It’s no secret technology has revolutionized the way we live. But it’s not always positive for those in the arts. Writers, musicians and artists are all experiencing shock at the way the internet and computer technology is revolutionizing the way they earn a living. Travel agents, printing companies – they too have been dealt heavy and sometimes fatal blows in the last decade. But one thing I know for sure – we in the arts must see the reality of today and tomorrow clearly and put our best efforts into acknowledging it and making it work for us.
When I listen to a best-selling (and I mean best-selling) international award-winning author tell me she is making pennies (the actual amount is shocking and I was embarrassed on hearing it) on the thousands of downloads of her half dozen or so books, there’s no doubt she is experiencing extreme powerlessness over this situation of lost revenue.
Ditto when I hear my nephew – Relient K founder and song-writer Matt Thiessen – talk about the cataclysmic shrinkage of revenue from sales of recordings over the past 5 years thanks to iTunes and other advances. He and his band are touring as hard as they did in the old days when it was founded in 1998 and getting on its feet. It’s the only way for a band to make money from their music now.
And there’s no going back. In the fine art photography world, the upheaval has been seismic in the last 4 years. For me as an art dealer, however, technological advances have actually brought many advantages.
• I can send images to anyone anywhere without leaving my office.
• Sales of digital images – whether on paper or other substrates – can be consummated quickly compared to the processing time for chemical darkroom or historic processes images.
• Photographs today provide the viewer and collector with an endless variety of style and creative process due to the unique creative approach of every digital darkroom artist. Processes are being blended, mixed up and re-invented – like the ambrotypist in my gallery Dave Puntel who is now willing to sell gorgeous, rich digital prints of his images, or many film photographers selling their work as digital prints and mixing processes.
• Whereas I used to say, “This image comes in three sizes…” today I most often say “What size best suits your space?”.
Bottom line: there are many more “yes’s” than “no’s” in selling photographs these days.
But these positives don’t tell the whole story.
Photograph taken during the recent artist gathering at VoxPhotographs in Portland©Dave Wade. All Rights Reserved
Last week, 8 of my gallery artists met with me at the gallery to talk together about the changes swirling around us. I sent out a list of questions for them to think about before we gathered…
• Terminology – is “photograph” a word from the past?
• How have you changed the marketing of your work in the last 4 years?
• How do we educate the public that fine art photographers produce work the rest of us mortals can’t create?
• Are you incorporating other processes into your finished work – like animation, video, mixed media?
• How do we compete with rock bottom online pricing where a wall size mural photograph can be ordered for less than $200?
• How do we communicate the aesthetic value of investing in a single image for many years of enjoyment and viewing, when for many photographs have become ephemera – here today, gone when tomorrow’s photos are uploaded?
Old Books, Ambrotype©Dave Puntel. This artist is now willing to sell these ambrotype images as archival digital prints made by a master printer.
Last November (2012) I wrote in this blog about my experience on an informal panel at UNE in Portland. We were discussing “The State of Photography Today”. I wrote at length of how I define a fine art photographer, or any artist and don’t want to repeat that discussion here.
But just since that posting, I have changed the terminology on my website and in professional conversations. For me, the word “photograph” no longer applies tidily to what my artists are bringing me. It refers to an object that existed pretty much only in the past, like 5 years ago in 2007 when I started representing photographic works. I’ve moved on to “photo-based art” and “artists creating photo-based works”. Many of my clients are blown away by what they see now as “photographs” in the gallery and had no clue how broad the results of all the new processes have become. It’s exciting – incredibly exciting – to be a dealer in photo-based art these days. Many of the artists at the gathering last week have changed their choice of words to describe their work – most using the word “images”. “Photographic works” is a close enough cousin to “photo-based art”, but the latter is my preference.
Many artists are frustrated with the lack of sales of really terrific work. It seems that no matter what many of them do and how much they invest in marketing, the results are negligible. It’s hard not to give up in the darkest moments and wonder, “Does anyone really give a shit?”
The artists reported endless conversations with others about the differences between how artists make photographic images vs. the rest of us who are using iPhones or digital cameras to make often cool and impressive pictures. I perceived a lot of “bruises” where they had been banging their heads against any available psychological wall, trying to make sense of the changes that have happened in their art world so quickly and while considering how to stay a vital player as the transition continues to whirl along.
All of the artists are incorporating a variety of approaches to their work these days, including edging into video and the like. Montage, animation, mixed processes. I was glad to hear it. I want my artists to PUSH themselves into new ways of making art, whether it’s ultimately successful or not.
And lastly, how do we compete with the millions and millions of photographs online and the give-away prices? We don’t. Lowering the prices of your photo-based art is NOT the answer if you believe what you are creating is unique and worthy of investment. Like the quote in an interview with German Curator Thomas Weski when asked “How does one master the flood of images online? Is there a way to deal with it?” Weski answered:
“I view this flood of images as a type of visual communication, which I look at and use, but which in the context of art has no bigger meaning for me. The physical presence of a printed photograph still has an enormous influence on me. It allows me to access a photograph in a sensual, even physical way. I could imagine that this approach is going to become more important for other people as well. The photographs stored on my cell phone are not going to be printed, and they thus remain immaterial. They are fleeting – like falling stars…”
For now, that’s my philosophy as well. And it will be interesting in just another 5 years to look back at how things change from 2014 onward – things we can’t even imagine today. It will happen. Of that I have no doubt.