I've talked about who buys photographs before, all be it as part of other discussions. I think it deserves it's own hearing.
The other day I was flipping through the latest Black and White magazine, thinking that there are a hell of a lot of fine art photographers out there, probably 100 - 1000 for every collector that exists, and these are the serious ones, who produce good work and actually market their wares and have real expectations of sales.
With ratios like that, it's no wonder many of these fine art photographers, myself included, aren't exactly making big bucks from photography, and that even very established photographers have to teach workshops and do other things to provide a half ways decent income from photography.
The implication of this dysproportion of photographers to collectors is that many photographers won't sell even one photograph and very few will sell a modest number of images and absolutely none are going to do well.
That is pretty much the current state of the market.
Photographers put a lot of effort into marketing....to other photographers - boy is that a poor market. Getting cash out of the pocket of the average photographer makes safecracking look easy.
To be fair though, most of us tie up any free cash in travel or equipment, and if you do get a print, you have to turn round and frame it, which can cost a lot more than the print. Even wall space can be an issue.
So, who should we try to sell to? And How?
For every collector of photography, there are probably 100,000 people who like photographs and consider them art and are more than happy to have them on the wall as both art and decoration. There's an even bigger market for photographs of things - of grain elevators and trains and local beauty spots and famous locations.
I suspect that neither group are likely to happily drop $500 for an unframed print. Oh, there will be some, but not many. So price might well be important - but if the customer never knows we exist, price is the least of our problems.
In order for people to even consider our wares, they need to hear about us, even better, to see examples of our work. Truth is that we are going to have to become marketers. I suspect that a lot of you are like me and have neither the inclination or the time to become marketers. it might be best therefore if we didn't have unrealistic expectations of fortune, perhaps concentrating more on fame (if possible).
Should we decide that we really want or need to produce an income from our fine art photography, then we are going to have to become (at least to some degree) hard nosed businessmen.
It's no coincidence that one of the higher earning fine art photographers is Alain Briot - he puts more effort into marketing than just about anyone else - and it pays.
Even New York Fashion photographers spend a lot more time selling their ideas than they do making photographs. Read "On Being A Photographer" by Hurn and Jay (available from Lenswork).
Is it possible to find a middle ground? I think so. I think that a really good photographer can sell hundreds of prints, if at reasonable prices and if he spends several hours a week marketing them. It doesn't require giving up your day job, but it will take shoe leather, creativity, and just plain sweat equity. It means creating (and paying for) brochures. It means visiting dozens of restaurants and movie theatres, coffee shops and anywhere else you can think of that might just possibly hang your work. It means paying for framing and matting (so you do it yourself to keep costs down). It means following up with displays to be sure the prints look pristine and there are adequate business cards and brochures. It means having a good business sense and providing a good product - not just a pretty print, but the whole product, from packaging to included information.
None of this is trivial, and most of us aren't going to put the effort in, thus leaving the field all that much wider for those who are prepared to do so.
Oh, by the way, what does all this have to do with selling through galleries? Bugger all, that's what.
I'm going to tackle the issue of print prices next time, a very thorny issue.