It seems like I’ve had it in my mind for a long time to write this post and I apologize in advance if I offend anyone by my observations here, but they are just that, observations. Earlier this year, I took it upon myself to dive headfirst into the “deep end” of photography, fine art, and I’ve been very happy with the results so far. I’ve made into my first couple juried shows, been featured in a few galleries, and gained some name recognition, even if it is on a local scale. Hey… you got to start somewhere.
With these things going on around me, I’ve noticed a few things about how the average person treats digital photography in the realm of fine art. Now, let me just say that these thoughts are my own and I’ve based them on things I’ve seen personally; I do not aim to judge or to condone, but rather to explore why this is the way it is.
Observation #1: People are more likely to buy art if they can interact with it.
What do I mean by interact? To be frank, I’m talking about jewelry, sculpture, and pottery. At most of the markets and fairs I’ve attended, I noticed that any item that has a purpose beyond just being pleasing to the eye such as jewelry (you wear it), sculpture (you can touch it) and pottery/ceramics (you can usually eat out of it or put things inside it) was more prone to being purchased. And I can see how that is.
But beyond that, I also noticed some interesting ways of using this observation for marketing an art form. At one art fair I attended, I saw a musician selling CD’s. Rather than just setting them out for sale, he actually played his guitar along with a small stereo and featured tracks from the albums. Again, the public watched in awe and purchased his music by the hundreds.
As for photography, unless an image resonates on an emotional level with someone, whether through aesthetics or personal connection, it is often overlooked. Unfortunately, you just hang a print on the wall and hopefully look at it from time to time, but you can’t touch, wear it, or put things inside it. This challenges me to offer a different sort of “interaction” with my images and I have a few ideas in store for the coming year.
Observation #2: The more “mainstream” a photograph is, the higher the chance it will sell.
As I look at my sales numbers from the year, I noticed that it was more of the cliché images I shot that sold more. Images like cats, dogs, sunsets, and iconic landmarks were more likely to leave my booth than the more artistic urban and rural landscapes. With that in mind, I’ve started keeping an amount of “mainstream” shots in stock and then I smile on the inside when someone grabs something “off the trail,” so to speak.
Observation #3: Digital photography is often overlooked as fine art.
Woah, Mike… you can’t go saying things like that in public much less on the interwebs! Well, yes I can. I’m not saying the digital photography is not fine art; I am saying that it is often overlooked as fine art. Unlike most other art forms, photography, especially in the digital age, has become so prevalent that the average person overlooks it as a true form of art. With the invention of the camera phone and the affordable, easy-to-use image editors in the world, digital photography moved out of the studio and into the pockets of almost every person on Earth.
Don’t get me wrong; I love that digital photography is all around and that we are creating new, exciting tools to help us build the craft, but it seems to give the average person with a reason to walk right by a photographer’s booth. They might stop in, take a look, and say “that’s nice,” but I can tell who really connects with what I shoot and who doesn’t. To be honest, I don’t mind. In the words of Miranda Lambert, it takes “all kinds of kinds” to make the world go round.
Notice that I said digital photography is overlooked as fine art and not photography in general? Running hand in hand with the first observation I made above, the average person looks at pottery, sculpture, glass-blowing, painting and, yes, film photography, to name a few, as truly being fine art because they are unable to afford or understand how to work in that particular medium themselves.
While I definitely don’t want to get into the film vs. digital discussion in this post, I will say that the public perceives film photography as being more difficult to master because the average person doesn’t have a darkroom in their basement. What they do have is a camera on their phone or in their back pocket and a computer on a desk at home with access to the Internet; in the digital age, that is all you really need to take a photograph. However, taking a photograph and creating fine art with photography isn’t always the same.
And, with that, I’m going to leave it right there. I could dive in further to what it takes to make a great photograph, why great photography is or isn’t harder than film to master in the digital age, and more, but those are thoughts and topics for another time.
So what are your thoughts?