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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

Blue Sky Gallery Starts Book Publishing Program to Mark 40th Year

Portland, Oregon’s Blue Sky Gallery entered its 40th year with a retrospective exhibition at the Portland Art Museum, and the launch of Blue Sky Books, a new print-on-demand publishing program that offers affordable books by 36 of the artists who’ve shown at the gallery.

Since it opened in 1975 as a collaborative project by local photographers, Blue Sky Gallery has grown into an important photography outlet with an international reputation, showing the work of both emerging and established photographers from the region, the country and throughout the world.

The museum exhibition, which includes more than 120 works, looks back on more than 700 exhibitions at the gallery by 650 photographers.

The book program grew in part from the gallery’s DIY esthetic. “We’re a very populous, democratic gallery,” says Christopher Rauschenberg, the president of the Blue Sky board of directors and the editor of Blue Sky Books. “We’re an artist’s space, and artists don’t have any money,” he adds. The books cost $18 dollars on average and can be ordered through MagCloud, the print-on-demand service owned by Blurb. The price includes a 15 percent fee for the artist and a 15 percent fee for the gallery.

The program was inspired in part by an artist who’d shown at Blue Sky, who reached out to Rauschenberg about a deal a publisher was offering him: the publisher would put out the artist’s book if he raised $30,000. Rauschenberg told the artist it was a standard deal, “but I can’t say it’s a good deal and I don’t have anything else to offer you,” Rauschenberg recalls. Other photographers had asked similar questions. Rauschenberg realized he wanted to be able to offer photographers “something else.” In looking back at the history of the gallery, Rauschenberg also realized there were “all these bodies of work that were never published as books and great shows that we had 30 years ago,” he says. He chose to use MagCloud, which he had used to make small catalogues of his own work for portfolio reviews, to create a series of books that were affordable to buy, and to publish.

By releasing 36 books at once, as the gallery did last week, Rauschenberg felt the artists could leverage their collective networks to promote the endeavor. “We’ve asked everybody to not just put your own book out but promote the whole series,” Rauschenberg says.

Community support and collective effort have contributed to the gallery’s longevity. For instance, Bruce Guenther, who recently announced his retirement as the chief curator of the Portland Art Museum, was instrumental in helping the gallery figure out how to buy the space they now occupy, Rauschenberg says. “Portland has a really wonderful spirit” in which people come together to get things done, and the local audience responds.

Rauschenberg remembers the flood of exhibition proposals the gallery received soon after they opened so many years ago. “We came in with a certain amount of a dream, and then other people’s dreams have added to it.”

October 27th, 2014

Obituary: David Armstrong, Age 60

Photographic artist David Armstrong, who first made his name as a member of the “Boston School” with Jack Pierson, Mark Morrisroe and Nan Goldin, and eventually shot for Vogue, GQ, and other fashion clients, died October 25, in Los Angeles, from liver cancer.  He was 60 years old.  Vogue.com reported that Armstrong’s agent, Jed Root, had confirmed the news.

Born in Arlington, Massachusetts, Armstrong was also very much of New York City, his long-time home. With intentions to become a painter, he attended the Boston Museum School and Cooper Union in New York. He received his B.F.A. from Tufts in 1988.

Along with fellow “Boston School” contemporaries like Stephen “Tabboo!” Tashjian, Armstrong and his friends made art of their lives in the counterculture. He first met Nan Goldin as a teenager, and their work was first shown together at PS1′s “New York/New Wave” exhibit in 1981.

David Armstrong 615 Jefferson

The cover of David Armstrong’s 2011 monograph 615 Jefferson Avenue. © Damiani/Photo by David Armstrong

Armstrong is often cited as having had a significant influence on Ryan McGinley, who also turned an interesting life with beautiful young friends into photographic art. Much of Armstrong’s work features lots of natural light, and his gaze is unmistakably erotic. Throughout his career, he made sharp-focused portraits of beautiful young boys, but he also made cityscapes in soft focus, especially after moving to Berlin in the early 1990s. His work was included in the 1995 Whitney Biennial.

