Photography and the Public
Getting your photography out in the public
Since taking an early retirement from teaching art in a small rural Vermont high school in June 2010, I have been working towards building a photography portfolio that I would consider worthy of taking public. For me, this could be a lifelong task, as I am kind of a perfectionist and reluctant to show anything that doesn’t meet my standards. With the web and digital media, it is easy to see how much great work is being done by so many photographers and it is easy to be daunted by the amazing array of excellent photographers out there selling their wares. But as Joel Grimes, an amazing composite photographer, pointed out,” It is not always the most talented photographers who make a living with their photography. It is the ones who are the better business people that survive.” This sentiment may not suit the artist in us, but the facts are the facts.
So even though I did not feel ready to go public, I decided I needed to move forward and at least start learning the ropes. One of my goals is to enter some juried crafts fairs, but for most you have to apply 6 months in advance. Having an elderly and ill mother, I don’t feel confident scheduling myself that far in advance. So, I decided to start local and global at the same time. When talking to a friend about the craft shows, she suggested having some smaller, more reasonably priced items and photos. Her reasoning was that someone might like my work and want to support me, but would not have the money or space in their house for a larger photograph. To that end, I created some smaller 5″x 7″ photographs, as well as a series of photo cards.
Thinking that cards would be a great way to enter the local market at a reasonable cost, I checked with several bookstores and galleries. Both emphasized that they only wanted local art work. For me, that means art work in and around Vermont, which makes sense as they want to appeal to locals and tourist. Vermont is a beautiful State, folks want to take home a piece of her. However, figuring out the price point for selling the cards was hard. I looked at the price that other local artists were selling their cards for and the price varied from $3.00 to $4.75. A wide range. I calculated out my cost for materials (cards, envelopes, ink, plastic wrap) which came to around a dollar a card. This did not include my time printing the cards (I am still doing that myself, for now), my time driving the cards to their locations, nor my photography time. Each venue where I placed my cards had a markup rate of between 35% and 40%. So before factoring in any of my personal cost, the cost of each card was $1.50. My cards when folded are around 5.75″ x 4.5″, on the large side. To that end, I priced my cards at the high end at $4.75 per card. Time will tell, but I may have priced them too high for the local market.
I have many images that do not fit the local Vermont market, therefore, I wanted to figure out a way to find and audience for those images. Many photographers advocated social media. I am on Facebook and Google+, though I only use each to post new images. I signed on with 500px which I love, not so much for its selling capacity but for the unbiased viewer feedback. I have found it a great way to find which images resonate with a wide range of viewers worldwide. I also put my cards up on Etsy.com, but have a bias about putting my artwork there as it seems like more of a craft site. Also, I was talking to the young guy that runs a framing shop and who mats my images. He suggested a site call Society 6, which I had not heard of. The beauty and difference of Society 6 is that not only do they sell your prints in several configurations (framed, stretched canvas…) but they offer to sell your images in several novel ways (Iphone and laptop skins, tote bags, T-shirts.) I was drawn to the Iphone and Laptop skins, along with the print configurations. You get to set your own price entry points, but Society 6 takes a hefty markup. So with profit margins of between $5.00 and $18.00, sells become more of a volume game. But who knows, with a worldwide market, overtime it might add up.
So to sum up my business plan, I am still going to be marketing my work locally in restaurants, bookstores, galleries. I will keep building my inventory of local images. I will keep looking for ways to find a wider audience for those images that do not fit into the “local” category. I will eventually enter some juried craft shows. But, perhaps, most importantly, I will continue to make the images that I love and just hope the money follows. Or at least enough money to allow me to keep honing my craft and getting some validation, so that my spouse can better understand and appreciate all the time and money I have invested in my art work.
At least, that is my hope.