong pedigree. (If just half the people who claimed they assisted Ansel Adams were genuinely truthful he would have needed a studio the size of McCormick Place.)
 

Ken Tanaka

pro member
Curtis;
Seeing Alain's new work and his earlier remarks in this thread suggests to me that you should probably copy a few of his professional dance steps. His photography has a great deal in common with yours and he seems to have navigated a strategy for earning a living from the beauty end of the market.
 

Ken Tanaka

pro member
Yes, there are exceptions. Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, Lewis Hines,... Vintage prints of historically significant photography is garnering high prices due largely to its scarcity and linneage.

How timely: Ansel Adams print breaks record at Polaroid auction.

Now this was not exactly a normal auction, since all pieces were from the Polaroid collection which is quite unique. But I think it still serves as an exhibit to the topic.

----
Addendum: Having now read the article more closely I should point out that the $722,500 paid for that one Adams print is only a record for Adams and not even close to the record for a photographic print. A point not closely related to our topic but still a point worth noting.
 

Curtis Miller

New member
Curtis;
Seeing Alain's new work and his earlier remarks in this thread suggests to me that you should probably copy a few of his professional dance steps. His photography has a great deal in common with yours and he seems to have navigated a strategy for earning a living from the beauty end of the market.
Ken,

I don't mean to sound prickly or contrary here. It's so hard to hear a person's tone when the communication is written. Alain's work is, in fact, beautiful and I've read his books and enjoyed and profited from them. But I don't see myself as being in the same family of work at all. My photographs are not really especially about beauty. I think they're more about starkness, loneliness perhaps, and mood. Think of the paddock or tree lot pictures or the apple trees, etc.

Even the flowers and garden pictures have been darkened, had their color removed, and focus on fine detail, delicate tonal range, and composition. They are all tied together by their mood, which I guess is one of quietness, with perhaps a bit of melancholy. This work, by the way, is very new and really hasn't taken full form yet.

Alain's business strategy and web site are very impressive. It's clearly a very well conceived and executed approach. It's just not something I would want to do myself. I guess I prefer working with people directly, even if it's only gallery staff and the occasional opening. There are probably a lot of elements to why I wouldn't want to do as he has done (even if I could!) As I said in my first post here, it's something about the vision you have for yourself.

This discussion, which I guess has gotten a long way from the topic, has been thought provoking. You've made me consider more carefully exactly what it is that I'm trying to do and what that says about the market I pursue. I still haven't gotten any input about pricing, but I think that for now I'm just going to leave it open. I'll contact the galleries and see if there's interest. If so, then we can talk prices. By then I should have a clearer idea of what I want to do and what impact it will have on my other outlets.
 

Ken Tanaka

pro member
...
This discussion, which I guess has gotten a long way from the topic, has been thought provoking
...
Actually, no, I don't think we've strayed at all.

In your case I think you're in the process of discovering the boundaries of your possibilities. As for anyone, those boundaries are delineated partly by your skills and aesthetics. But they're also delineated by the extent, and types, of energies you're willing to devote towards promoting your work. A young person, perhaps just finishing his/her BFA or MFA, will often be willing to make any sacrifice or devote any amount of energy toward getting noticed in the art world. And they do. Here in downtown Chicago we have several good art schools, with the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) being the pinnacle. I'm tellin' ya that these kids can be like ravenous dogs in pursuing even the most trivial showings and representations. Change styles? Sure, no problem. Be ready to hang work next Monday? I'm there! After all, what do they have to lose?

Meanwhile, back at the Boomer Ranch (where I am also a dude) we're much less flexible, much less hungry. That's one of the reasons why older people are at such a tremendous disadvantage when trying to ignite a new career in the art world. They're often far too comfortable and under-committed to be chasing passing cars. They're enthusiastic about themselves and their work, but it's not really on the front burner of their life-stove.

You mentioned that you've had a successful business for 30 years. Can you remember the beginning? What would you have done to get a "big" prominent project? Put your personal life on hold? Travel endless hours for mere minutes of "important" face time? Put your financial health on the line? Can you remember that?

Are you willing to do that again?

Good luck with your efforts.
 

Mike Shimwell

New member
Actually, no, I don't think we've strayed at all.

In your case I think you're in the process of discovering the boundaries of your possibilities. As for anyone, those boundaries are delineated partly by your skills and aesthetics. But they're also delineated by the extent, and types, of energies you're willing to devote towards promoting your work. A young person, perhaps just finishing his/her BFA or MFA, will often be willing to make any sacrifice or devote any amount of energy toward getting noticed in the art world. And they do. Here in downtown Chicago we have several good art schools, with the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) being the pinnacle. I'm tellin' ya that these kids can be like ravenous dogs in pursuing even the most trivial showings and representations. Change styles? Sure, no problem. Be ready to hang work next Monday? I'm there! After all, what do they have to lose?

