Recently, I asked on Twitter who amongst my ‘followers’ sold their pictures on line and if they did would they mind sharing their experiences; the reason being I wish to sell some of my own pictures on line and I thought I could benefit from the experience of those who had gone before, as it were. I had some interesting comments and help.
Amongst those was the gracious offer of a telephone conversation with a photographers agent. I confess I really hadn’t considered that route so I thought this might prove interesting. It did, but not in the way I expected.
Before we start.
Knowing I am in my 70’s. The agent asked what is going to happen to my pictures at my demise. It’s important from any agents point of view there is continuity. It was suggested I include my daughter in what I’m doing photographically and in the preservation of my archive so continuity is maintained. This, a point rarely considered by the photographer, should be thought most important, vital even, before you think about going forwards
Before I had this conversation with an agent It’s pretty clear I had not the slightest idea of how the process of Galleries, agents and selling worked. If I did have any inkling, it was simplistic and naive. I was soon disabused of those silly, perhaps idealistic, thoughts.
The world of Gallery Exhibitions.
The art world – and that is what we are talking about here – is a business. Hard nosed and there for profit. Get that into your head from the outset and all becomes clear. Any work you produce is simply a commodity which can be sold. The price is based on many variables. Not all of which revolve around the image itself.
Setting the Price.
Galleries, particularly in large cities, have substantial overheads and costs. They have to make a profit from your work. They rely on the commission they make from the sale of your work – around 50%. In order to do that, and to cover their costs, it is essential the value of the work needs to be high. Simple maths – and common sense dictates; low value = low commission = doesn’t cover the overheads = business model does not work = gallery fails.
Unless your work can command in excess of say £2000.00 for an image then, for the gallery owner, it’s simply not worth hanging on the wall. It may be very ‘worthy’ of hanging on a wall but it just ain’t profitable. And, in the gallery world, that’s what matters. It’s simply BUSINESS.
The chances are your images, like mine, cannot command that sort of price without a back story, marketing and lots of promotion.
Any agent you take on is not going to get your work placed in a London or city gallery. (The regional galleries are perhaps not quite so demanding or hard edged, but these are difficult times so don’t expect miracles there)
Does that mean I can rule out exhibiting in galleries? Short and medium term, and on this basis alone, yes. It will take considerable effort, and luck, to gather together the back story to enable that – if indeed I ever could.
And there’s more…
Setting the size.
I asked about size of prints: The agent suggested 20×16, maybe 16×10 as recommended sizes – ruling out large prints except for those of landscapes perhaps.
Choosing the medium.
I asked about the medium: This is where I would have the most difficulty. Collectors of images – the ultimate clients for gallery images – prefer Silver Gelatin prints, the sort we all did, some still do, in darkrooms. I can’t explain that, nor do I wish to try, but there it is. Generally the images you would see in large galleries would not be digital – there are of course some notable exceptions.
The agent suggested depth and tone of the blacks achieved by the silver gelatin process are somehow superior to digital prints. I can’t comment. However, unless I am prepared to throw out over 40,000 images from my digital library, buy new film based cameras and build a darkroom I am excluded from this market on this basis also.
Points of note from this.
In order for galleries to be interested you need:-
- Good back story
- Images to be valued at £2000+
- Images to be 16×12 or 20×16 as preferred sizes
- Images to be in Silver Gelatin
- Note.Do you have any historic prints i.e. made at the time the image was taken. These are particularly valued it seems.
Unable to comply with 80% of these requirement it seems I cant expect to do (big) gallery exhibitions.
From the discussions with the agent, what can I use and carry forward.
1. Clearly big gallery stuff is not for me. I would get nowhere near. Moreover at 73 I have little chance of creating enough of a back story or enough of a film based portfolio before I shuffle off these mortal coils.
2. Around A3 is the preferred image size.
Selling prints is not all about galleries. However, the print market is huge. The world and his wife have a pretty decent camera, phone even, which will produce more than adequate prints to hang on walls as decoration. It’s difficult to open any social media without seeing one image or another with a signature in the corner exclaiming “X-Y-Z photography” or some such in a lurid font, but that doesn’t mean Joe Public hangs only his own prints. It’s just to say there are many, many people who have become ‘Photographers’.
Yes, it’s true; everybody is a photographer now – well that is, everybody takes pictures, many of whom consider themselves “photographers”. The competition from the hoard is fierce. Competition may be fierce but the market is vast. Perhaps ‘Silver Gelatin’ prints hold value. That market is not so saturated and perhaps only the really dedicated and committed still use film.
One of the perceived problems associated with my work, to gallery owners that is, is that it’s very varied, with no single discernible thread running through it. That could be the very thing which makes it sellable on a more domestic market.
Like many others I would guess, I have many good individual, unconnected shots. As I intimated above many of my single images may be worthy of exhibiting as single items, but I have no long thread sets. Moreover the general public are not necessarily buying images to collect, they are buying them to hang in their house as decoration.
Perhaps that’s where my market may be.
I am under no illusions at all as to the difficulties in selling my pictures on line. However, despite that fact, I’m about to try.
1st November 2020
N.B. Picture above is from Spurn Head, on the North side of the Humber Estuary.