Armstrong ushered into the universe of fashion by designer Hedi Slimane, who first commissioned him to make backstage photos of his work at Dior Homme. He would go on to be published in the French, Italian and Japanese editions of Vogue, Arena Homme+, GQ and Out, among other magazines, and counted Ermenegildo Zegna, Kenneth Cole, Burberry, Puma and Rodarte amongst his commercial clients.

Over his career he published several books, including a 1994 collaboration with his old friend, Nan Goldin/David Armstrong: A Double Life; he also published1997′s The Silver Cord, and a 2012 pressing of 30-plus-year-old photographs called Night & Day. His final monograph, 615 Jefferson Avenue, is comprised of bright portraits of male models taken at his house in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn.

In a conversation with old friend Jack Pierson about his process and motivation, published in Out magazine in 2011, he said, “I always think you want to come away with some beautiful, beautiful picture of the person, the boy, that’s really everything you want to express about them. Or, at least something you can rub one out to.”

October 1st, 2014

Is the Fair Use Defense Just for Rich and Famous Appropriation Artists?

Richard Prince earned millions appropriating and manipulating Patrick Cariou's "Yes, Rasta" images. Prince's fame as an artist arguably enabled him to get away with it.

Richard Prince earned millions appropriating and manipulating Patrick Cariou’s “Yes, Rasta” images. His fame as an artist arguably enabled him to get away with it on fair use grounds.

Fair Use may be turning into a legal refuge primarily for “rich and fabulous” artists, according to a recent University of Chicago Law Review article by two Stanford scholars. They reached that conclusion by analyzing Patrick Cariou v. Richard Prince and other copyright disputes between artists over the past decade.

“This shift in fair use has predominantly protected big name defendants who appropriate from small name artists,” Andrew Gilden, one of the authors, told American Public Media’s Marketplace program on Monday.

The Marketplace report, by Sabri Ben-Achour, went on to say that in visual art copyright cases over the past decade, the wealthier artist has usually prevailed. “They’ve won defending against claims they copied someone else’s work, and they’ve won pursuing others for copying their work,” Ben-Achour reported.

Gilden and his co-author, Timothy Greene, argue in their law review article that wealthy artists prevail in part because of the high cost of defending an infringement claim on fair use grounds–something many work-a-day artists can’t afford. But wealthy artists also prevail, Gilden and Greene argue, because there is a cultural presumption that works are “transformative” when they appropriate material from unknown artists, then sell for high prices to an exclusive market. (Whether a disputed work “transforms” the original work is a primary test for a finding of fair use.)

Cariou v. Prince, for instance, was a dispute over a series of paintings and collages by Prince that appropriated images from Cariou’s book Yes, Rasta without permission. Most of Prince’s works eventually sold, fetching a total of  $10.4 million. Prince successfully fended off Cariou’s copyright infringement claim on fair use grounds, testifying in the process that Cariou’s work was just raw material for his own work.

But the argument for transformation doesn’t work in the other direction, i.e., when unknown artists appropriate from better-known artists and then argue that they’ve created a transformative work. That’s because works by famous artists just don’t seem like raw material to juries, judges or average citizens.

The illustrative case Gilden and Greene analyze in their article is Salinger v. Colting. J. D. Salinger sued Fredrik Colting, a little-known author, over Colting’s novel called 60 Years Later: Coming Through the Rye. Colting borrowed story lines and characters from Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye,  pretty much doing what Prince did when he appropriated Cariou’s work, Gilden and Greene suggest. But unlike Prince, Colting lost his case. (Both cases were finally adjudicated in the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, which is in New York.)

As Gilden and Greene put it in their article, “Cariou makes fair use fairer for some, but there’s a real risk its virtues won’t be available to all.”

