It’s A Consumer Product, Not A National Treasure

Wake Up Fellow Photo Artist –

Who knows just how many cameras, camera phones and tablets with cameras are out there amongst society. And each one of those image maker owners is a photographer and really doesn’t buy “photographic art” that easily. In the gallery I am working in today for example, there are about seven photographers and five of those sell straight non manipulated photos. Well, I should say, they try to sell… but the fact is that people who have a camera all think they could take the same picture and of course they are not about to buy an image they can make themselves.

Then let’s also not forget the ridiculous prices that some photographers “think” their image is worth. As I strolled around last month’s First Friday event in Knoxville, I happened upon a gallery that had several photographic pieces of art. But, I guess the artist didn’t care wether or not it sells, because they had 16×20 matted, framed prints for $400 and up. OMG, give me a break folks, you can get 16×20 photo prints for $10 or less from so many suppliers like Adorama for example. So if you are putting your print under glass in a $300 frame, then you also might want to find a new frame source.

Even if you are having GiClee prints made, it is not going to cost much more and yet the photo artist still thinks it is a national treasure for sale. I guess if they are ok with selling one of those a month, then ok, stop reading and go wait for that one buyer. Art has NO RESALE value, and don’t try to argue that it does unless you have a name for yourself and have already died, otherwise your piece isn’t worth the recycle value of the materials from the moment you carried it out of the gallery.

For me I only move about 20-25 pieces a month, and I still want to see more go to good homes and offices, for I realize that I compete for wall space not only with the other artist but also the retail giants like Walmart, Lowes, Big Lots, Kroger and so forth. And you can rest on your high horse and knock down those big box stores for selling art, but the fact is that you are not making any headway in your argument. As the economy gets worse and things tighten up, then buying art is one of the first places a person can trim their budget. Artist do not dictate what the public will buy, but rather, the public dictates what they will buy. And those big box stores sell a lot of “crap” (if you want to call it that) or otherwise known as mass produced art. But I will admit, I look at it and sometimes the quality is good enough to hang in any home or business. And that is the bottom line fact about the sale of art!

Yes, there are a very select few who want an original or a low number production art work, but those numbers of buyers are very far and few in-between. And then… if it’s just a photograph and the consumer knows that any number of them could be reproduced for dirt cheap prices, then why should they pay several hundred times what it cost to produce it.

Lets look at some numbers for example: I have a piece titled “Rocky Top” that comes in 12×18 or 20×30, both flush mounted on foam-board and not framed. And so far I have sold 2 of the 20×30’s at $100 and 9 of the 12×18 at $30 and the 5×7 proof print at $5. So that comes to $475 so far since it’s release last fall. After subtracting the cost of materials and the commissions paid to galleries, I still made plenty of money for the few seconds it took to capture the image and the few hours it took to process it to the final presentation. And I will probably allow this print to go to the maximum of 18 small ones, but the 20×30’s may never see production of numbers 4 or 5. In the end, when you break down the revenue… it’s very good. Unless you think a photo artist should make a few hundred bucks an hour… well then go buy that way over priced stuff. But in the end, no matter what it is still a consumer product and not worth anything after you hang it.

On the other hand if you just get satisfaction from people looking at your work and say “feel good” things about it, then I guess it really dont matter to you. But for me, I have been showing and selling photo art since the 90’s, have had my own gallery, and work a couple days a week in a gallery I am in now. And I have heard all the “feel good” comments I ever needed to hear, I would rather you break out the wallet. The more work I move out the door, the more motivated I am to make more new stuff, and that is partly why my pieces are so limited in number. If I am continuing to make new works, then I usually end up “retiring” my older pieces due to not having them printed. And that falls in line with another theory of mine about the stock offering in the bins of the gallery. DO NOT have multiples of the same photograph, there is nothing unique about that unless you have a great price on them. But if you have a bin of 8×10 photos and you want an outrageous price of twenty bucks for one, then by all means don’t have multiples on display.

In the end, it all boils down to if you want to “show” your art or do you want to “sell” it. And if you are happy with selling one piece every month or two, then ok, but don’t complain that you don’t sell enough. It’s not the peoples fault they don’t buy your work… they dictate what they want to spend, what they like to buy and we have to adapt to them. And as time goes by, the big box stores will keep pumping tons of that stuff out the door.

If you want to play with the big boys, then pay attention to their game plan. Analyze your cost of your offerings and see how much per hour you made. For photo artist, it’s probably a lot considering how many images you can capture in an hour. For painters and other actual hand crafted items, you spend lots of hours creating… for you there are many other factors an options. The basis of this article is mostly for my fellow “photo artist” and why they think a 16×20 ten dollar print is worth $400 and then wonder why it takes forever to sell.

Out of curiosity, I went to the section of one of the photo artist here in the gallery and saw the they have 16 un-matted 16×20 prints with an asking price of $80 each. Based on the original cost of $160 dollars for the prints to be made, I add in the fact that not a single one has sold in the last year I have worked in here. So I would ask… at what point do you accept the fact that your dream ideas of massive revenue from a ten dollar print is in fact just that… a dream. And also, what other consumer product also sells for an 800% mark-up?

In the end, it still comes down to my final thoughts on the subject… do you want to “SHOW or do you want to “SELL”?