Tuesday, February 19, 2008

oh, how to live in the world?

Martin Parr, for Louis Vutton

Over the Christmas season, I mentioned that for the first time in my adult life, I'd applied for a day job that wasn't directly related to photography. Well, I recently found out that I've made it to the short(er) list of applicants so the question swimming in my head (and these waters are murky) is whether or not I'd actually want it if it were offered?

Perhaps it would be easier if the job was one that could satisfy my Utopian desires- if I were publishing photo projects I loved, legalizing gay marriage, or feeding families it'd be one thing, but it's not, the job's in advertising. Ultimately, while I can't really anticipate the specific moral dilemmas that I might encounter, I do have to face the fact that if I took the job in question I'd be putting my time and effort into the creation of cool; building up the machinery of hype that ultimately revolves around selling sneakers, beer, and video games.

Stephen Shore, for Glenfiddich

While it seems to come down to this simple truth, the arts economy isn't all that simple. Outside of teaching or commercial work, how does one make a living with photography? Even those photographers who seem to have risen to the top derive some portion of their income from advertising. Larry Sultan selling handbags for Kate Spade, Richard Renaldi's recent job for Microsoft, Stephen Shore, Martin Parr, Todd Hido… And the thing about each and every one of these photographers that really hits is that they're good and consistently produce work that I admire. Work that, it seems, is partially funded through my/our consumption of Scotch and shower gel. If anything, it seems advertising fuels and supports the arts economy more than any other source. I don't know about you, but I've spent far more on beer and shoes in the past year than buying art from artists. In fact, at one point this year I bought a pair of Tommy Hilfiger shoes at the Nordstrom Rack. Accept my complicity. But you know what? Tommy Hilfiger puts on the TH Inside series of exhibitions, the most recent of which featured work by both Christian Patterson and Tim Barber, great photographers I'm happy to support in some small way through my commitment to discounted yet fashionable footwear.
here. now.

spoof ad, from Adbusters.org

Aside from grants, and the long shot of gallery sales, is there a way to actually make money from producing/selling photographs as fine art? Have any of you tried selling on-demand books? Is there a place that gathers/highlights/promotes them? Should there be?

Is the great 20x200 phenomenon a business model that can work outside the Jen Bekman machine?

Tim Briner, does your Cannery Works donation model cover your expenses in your epic Boonville adventure? Is this a function that more non-profits should be pursuing?

In the meantime, as I continue to mull over the issues, I have decided on some clear actions that at least help create the world that I want to live in while I try to figure out the one I've got:

1) It's not certain yet, but it looks like I'll soon be saving about a hundred dollars a month on health insurance (my fingers are crossed). I haven't discussed it with the missus yet, but I've decided that half of this amount will go toward the costs of making work, and half will go into buying art directly from artists. Big Nazraeli monographs are great, but don't count. Art directly from artists.

2) I've recently joined the board of directors for Photolucida, a non-profit organization devoted to "an increased understanding of the world through photography." Photolucida puts on a big portfolio review event every other year and the Critical Mass juried competition each year. From Critical Mass, at least two monographs are published from those that receive the highest number of votes. While the books are great (Sage Sohier's just came out and Amy Stein's got one coming up), one of my main interests is finding more and more ways to promote work and get it out into the world. Please, bring on your ideas… you've got my/our ear.

3) Put this post to rest, take a shower, and go make a picture or two. Less squawking, more rocking.

Todd Hido, for Axe shower gel


David Wright said...

Pause, to Begin is something you want to be a part of! I encourage you and everyone to apply. More information at www.pausetobegin.com.

Blake Andrews said...

Selling art depends on marketing. Yes, some of it depends on the quality of the art but much more it depends on how the work is presented. Where the art is seen, the price, the framing/presentation, the various jacket-blurbs accompanying the art, etc. have more to do with whether someone buys it than the art itself. Most importantly, the sale of art depends on who the artist is, that is how the artist has marketing him/herself. Therefore, if you want to be more successful selling your own art, nothing could be more valuable than some experience in the advertising world. It is all one big advertising/marketing game, and may the best marketer win.

With few exceptions, it is impossible to make a reasonable living selling art photography. Maybe 100 people in the world can do that, and they are very experienced at marketing themselves. Seen in that light, selling art to advertisers makes a lot of financial sense.

That said, when art is created specifically for the purpose of selling a product, that art is missing a tiny but very very important piece of its soul.

Good luck with the job hunt...

Blake Andrews said...

Here's a way for Photolucida to promote emerging photographers and the general commerce in fine art:

For some nominal entry fee ($50?), photographers enter a pool of members, from which they may buy a photograph at some discounted price (30% off?). The entry fee could be used to subsidize discounted prices for high-level photographers (reimbursing them for their lowered prices) or to support PhotoLucida's organizing efforts.

Photographers would get their work seen and collected by colleagues, photographs would get sold, and it subverts all the usual sales models of galleries, books, commercial, etc.