Related:
Richard Prince Did Not Infringe Patrick Cariou’s Photos, Appeals Court Says
S
upreme Court Declines to Hear Patrick Cariou’s Copyright Claim Against Richard Prince
Richard Prince Settles with Photographer Patrick Cariou

September 15th, 2014

New $10K Grant Will Send Newborn Babies Home From Hospital As Photo Collectors

A new $10,000 grant to support programs that engage new audiences with photography has been awarded to Pittsburgh photographer Matthew Conboy. The photographer won the grant, which was established by the non-profit Crusade for Art, for a proposal to send newborn babies at West Penn Hospital in Pittsburgh home with signed prints from local photographers.

Conboy took his inspiration for the project from a program created by a local hospital. There, they send each newborn home with a “Terrible Towel,” the yellow towel waved by fans at Pittsburgh Steelers NFL football games.

“While I am a proud Steelers Fan, I believe that babies could be sent home with something else that could change their lives and the lives of those around them: art,” Conboy wrote in his proposal.

The jury that awarded Conboy the grant included Museum of Contemporary Photography curator Karen Irvine, Colorado Photographic Arts Center executive director Rupert Jenkins, and New Yorker photo director Whitney Johnson.

Irvine and Crusade For Art executive director Jennifer Schwartz hailed the creativity of Conboy’s idea in a press release announcing the award. “We are excited to award this grant to someone whose idea feels completely original and unique,” Irvine said.

Conboy chose 12 local photographers—including himself—to participate in the program. Their work represents a broad spectrum of photographic interests. The program will run for one year, and Conboy estimates the group of artists will send 3500 newborn babies home with an original artwork. He also hopes to expand the project to include other hospitals in the region “and beyond,” he says.

July 10th, 2014

PDN Video: Mary Virginia Swanson on Selling Prints to Corporations

Mary Virginia Swanson on Selling Prints to Corporations from PDNOnline on Vimeo.

The corporate market for fine art prints has expanded on two fronts, says art photography consultant Mary Virginia Swanson. Corporations and corporate art consultants are both big purchasers of art, including photographic prints, for the walls of hotels, healthcare facilities, office buildings, and other business settings. In this video, Swanson explains the markets, and offers advice about how to tap into them, and price your prints for corporate buyers.

Related:
What to Expect from the Photographer/Gallery Relationship
Mary Virginia Swanson: How to Get the Most Out of a Portfolio Review
What Collectors Want (for PDN subscribers)

May 13th, 2014

Collector Sues Chicago Gallery for Damaging 54 of His Vivian Maier Prints

A photo collector who bought part of the Vivian Maier photo trove when Maier’s storage locker was auctioned off in 2007 has sued a Chicago gallery, Corbett vs. Dempsey, for damaging 54 images during a 2012 exhibition of the work, according to a report today in the Chicago Reader.

Vivian Maier, who was unknown as a photographer when she died in 2009, has since been promoted to stardom by the PR machine of collectors John Maloof and Jeffrey Goldstein. They bought the lion’s share of Maier’s negatives and prints at the 2007 auction and are not involved in the claim against Corbett vs. Dempsey.

The collector suing the gallery is Ron Slattery, who bought several thousand of Maier’s negatives and several thousand prints when her storage locker was auctioned. According to the Chicago Reader report, Slattery provided 56 of the prints to Corbett vs. Dempsey for an exhibition and sale that ran from June through December, 2012.

Two of the prints sold. The gallery returned the other 54 prints in damaged condition, Slattery claims. He alleges that the gallery used too much hinge glue to mount the photographs, and it soaked through the print paper, “severely distorting the images.”

Slattery’s claim also that the damage was “exacerbated” by exposure of the prints to “excessive heat,” and he alleges the gallery tried to cover up the damage, according to the Chicago Reader report.

The gallery says it admitted the damage to Slattery upon return of the images, and claims have made “multiple” offers to settle the claim for $8,700–the cost of repairs estimated by a restorer consulted by the gallery.

Slattery is seeking $200,000 in actual damages to the photographs, plus $2 million in punitive damages.

April 29th, 2014

Mark Ruwedel Wins 2014 Scotiabank Photography Award

"Tonopah and Tidewater #25," 2002. ©Mark Ruwedel, Courtesy Yossi Milo Gallery, New York.

