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November 5th, 2014

PPE 2014: Building a Career in Fine-Art Photography

Be nice. This simple and self-evident maxim was one of many takeaways from the PhotoPlus Expo seminar, “Your Picture on the Wall: Building a Career in Fine-art Photography,” which was held on Thursday, October 30 at the Javits Center in New York City.

Hosted by collector, curator and former gallerist W.M. Hunt, the panel included gallerists with different ideas and interests: Andrea Meislin and Sasha Wolf from New York, and Catherine Edelman from Chicago. While they may show different work, the gallerists all agreed that being pleasant and respectful goes a long way when you are trying to get a gallerist interested in your work.

Wolff told a story about an artist who came to all of her openings, was enthusiastic and pleasant, and all the while never asked to show Wolf her work. Instead, it was Wolf who asked to see her work.

Hunt recalled a letter he received from an artist who praised a talk he gave. The artist never mentioned his own work. “It was implicit that he wanted me to champion his work, but he didn’t ask for it,” Hunt says. Showing an appreciation for a gallerist’s time and the work they show, and being able to talk about how your own work might fit, shows that an artist has done some homework and has “an appreciation” for the gallerist, Hunt noted.

Appreciating the work a gallerist does also came up when the panel discussed the issue of exclusivity. Each said they preferred, and Wolf insisted, that they be the “home” gallery for the artists they represent. That means they handle responsibilities like recordkeeping, exhibition production and business for their artists. This didn’t mean they aren’t willing to have the artist show with other galleries, the panelists said. They just want all of those arrangements channeled through them. Edelman noted that she’d lost exclusive artists to galleries in New York City. She advised that artists not “use dealers” as stepping stones to larger galleries. “It’s a small world and we know each other,” Edelman noted.

On the perpetual question of print pricing, sizing and editions, Meislin suggested that photographers not offer images in more than two sizes, and said she doesn’t want the total number of prints available of a single image to exceed 10. “The smaller [the edition] the better,” she said. Wolf agreed, saying that collectors “feel good knowing that they have one of not very many.” She, too, felt that two sizes of prints was a good bet. She also added that she prices the work of artists who are new to her gallery based on the career they’ve had and what collections have purchased their work. She also looks at other artists who are at similar points in their careers. Meislin added that she also considers how much money goes into producing the work.

Artists should “have feeling about it,” Hunt said of their pricing. Artists should have done their homework and have an opinion, otherwise the conversation about pricing becomes “cumbersome,” he said.

All of the panelists agreed that image sizes should be appropriate for the work, and that big prints weren’t necessary or even preferred. Wolf talked about artist Bryan Schutmaat’s show, currently on view at her gallery. His portraits of people living rough lives in the West wouldn’t work as large prints, she said. But at the right size they are beautiful and powerful.

Edelman reminded the audience that artists can “always raise prices but can’t lower them.” Photographers should start low, and if an edition sells quickly the price should increase slowly.

The panelists also discussed making prints for special editions of books and for charity sales. Edelman said that when one of her artists wanted to offer a print with a special-edition book, she and the artist chose an image from an edition that was already sold out. That way they weren’t undercutting the market for the larger print of that image. (The print was also made at a smaller size for the book.) Hunt says that when photographers want to donate works to charity auctions, he advises them to print them differently and in “a weird size.” He also suggested they write all over the back of a print specifying that it was created for charity, and consider creating an edition specifically for donation purposes.

An audience member asked who should be responsible for framing, and all of the gallerists had different answers. Meislin said she expected artists to handle 50 percent of the production costs, and that she would front the artist’s 50 percent if necessary, but would recoup those costs when sales were made.

Edelman says she tries to get her artists to pay for production, but will ultimately pay for everything if an artist needs that. She noted that she’ll recoup the framing expenses when an artist sells a framed print if she’s paid for the production.

Wolf said she doesn’t want to pay for production, but she will. She reminded artists to keep in mind that they are not “in our league” in terms of the overhead gallerists have to come up with each month to keep their galleries open.

MFAs aren’t necessary, the panelists agreed. But they also agreed there was value in an MFA degree, not only creatively, but in the network it provides artists. Wolf noted that MFA teachers will call her to recommend artists.

