Can We Afford Success?
As a teacher, I always ask my students on the first day of class what their photographic goals are. Nine times out of ten, their goals are getting into a gallery and having a solo exhibition. I would have to say that that is probably the case for all of us. I am throwing this out for discussion because after an intense photographic period last month, it’s got me thinking a lot about the path of a fine art photographer in today’s economy. I am not complaining, just giving this some real thought.
I had work in 8 shows in April, 54 framed pieces in total. All framing and shipping costs incurred by me (with the exception of one or two situations where return shipping was provided).
Also included were some additional costs of one exhibition where we rented a gallery space for two weeks–costs split by the 5 participants. We also covered the costs of the opening, announcement cards, and various odds and ends. Another exhibition incurred the additional costs of a MagCloud and announcement card.
I travelled to San Francisco and New York for openings, included were airfare, hotel, and food costs.
I attended Photolucida; the cost of the review, airfare, hotel, food and drink, costs of printing (needed lots of paper and new inks), a new portfolio box, and leave behinds came to at least $3000.
It’s difficult to face the credit card bill.
We are functioning in a climate where online sales have lowered the prices of photographs and created a massive inventory for the buying public. Sales are not what they used to be–and it appears to me that there is a wide gap in the range of consumers: those that want to purchase images for $20-50-100, and those that are real photography collectors. And I’m thinking that both categories have slowed down considerably.
I know that galleries are struggling, but when I make sales, I have to wait 45 plus (still waiting for months on some) days for payment. I am very sympathetic as they are doing the best they can in this economy, but it’s hard when I have had to outlay monies upfront. When I started out as a photographer, all galleries had an inventory of frames. All that was required was to send matted prints to the gallery and they popped them in their frames. The costs of shipping and flying the artist in for the opening were also absorbed by the gallery. Digital imagery (and the economy) changed that system, as prints became large scale and no longer uniform.
We are also functioning in a world where book publishers are asking photographers to find their own monies (around $30,000) to publish books, and the day of getting something published outright is pretty rare.
Today a photographer is not only responsible for photography equipment, but most of us own printers, scanners, and many other tools of the trade. We need to be marketers, promoters, and navigate through social media. We are required to wear many hats and be capable of many tasks, and still have a creative voice, and find stillness in the chaos to make work.
Something is wrong with this template. In addition, this enormous expense put onto the photographer narrows our community, narrows who can participate. I don’t have the answers, but it’s time we figure it out. Otherwise, we won’t be able to afford our own success.
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