Tonopah and Tidewater #25, 2002. ©Mark Ruwedel, Courtesy Yossi Milo Gallery, New York.

Landscape photographer Mark Ruwedel is the winner of the 2014 Scotiabank Photography Award, the bank announced this evening at an awards ceremony in Toronto.

In addition to receiving a $50,000 cash prize, Ruwedel will have a book of his work published by Steidl, and will have an exhibition at Ryerson Image Centre, Ryerson University, in Toronto.

“I’ve followed the development of Mark Ruwedel’s work with keen interest for over thirty years,” Edward Burtynsky, co-founder of the award and chair of the jury, said in a prepared statement. “He is a master of seeing and printing and has inspired countless landscape photographers.”

The two other finalist for the prize were Rodney Graham, a conceptual artist working in a variety of media including photography; and documentary photographer Donald Weber, who was one of the PDN‘s 30 in 2008.

The Scotiabank Photography Award was established four years ago to honor the work of contemporary Canadian photographers. Previous winners include Stan Douglas, Arnaud Maggs and Lynne Cohen.

This year’s finalists were selected by a three-member jury that included Robert Bean, an artist, writer and photography professor; Catherine Bédard, an art historian and Deputy-Director of the Canadian Cultural Centre; and Ann Thomas, Curator, Photographs Collection, at the National Gallery of Canada.

April 29th, 2014

ICP Celebrates Infinity Award Winners (Recap and Video Links)

Last night the International Center of Photography honored photographers working in photojournalism, fine-art and fashion at the 30th annual Infinity Awards. The awards were inaugurated in 1985 as a way to recognize outstanding achievements by photographers working in various genres within the medium.

It was the first Infinity Awards ceremony for new ICP director Mark Lubell, who promised the crowd that the organization would remain at the “center of the conversation” about the medium. Perhaps as a way to illustrate that point, ICP arranged for a drone to photograph partygoers during the cocktail hour, then put those photographs on-screen at the beginning of the ceremony.

The Cornell Capa Lifetime Achievement Award was given to German-born photographer Jürgen Schadeberg, who as an expatriate in South Africa during Apartheid, made some of the most famous images of Nelson Mandela, and encouraged black South African journalists to pick up cameras and tell their stories.

James Welling was honored for his contribution to fine-art photography; Steven Klein for fashion; Stephanie Sinclair and Jessica Dimmock were honored for photojournalism; Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin were honored for their publication Holy Bible; and Samuel A. James received the Young Photographer award.

Sinclair and Dimmock received a standing ovation from the crowd for their work documenting the practice of child marriage and its effects on adolescent girls, their families and their communities. The project, “Too Young To Wed,” is a decade-long pursuit for Sinclair that has spawned a non-profit that she hopes will help young girls and communities do away with the practice of child marriage.

Samuel A. James, who in his young career has worked extensively in Nigeria documenting the impact of oil extraction on the culture—including photographing the illegal tapping of oil pipelines and makeshift refining operations by impoverished Nigerians—thanked the Nigerians who “gifted me these stories” during a short acceptance speech. James also dedicated the award to a friend who was killed in an explosion while attempting to refine black-market crude oil.

In accepting the Publication award for their book Holy Bible, for which they combined the King James Bible with images from the Archive of Modern Conflict, Broomberg and Chanarin called the book their “attempt to somehow illustrate this text,” and said they hoped it would be an invitation to others to make their own attempts. They also paid tribute to their publisher, Michael Mack for his production of the book, and to the Queen of England, who owns the copyright to the King James Bible.

In a slightly incongruous presentation, pop star Brooke Candy spoke about Steven Klein and introduced a high-octane video that reviewed much of Klein’s work. The fashion photographer briefly thanked the crowd after noting that, “photography pretty much saved my life.”

MediaStorm produced short documentary films about all of the recipients except Klein. Watch those films on the MediaStorm site here.

Related: Tour de Force: James Welling’s Artistic Versatility
Best Photo Books of 2013

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.