To close, Hunt asked what had changed recently in the fine-art photography business. Wolf got the last word. “Tragedy abounds,” she said jokingly. “But I feel blessed, no matter what little things change.”

Related Stories: What To Expect From the Photographer/Gallery Relationship (For PDN subscribers; login required)
Selling Prints to Fund Books: It’s Complicated (For PDN subscribers; login required)
13 Tips For Building Your Fine-Art Network (For PDN subscribers; login required)

October 28th, 2014

PhotoPlus Expo 2014: On the Upbeat – A Conversation with Ben Folds

140312_tour_portraitMany PhotoPlus Expo goers will know Ben Folds from his day job as a multi-platinum selling singer/songwriter, touring solo artist and leader of the eponymous Ben Folds Five. What you may not know is that Folds is an avid photographer, enamored of his darkroom and a devotee of both film and digital techniques.

PDN’s Technology Editor Greg Scoblete interviewed Folds about his photography ahead of his PhotoPlus Expo keynote on Saturday, November 1. What follows is an edited transcript.

You’ve said that you became an “obsessive freak” about photography when your kids were born. That’s probably true of a lot of parents, at least in the infant stages, but yours turned into a more enduring passion. Why?


Ben Folds: I wasn’t happy with the glut of ‘evidence’ photographs.  I wanted something enduring and archival that could be framed or touched for years. In order to do that I needed to learn to print well, and I needed to make decisions about what spoke of their childhood… In the process, I became obsessive about the materials—the film, the cameras, the tools.

I know you keep a fully packed schedule between recording and touring. When and how do you work in photography? Is it a part of your daily life?


Ben Folds: It’s like a break. I can work without working. I find it relaxing to go through my shots on a plane or in a hotel. I’m always surprised how ‘productive’ I remain about photography.

A more prosaic question: what do you typically shoot with? What’s your photographic process look like?

Ben Folds: These days I shoot three ways: color with my Sony digital camera, which I generally convert to black and white; black-and-white digital with my Monochrom and black-and-white film with my old Rolleiflex.

I can develop my film in the bathroom, or more often with my schedule, I send it to a lab [where] I’ve had good results for a couple years. I just stay on the lightly ‘overexposed’ side and have them ‘pull’ the film and I get a good grey printable negative generally. The negatives I really like, I have scanned. I may soon invest in a crazy good scanner, but boy that is an investment. I don’t have a darkroom at the moment—it’s all in storage. I miss my darkroom.

On your photography website you write that archival prints that would last generations are a more eloquent representation of your children’s youth “than digital folders full of snapshots.” Beyond the longevity, what do you find compelling about prints? 


Ben Folds: They are real. Life is real. We do live online a lot, but we’re still creatures of the Earth. Printing and prints means something you can hold—and there’s limited space and time so you have to make a decision. You can’t be in two places at once and while you can keep a million files on a hard drive, they’re not really there until they’re printed.

There’s seems to be a similarity in the way the business models of photography and music have been impacted by the Internet and digital technology. What was once scarce is now plentiful and what was once a high barrier to entry is considerably lower. Are you optimistic about the ability of future artists — be they photographers or musicians — to earn a living? 

Ben Folds: I think we can earn a living.  I don’t think we can expect to be rich at it.

You’ve written that you photograph things on the upbeat rather than the downbeat. What do you mean by that? 

Ben Folds: The downbeat is where we all land. It’s predictable. It’s not that I don’t shoot the predictable, I just find that I’m drawn to the photos that were shot between the moments—between the poses, and between the subjects, somehow.

I’m no master of that, but I can feel it when I see it and I try to be spontaneous enough to hit the shutter before I even know why. That [approach], somehow, was easier with film. I know that’s weird, but something about knowing there are a limited number of exposures on a roll made me feel more dangerous.

Anyway, at the end of the day, it’s just about telling a story—you can make that more interesting in the way you tell it, when you tell it and how you frame it.