Meanwhile, back at the Boomer Ranch (where I am also a dude) we're much less flexible, much less hungry. That's one of the reasons why older people are at such a tremendous disadvantage when trying to ignite a new career in the art world. They're often far too comfortable and under-committed to be chasing passing cars. They're enthusiastic about themselves and their work, but it's not really on the front burner of their life-stove.

You mentioned that you've had a successful business for 30 years. Can you remember the beginning? What would you have done to get a "big" prominent project? Put your personal life on hold? Travel endless hours for mere minutes of "important" face time? Put your financial health on the line? Can you remember that?

Are you willing to do that again?

Good luck with your efforts.

Ken, you have hit the nail on the head I suspect. Funny how close different ways of earning a crust are in reality. My brother - and actor - and I have often commented that I spend my time talking to people for business and he now runs a business for his art.

I've enjoyed reading this, though I have nothing of value to offer I'm afraid:)

Mike
 

Asher Kelman

OPF Owner/Editor-in-Chief
Curtis;
Seeing Alain's new work and his earlier remarks in this thread suggests to me that you should probably copy a few of his professional dance steps. His photography has a great deal in common with yours and he seems to have navigated a strategy for earning a living from the beauty end of the market.
Curtis,

For sure Ken can sweep things together succinctly! It's impressive, almost dismissive and so sometimes misunderstood! Even reading all Alain's books will not likely get you the beautiful home, studio, Porche and following. However, it will provide insight on his way of doing things and his own success. Unless you have a 240,000 HP engine to drive the plan to it's limits, you will not get much further than the local café or beach art fair. You will however have received a glimpse on how to see, improve and print images well.

My photographs are not really especially about beauty. I think they're more about starkness, loneliness perhaps, and mood. Think of the paddock or tree lot pictures or the apple trees, etc.

Even the flowers and garden pictures have been darkened, had their color removed, and focus on fine detail, delicate tonal range, and composition. They are all tied together by their mood, which I guess is one of quietness, with perhaps a bit of melancholy. This work, by the way, is very new and really hasn't taken full form yet.
So this, Curtis, is the set of characteristics which will set your price in galleries, at this time. The nature of your work will always appeal only to a subset of gallery owners. So first you need to find a gallery to represent you. They already have specific experience with their own unique marketplace of casuals, clients, decorators and collectors. The prices will come from them. That's how you settle on prices.

I have taken work of others to many galleries and had them spend a lot of valuable time on a collection only to hear that they "can't give up wall space for an unknown artist unless the art literally demands a top ranking and knocks everyone off their feet!" They're glad to see the work but most often pass. So the key to setting price is in fact what has led the discussion: getting represented by someone who can sell for you!

Asher
 

Curtis Miller

New member
Actually, no, I don't think we've strayed at all.

In your case I think you're in the process of discovering the boundaries of your possibilities. As for anyone, those boundaries are delineated partly by your skills and aesthetics. But they're also delineated by the extent, and types, of energies you're willing to devote towards promoting your work. A young person, perhaps just finishing his/her BFA or MFA, will often be willing to make any sacrifice or devote any amount of energy toward getting noticed in the art world. And they do. Here in downtown Chicago we have several good art schools, with the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) being the pinnacle. I'm tellin' ya that these kids can be like ravenous dogs in pursuing even the most trivial showings and representations. Change styles? Sure, no problem. Be ready to hang work next Monday? I'm there! After all, what do they have to lose?

Meanwhile, back at the Boomer Ranch (where I am also a dude) we're much less flexible, much less hungry. That's one of the reasons why older people are at such a tremendous disadvantage when trying to ignite a new career in the art world. They're often far too comfortable and under-committed to be chasing passing cars. They're enthusiastic about themselves and their work, but it's not really on the front burner of their life-stove.

You mentioned that you've had a successful business for 30 years. Can you remember the beginning? What would you have done to get a "big" prominent project? Put your personal life on hold? Travel endless hours for mere minutes of "important" face time? Put your financial health on the line? Can you remember that?

Are you willing to do that again?

Good luck with your efforts.
Excellent points. I've done all the things you describe. At least the part about sacrificing everything in my life in order to secure and hold on to a big client. I wouldn't do it again. I am working harder at this than I have at anything in a long time and I'm far more effective than I ever have been, but I'm no 20 something.

