Photo Agencies Test Consumer Market with Prints–and T-shirts

One of seven images offered for sale in "Seven x 7 x VII-Print Flash Sale" this week. Photo © Ashley Gilbertson.

One of seven images offered for sale in “Seven x 7 x VII-Print Flash Sale” this week. Photo © Ashley Gilbertson.

In a week-long “flash sale” intended to raise cash for operations and test new ways of engaging with audiences, VII is offering signed 8×10″ prints for $100. Meanwhile, Magnum has announced a 67-hour flash sale of its own, offering signed 6×6″ prints for $100 starting on June 17. In addition, Magnum has struck a deal with Photo.Clothing to emblazon works by various Magnum photographers on t-shirts.

The ventures reflect a new reality for the venerable photo agencies, which have until now steered clear of mass consumer markets to protect their elite brands, and the high value of their members’ work. But their traditional markets and existing streams of revenue may no longer be enough, forcing them to test consumer markets.

“We had a pretty animated discussion about this at the [VII general meeting] in Paris, [and] some questioned whether their prints would lose value if they were to be involved,”  says VII Photo member Ashley Gilbertson.

“Many of us don’t believe that we live in a world that demands we choose to be squarely in the museum / collector side or selling to the public at a far more affordable cost. We can do both, and have been diligent in this sale and will be in the future to protect the higher end print market with edition prints and such.”

For one week only, VII Photo is offering signed prints by six photographers for $100 each. The photographers participating in the sale are Gilbertson, Antonin Kratochvil, Gary Knight, Ed Kashi, Christopher Morris, Anastasia Taylor-Lind, and John Stanmeyer. The sale began May 30 and ends June 6.

Gilbertson says all proceeds from the sale will go to support the business operation of VII, which were recently “slimmed down to give us a chance to grow in different ways.”

The sale lasts only a week because the agency doesn’t have the staff resources to sustain it on an ongoing basis. “Additionally, I think it’s more interesting as something that pops up and then disappears - the prints are an open edition, but there is an inherent value in the photographs only being offered for a short window,” Gilbertson says.

The agency is planning to do two more sales, each featuring the work of different photographers, “to eventually include everyone at the agency,” Gilbertson adds.

Gilbertson says selling images directly to the public expands the audience for VII photographers’ work. “Why should our work live in major collections alone? It shouldn’t. These images have just as much power on the wall, or even on the ‘fridge, in the home of a citizen. Communication is our game, and this is the right move that supports that goal.”

For its part, Magnum has announced a special offer of signed 6×6″ prints of a selection of photos to be announced in the days prior to the start of the sale on June 17. The agency, which did not respond to PDN’s repeated requests via phone and email for an interview, says the 67-hour sale is intended to commemorate its 67th anniversary.

Magnum has also struck a deal with start-up company Photo.Clothing to provide images by several photographers for reproduction on t-shirts. The t-shirts offered for sale so far through Photo.Clothing’s Kickstarter page feature images by Martin Parr, Chris Steele-Perkins, Bruce Gilden, Richard Kalvar and David Alan Harvey, according to the UK-based magazine Creative Review.

So far, seven backers have contributed about $400 toward Photo.Clothing’s Kickstarter goal of $20,000.

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3 Responses to “Photo Agencies Test Consumer Market with Prints–and T-shirts”

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