August 26th, 2014

Free Seminar Alert: David McLain on 4K Video Workflow

David_McLain2(Sponsored) Come see why 4K video is quickly becoming the new standard in video capture and learn about workflow options at this free seminar being conducted by National Geographic veteran photographer & Sony Artisan of Imagery David McLain.  At this seminar (one of three at a day-long event), you’ll experience how McLain used the Sony a7s full-frame interchangeable lens camera to cover the World Cup in Brazil and learn why professional photographers and videographers alike are moving to 4K video. August 28, 2014, 11:00 a.m. at the B&H SuperStore in New York City.

More information at: www.bhphotovideo.com/find/eventDetails.jsp/id/1879

For more on McLain’s filmmaking, see PDN’s “Frames Per Second: Documentary Film Traces the Roots of Play.”

July 29th, 2014

On Board with Duggal—PDN attends The Summer Duggal Gatsby Party

Photo District News and Rangefinder representatives. Photo © Morgana Skelton

Photo District News and Rangefinder representatives. Photo © Morgana Skelton

As a media partner, PDN was present at The Summer Gatsby Party thrown by Duggal Visual Solutions on June 26, along with staff from our sister publication Rangefinder. Clients, partners and friends of the Duggal brand were treated to four hours aboard a yacht circling New York City. The Great Gatsby-themed soiree asked attendees to arrive in all-white attire to set the mood for the evening event, which included live music, a catered dinner, an open bar, a photo booth and stunning views of the Manhattan skyline, all aboard the Cornucopia Majesty Yacht. (more…)

April 24th, 2014

Exhibition in Bangladesh Remembers Garment Workers Who Died Tragically

lives-not-numbers-pulse

Photo © Taslima Akhter

A group exhibition currently open through the end of this week at the Pathshala South Asian Media Institute remembers the 1,134 garment workers who died on April 24, 2013 when Rana Plaza collapsed after years of neglect. The show, “1134—Lives Not Numbers,” was curated by Mahbubur Rahman and Munem Wasif, and includes contributions by photographers, performance artists, actors and others.

“Through the photographs of the needless deaths, through performance art reflecting the sorrow of the deprived, [the exhibition] attempts to leave a lasting mark on our collective psyche,” writes Pathshala founder Shahidul Alam about the exhibition.

The effort reminds us that our own understanding of this event has been heightened by the work of photographers like Taslima Akhter, whose photo of bodies in the rubble became famous around the world, and Abir Abdullah, whose project, “Deathtrap,” on the ongoing dangers of the garment factories in which millions of Bangladeshis work, won an Alexia Foundation grant.

Visit Alam’s blog to read more about this exhibition and check out a schedule of events.

January 16th, 2014

Sundance Film Festival New Frontier Program Highlights Photography

Film still from Michel Comte's "The Girl From Nagasaki."

Film still from Michel Comte’s “The Girl From Nagasaki.”

Photography’s influence on contemporary art and society, and its use in multimedia storytelling, are on display this year at the Sundance Film Festival in the New Frontier program, which emphasizes “transmedia” storytelling.

The film festival founded by Robert Redford, which opens today in Park City, Utah, and runs through January 26, is celebrating its 30th anniversary in 2014.

“New Frontier champions films that expand, experiment with, and explode traditional storytelling,” said a statement from the organizers. Participating filmmakers have created interactive photography installations that accompany their films, and have produced documentaries on photographic history and the significance of the medium. One photographer, Michel Comte, is making his directorial debut with a 3-D feature film adaptation of the Puccini opera “Madame Butterfly.”

In his film “Through a Lens Darkly: Black Photographers and the Emergence of a People,” director Thomas Allen Harris considers the history of African-American photography and its role in African American life and identity.

In addition to the film, Allen Harris is presenting a companion installation, “Digital Diaspora Family Reunion,” “a traveling roadshow that engages local communities to bring forth their family photographs and share them with others, and upload them into a database that re-imagines the social network through family photography and family heirloom photographs,” says Shari Frilot, Sundance Film Festival Senior Programmer and curator of the New Frontier exhibition. Images from the project are showing in a New Frontier exhibition.

