Issue #123  4/9/2007
Photographers and Art & Photo Shows

Considering some of the upcoming shows, such as AIPAD and Art Chicago, I thought I might offer some timely words of advice for aspiring artists and photographers on show etiquette.

I would highly suggest that trying to show work and discussing it at photography and art fairs with dealers would be very inappropriate and not very helpful for you (or the dealers). Shows are an inappropriate time to try to meet gallery people. The galleries and dealers are there to sell, not to field questions from photographers. The cost of doing shows today is extremely expensive, and so dealers are focused on making sales and greeting new clients--not photographers.

I have had photographers actually break into a sales conversation with a client to try to push their work. Guess what my reaction would be to such boorish behavior.

What I always recommend is that photographers use the show to gather intelligence. See what kind of work a gallery is representing to see if there is a match. You might take a business card from their table or use the program (or catalogue) to make notes for follow-up later. Most such programs/catalogues have the key players at each company and their contact information.

Many of those exhibiting do not have galleries, but sell privately, and will likely not be able to provide you any help. Sort those out while at the fair. Then call the galleries that have the best match for your work later and ask them how (and whether) they review new photographers' portfolios. Most allocate at least one day a month for appointments such as these. Some insist on slides or jpegs sent first. Some may be closed to adding new artists. For the record, Contemporary Works/Vintage Works is not currently looking for any new artists to represent.

Never send your actual work unsolicited and without proper documentation and agreement by the gallery. Before you even do this though, I would sign up, attend and show my portfolio at one of the many such events aimed at helping photographers improve their work and portfolio. Don't try to do this with the galleries that you are approaching to represent you.

I would also use the opportunity of such fairs to get a feel for what other photographers are doing out there and how well the market accepts those approaches. Too often photographers have tunnel vision and attempt to market work that is simply unsaleable, although these images may even be good photographs for other purposes, including stock and editorial. Look around and keep an open mind.

The top photographers and artists not only do that, but also collect the best of their own influences. I have sold vintage work to many of the top name photographers/artists who recognize the debt they owe to this historical work and how it fits into today's contemporary art. They are better artists themselves because of this.

Another suggestion, don't send a photography dealer to your website where you are selling prints yourself for $150 or 150 euros. It's pretty bad business for two reasons: 1.) you just positioned yourself out of the market; 2.) a dealer isn't going to want to represent someone who is selling their own prints on the side.

If you are going to create a website, don't offer prints for sale on it. Just use it to promote yourself (and any future dealers/galleries that will handle your work). Avoid flash and music (most web surfers hate these approaches, despite what web site designers say); keep it simple, clean and easily navigable. And, as you would in your portfolio, only show your best work, not every image you've ever taken including the one in 8th grade for a class project. Also make sure your biography is written with a eye for the market. Make sure you mention the collections that your work is a part of and where your work has been shown. Professionalism, intelligence, a balanced and considerate personality, and, finally, talent are what photography galleries are looking for. Remember to show all of these qualities in how you present yourself.

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