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Note: This post, How to Build a Market for Fine Art Photography, is a guest post by Nicholas H. Parker. You can learn more about Nicholas at the bottom of his post.
How to Build a Market for Fine Art Photography?
If the premise that there is no market for fine art photography is correct then it follows that we need to build one. If the premise is not correct, we still need something better than the wretchedly limited options currently available to us, however, we may choose to define them. The irrefutable fact that fine art photographers, even many famous ones, cannot earn a living, makes all definitions, exceptions, and statistics, moot.
Do Photographers Compete with Each Other?
Up to now we have all hoped to one day be anointed by the fine art photography speculators. Because of this, many of us have assumed that we are in competition with each other for the few seats available in this game of musical chairs. We must stop feeling as though we are competing with each other and instead start working together. Unless we work together, building a market for our work will be impossible. This is really a no-brainer because at present, there is nothing for us to compete over! There is no pie to divide. We must first bake it before we can squabble over it.
The very first thing we are going to need is a sense of unity and cooperation. It is not enough to simply have a common goal. It is not enough to simply work together. We must present the public with a unified front. If we cannot agree on who we are and what we intend to accomplish, we are doomed to failure before we begin. And unless we can come together and act as a unified group, we will suffer the same fate we have suffered for the last hundred years. (This does not mean we have to get everyone on the planet who fancies him/herself a fine art photographer to agree. Stieglitz’s group was composed of a tiny handful of photographers; the same is true of f64. We only need a meaningful number of photographers to be effective. Unity and determination are far more important than numbers.).
At the time of the original Photo-Secession, Stieglitz and company were the public face of fine art photography and spoke for fine art photographers of the time (yes, I know that is an oversimplification). Their unified front resulted in success. At another time, the f64 group spoke for fine art photographers on the west coast. Their influence was successful also because they were a group of photographers speaking with a single public voice. By this, I do not mean, one person spoke and the others kept silent. What I mean is that all members said the same things about photography and presented the same ideas to the public.
Importance of a Unified Voice
At present, and for many, many years, there is and has been no unified voice for fine art photographers. We, fine art photographers, do not feel as though we belong to any sort of unified entity at all and it shows. We are each of us, isolated. Nonetheless, the public does, in fact, hear unified voices speaking for fine art photography; just not ours. Instead, they hear the voices of the décor makers and the speculators and the galleries. No wonder the public has a cockeyed view of fine art photography. None of these groups are telling the public what we might want them to hear and are in fact telling them things that may indeed be injurious to us. Everyone is telling the public what fine art photography is, EXCEPT fine art photographers!
Admittedly it may seem difficult to settle on a definition of what is and is not fine art photography and I will deal with this in an upcoming post, but what we need now is a list of tasks we need to accomplish in order to build a working foundation for a new market for fine art photography. I realize that some of this will seem vague or confusing. Please be patient.
Tips on How to Build a Fine Art Photography Market
– NB: Under no circumstances will this be a Stieglitz-like dictatorship or an exclusive club for snooty elites. This will be quite open, self-governing and non-policing. In fact, the public will do the policing! (You’re gonna love the way this works.)
- Create a working definition the public can readily understand of what is and is not fine art photography (it’s really going to be easier than it sounds)
- Begin to organize into loose groups of photographers by geographic location and establish the framework of a new group called Photo-Secession II which will be both our loose-knit organization and our public face (perhaps with the aid of social networks)
- Structure everything about Photo-Secession II in such a way that photographers are still free to pursue dreams of success in existing speculation and other markets
- Confront the public’s view of fine art photography head-on and aggressively change it to suit reality
- Take advantage of the democratic nature of photography to which most pay only lip service and use it to get rid of counterproductive elitist attitudes in the speculation market
- Use the concept of the cannibal market to create an ever-expanding and self-perpetuating core group of collectors of photography to be used as a catalyst to spur a larger market among the general public
- By our actions and example, encourage the public to think of photography as something that is collectible and not just décor
- Teach the public to perceive value in a photograph
- Provide the public with photographs presented in such a way that they can accept them as collectible items and not just décor. (We don’t give up on the traditional framed photograph, we just add to it)
- Deal with the question of price over which there is much rancor. Separate cannibal market products and prices from those products and prices intended for the public. Learn to create added value
- Find ways to gain access to the public outside the traditional gallery, museum, art fair circle. Put warm bodies in front of photographs
- Find a way to deal with the dismal lack of sales of fine art photography on the internet – establish the Photo-Secession IIlogo as an internet indicator of what is and isn’t legitimate and worthwhile fine art photography
- Make certain the group and its efforts include photographers using all types of materials, not just digital processes
- Determine ways to generate renewed interest in fine art photography
- Eschew the traditional art fair and create a new more collector-oriented type of gathering that allows nothing but photography; make fine art photography special by making it separate and different
- Develop a policy of mentorship and encouragement among members
- Encourage members to collect each other’s work, via purchase or trade in support of…
- Establish a strong tradition of showing and promoting the work of other members of Photo-Secession II, including links on members web sites to the sites of others whose work they admire
- Find as many ways as possible to separate and distinguish fine art photography from other art forms (trying to be like the painters is a monumental mistake)
- Put tactile back into the photograph; this is a lost quality that has hurt us
- Put intimate back into the photograph; this is an even more important lost quality that has hurt us
- Find ways to turn the public’s negative ideas about photography (like reproducibility) into positives
- Piggyback on as much of the promotional efforts of the speculation, décor and cannibal markets as possible – take advantage of their efforts and gain free publicity by doing so
- Provide buyers with a practical check-list they can use to decide whether or not a photograph is art and if it is worth buying
- Cross-promote events held by Photo-Secession II groups locally, regionally, nationally and internationally
- Kill the idea of the limited edition photograph forever and scatter the body parts to the four winds (the LE is great for lithographs; for the photographer, it is simply a gift of your income to someone else)
- Make peace with the ready reproducibility of inkjet prints and turn it into a marketing advantage for both digital and analog photographers
- Reverse the ridiculous trend among photographers of late to keep technical secrets and/or sell them; we need to help each other, not charge each other – and educating new photographer wannabes also adds to our cannibal market, secrets do not
Well, that’s a lengthy enough list to begin with and we will no doubt edit it as we go along. Until my next post I will leave you with this unattributed quote I found today and like:
The person who says something is impossible should not interrupt the person who is doing it.
Let’s do it!
About the author: Nicholas H. Parker, a web designer at BuyEssayClub. But, he is really passionate about photography. So he is going to establish a union of photographers to promote their art.
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