Another photo-based art installation, “My 52 Tuesdays,” by Artists Sophie Hyde, Sam Haren and Dan Koerner, is a companion piece to the film “52 Tuesdays,” which is in the World Dramatic program at the festival, follows a year in the life of teenage girl and her mother as the latter goes through a gender transition to become a man. The installation is a photo booth, where participants can go in and sign up to create their own yearlong personal documentary through photography. “Every Tuesday you will be sent a question that creates space to reflect on how you make choices, how you’re living your life, and you take a photograph of yourself,” Frilot explains. At the end of the year, participants will have an album of their year.

Photographer Michel Comte’s directorial debut, “The Girl from Nagasaki,” is a feature film adaptation of “Madame Butterfly” set in Nagasaki, Japan. during World War II and its aftermath. The 3-D film follows its main character as she emerges from the ashes of the atomic bomb dropped on the city. “He definitely brings a photographic sensibility [to the film],” Frilot says. “It’s a visually stunning work.”

Another artwork, Doug Aitken’s video installation, The Source, an evolving series of conversations about artmaking in the 21st century, includes photographers Stephen Shore and William Eggleston.

Finally, photographers are likely to be fascinated by artist James Nares’ work “Street.” Using a Phantom Flex HD camera, Nares slows down the frantic pace of a New York City streets to create a video installation that is “very simple and elegant and absolutely mesmerizing,” Frilot says. “You feel like you are watching a photograph of the streets in motion.”

January 13th, 2014

Danny Lyon Criticizes Media; Says How He Would Edit National Geographic Magazine

Photojournalist Danny Lyon delivered a sharp critique of the media, explained the main goal of his career, and reminisced about his work on the civil rights movement, motorcycle gangs and Texas prisoners at a rare public appearance last week.

Lyon was the headliner at the 2014 National Geographic Photography Seminar, a day-long event held January 9 before a standing-room-only crowd at the National Geographic offices in Washington, DC.

“I took it for granted that all the magazines lied, and since I chose the media as my field I was determined to create an American media that was truthful,” Lyon said during his talk.

He also imagined himself as editor of National Geographic, and suggested story ideas that would probably rile the magazine’s audience (read on for details).

In addition to Lyon, photographers Tyler Hicks, Wayne Lawrence, David Maisel, Newsha Tavakolian, and Vince Musi lectured about their careers and past projects. Media artist Hasan Elahi also gave a talk about his surveillance project.

Following is an edited transcript of Lyon’s talk.

(more…)

October 10th, 2013

Part Art and Book Fair, Part Photo Fest, Unseen Delivers Energy, Mixed Reviews From Sellers in Second Year

© Amber Terranova

© Thijs Boontjes

In its second year, Unseen Art Fair drew an international audience to Amsterdam to view previously un-exhibited work from established artists and emerging talents. Set against the industrial backdrop of a repurposed nineteenth century coal gas power plant, the “art fair with a festival flair,” as organizers dubbed it, featured plenty of energy and excitement, but drew mixed reactions from gallerists, with some noting that combining an art fair, book fair and photo festival, with artist talks and other programming, distracted from the business of print sales. (more…)

June 17th, 2013

Look3: Josef Koudelka on the Measure of a Photographer, Courage, and Controlling Your Own Destiny

©Tristan Wheelock

©Tristan Wheelock

Legendary photographer Josef Koudelka packed the house at the Paramount Theater in downtown Charlottesville during the Look3 Festival of the Photograph over the weekend, and the audience greeted him with a standing ovation after master of ceremonies, photographer Vince Musi, announced that Koudelka had been reluctant to participate. Koudelka, who has a reputation as a lone wolf among a group of peers known for their independence, has rarely granted interviews during a career that spans more than 40 years.

“Of course I don’t feel very comfortable to be here. I am not a good speaker,” said Koudelka, who was nevertheless gracious to Anne Wilkes Tucker, curator at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, who was also on stage to interview him. “I don’t know what she’s going to ask me, [but] I gave her assurance I would answer everything…I will try to be as honest as possible.”

Koudelka also told the audience at the outset that he “never listened much to what [other] photographers say,” and recounted how Henri Cartier-Bresson had asked him to read and comment on the text of The Decisive Moment before that book was published. “I said to Bresson I’m really not interested and I’m not going to read it.” Koudelka added, “I think the best portrait of a photographer are his photographs, so please judge me on my photographs.” (more…)