In truth, when I was in my 20's and even 30's I was essentially scared of my own shadow. I was in no way prepared to pursue an art career. That's why I'm only just doing it now. But now at least I'm prepared psychologically and artistically. I wouldn't return to where I was in my 20's for anything, but the kids you describe are apparently much more aggressive than I ever was. Still, I feel far more able now than I ever have been. I don't feel at a disadvantage, but maybe I'm kidding myself.

I'm probably not trying to do what they are either. I'm looking for people to sell my work. I'm not expecting or even wanting to light the world on fire. I no longer view art galleries as places where one exhibits art for the sake of art. I see them as places that sell what they think their clients will buy. Maybe as you move up the ladder, those two things get closer together. I don't know, but in the galleries that I'm showing in, if they don't think they can sell it, they don't hang it.

I guess that's sort of okay with me. I want them to sell enough that I can continue to make beautiful, meaningful images. Maybe they'll let me slip in one or two images that mean something to me even if they don't think they will sell. In truth, I don't even think they really know what will sell.
 

Curtis Miller

New member
Curtis,

For sure Ken can sweep things together succinctly! It's impressive, almost dismissive and so sometimes misunderstood! Even reading all Alain's books will not likely get you the beautiful home, studio, Porche and following. However, it will provide insight on his way of doing things and his own success. Unless you have a 240,000 HP engine to drive the plan to it's limits, you will not get much further than the local café or beach art fair. You will however have received a glimpse on how to see, improve and print images well.



So this, Curtis, is the set of characteristics which will set your price in galleries, at this time. The nature of your work will always appeal only to a subset of gallery owners. So first you need to find a gallery to represent you. They already have specific experience with their own unique marketplace of casuals, clients, decorators and collectors. The prices will come from them. That's how you settle on prices.

I have taken work of others to many galleries and had them spend a lot of valuable time on a collection only to hear that they "can't give up wall space for an unknown artist unless the art literally demands a top ranking and knocks everyone off their feet!" They're glad to see the work but most often pass. So the key to setting price is in fact what has led the discussion: getting represented by someone who can sell for you!

Asher
I'm not looking for a new home or a Porsche. Okay, well maybe I'd like the Porsche, but I can live without it. I do have several decent galleries and I have gone about the pricing process more or less as you describe. The best of the galleries knows pretty well what price they are confident they can sell the work at and I've let them be my guide.

And that's pretty much what I've decided to do as I approach bigger and more sophisticated markets. I'm not going to include a price list. If they're interested, then we can talk prices at that point.

I don't really expect my work to knock anyone's socks off. I don't think it's that kind of stuff. In fact, I'm getting a little self-conscious here about talking about "my work." I've only really been pursuing photography seriously for a year or so. I have one body of work that I feel good about. But...it's been well received. Several places that I've been say what I have shown them is far better than anything they are presently handling and would love to show it. In some cases, that's because they're relatively small artsy communities, but in other cases, they're pretty substantial galleries in good sized cities. They're probably among the two or three best galleries in the state.

Anyway, enough justifying. I know that for sure only a percentage of galleries will be interested. And some of those won't be interested now, they'll want to see what you are doing after a few years. But I'm going to at least knock on the doors and find out where my upper threshold is!

And then I'll keep working and knock again next year!
 

Asher Kelman

OPF Owner/Editor-in-Chief
I'm not looking for a new home or a Porsche. Okay, well maybe I'd like the Porsche, but I can live without it. I do have several decent galleries and I have gone about the pricing process more or less as you describe. The best of the galleries knows pretty well what price they are confident they can sell the work at and I've let them be my guide.
Curtis,

Anyone in Europe of the USA can buy a Porche if one works hard and saves. Just drive cab day and night and live on toast and marmite, LOL! The gallery being interested in you is far, far better and achievement.


I know that for sure only a percentage of galleries will be interested. And some of those won't be interested now, they'll want to see what you are doing after a few years. But I'm going to at least knock on the doors and find out where my upper threshold is!

And then I'll keep working and knock again next year!
That's the spirit!

Asher

Meanwhile, try to get pictures in any juried competition you feel is worthwhile for the price!!
 

Curtis Miller

New member
Thanks, Asher.

Trying to keep my chin up and keep moving ahead. After some initial successes, I was pretty pleased. I expect more successes along the line but now I'm starting to get this creaping feeling that just getting into galleries may not mean much financial success.

When I get a new gallery, I get to supply them with a big inventory of expensive work, some or even all of it framed. Then I wait for sales. I've had some early sales and each individual sale is profitable but it takes several sales just to pay for the printing and matting and framing. I won't really know if it's profitable for some time and I'm nervous about continuing to invest hundreds of dollars in each new gallery as I go along. I'm going through $300 rolls of paper like they are candies.

I keep trying to remember that my last business venture turned out to be an unexpected success and that can happen again. One can't always foresee what the future might hold. I was trying to make a business of doing computer animations for lawyers for courtroom use. I worked for three years trying to reach the market. Then one day I was putting on a presentation to a little group of lawyers and one of them came up to me and talked for quite a while. He was really interested. He gave me his card. I even ran into him again at another presentation a couple of weeks later.

I knew he was interested, so I did something I had never done before; I offered to do a small animation for him just to show him what I could do. He said he just might have someone who would be interested in that. A couple of weeks later he picked me up and drove me to Chrysler headquarters and introduced me to the entire product liability staff. I did a week or two of work for them and the head of their litigation department said it was the best work he'd ever seen and that they would pay me for any further work I did for them.

Long story short, I wound up doing a couple of million dollars worth of animation work for them and ultimately for General Motors (remember, I'm from Michigan) over the next ten years. I've never worked so hard or under so much pressure in my life, but it paid for my retirement (if I don't blow it all on a shot at a photography career!) and it even bought me a couple of very nice Corvettes.

I even looked at a used Porsche, but it seemed dated and dirty compared to a new Z06. The Z06 is now gone. Too hard for my wife to drive and after I got a bunch of speeding tickets, I couldn't have any fun with it anymore! I was driving around with the speed control on all the time just so I wouldn't get stopped!
 

Curtis Miller

New member
Got some great news today. I called one of my galleries to make an appointment to show them some new work and they told me they just sold a nice corporate project to be filled with my photographs. I don't know how big a project it is. Probably not all that big, but it's still very encouraging. I can use it right now.
 

Ken Tanaka

pro member
Got some great news today. I called one of my galleries to make an appointment to show them some new work and they told me they just sold a nice corporate project to be filled with my photographs. I don't know how big a project it is. Probably not all that big, but it's still very encouraging. I can use it right now.
Congratulations, Curtis.

When I remarked earlier that there are many, admittedly less illustrious, paths to "success" in "art" photography this was certainly one that I had in mind. Your work is well suited to some corporate, hospitality, and health care settings where beautiful placidity is more desirable than, say, postmodern statements.

Good for you!
 

Curtis Miller

New member
Congratulations, Curtis.

When I remarked earlier that there are many, admittedly less illustrious, paths to "success" in "art" photography this was certainly one that I had in mind. Your work is well suited to some corporate, hospitality, and health care settings where beautiful placidity is more desirable than, say, postmodern statements.

Good for you!
Yes, I'm perfectly happy with my work going into settings like this. I'm not aiming for MOMA. I just want people to see and enjoy the photographs (and buy them, of course!)

The question of art versus commerce does raise one issue though. My personal vision is a bit dark. I like the winter and a very stark aesthetic. Galleries, at least at the level I'm at now, are focused on what they believe they can sell. That means sunnier, happier themes and times of year. It is an issue when you want to follow your vision and they're having to sell things that people will put in their living rooms. I don't know if this really gets any better at the higher levels. Maybe it does. We'll see. I would like to have a show that suits my aesthetic, not the needs of the interior design market.
 

Ken Tanaka

pro member
...
The question of art versus commerce does raise one issue though. My personal vision is a bit dark. I like the winter and a very stark aesthetic. Galleries, at least at the level I'm at now, are focused on what they believe they can sell. That means sunnier, happier themes and times of year. It is an issue when you want to follow your vision and they're having to sell things that people will put in their living rooms. I don't know if this really gets any better at the higher levels. Maybe it does. We'll see. I would like to have a show that suits my aesthetic, not the needs of the interior design market.
You're wandering right back to where you started this discourse.
 

Vincent Valle

New member
Better Late than Never!

WOW! I cannot believe how much amazing information has been shared here since I posted my original question almost 5 years ago. I really admire all the input and honesty. I have a lot more reading to do!

I've made some progress over the past 5 years... and due to certain life events, I've begun to put myself out there. Thanks to all the feedback and support, I've been selling my work, entering Juried events in Naples and have just put my work in a shop near me. I've begun to reach out to galleries as I start developing some artistic series. I even have some work in a restaurant here. Bottom line is that I have started enjoying it instead of worrying about what might or might not happen.

I updated my website recently and continue to tweek it. I'd be honored if you all would take a look.

With regard to my topic on pricing...once I moved to Naples, I discovered some great art shows down here. I took my little note pad and went to each of the shows and took note of the type of work, framing method, size, etc. I then priced my work accordingly.

Vince
 
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