Professing the Faith

During my visit to San Diego I stayed at a seafront hotel and above my bed was a large frame holding four photographs, 11x14 color prints. The matte board was signed and numbered: Xxxx Xxxx, 1/250. The photographs were unremarkable — simple graphic triangles of spinakers, probably from a boat or ship in the local harbor. 1 of 250... I wondered how many of those 250 had been purchased by the hotel.

I got my answer the next morning, walking down the halllway and seeing several more similarly-unchallenging photos of ropes and anchors, with the same signature and bearing numbers like 34/250 and 387/500 — the same set of four sails from my hotel bedroom also adorned the lobby shoeshine stand. 177/250. So the hotel had likely purchased all of these prints.

During the week I idly assessed the full collection — at least eight different framed sets carrying one, two, or four photos. So perhaps a thousand prints and frames, probably more. Typical bulk printing of $30 a pop plus a $50 frame, sell it for $100. Adding-up those $20 bills could be a nice little Mercedes-Benz.

The deuce of it is — and this is hardly a new surprise but it just stuck in my head while looking at this print each night before I dozed off — the actual artistic merits of these photos, despite the flourishing signature on the mat, were a near-zero factor for the photographer's success. They were really quite mundane, commercially bulk-printed. I'd guess she used a medium-format camera, but there was nothing really in them, no life or interest, just a dull colorful safeness with a vaguely nostalgic seaport theme.

There were probably plenty of personal attributes that did go into the sale, mind you. For all I know the shooter is a really delightful person. Or maybe she's an expert at getting a good deal on picture frames, and gave the lowest bid. Or is the next-door neighbor of the person who chose the wallpaper. Hard to say.

This is common enough in all the arts, but more so in photography than any other. One can get a record deal without being a musician, but it's an uncommon occurence. Quite the opposite for photography, where one can become a well-known artist simply by being well-connected. Herewith, today's PhotoRant list:

Easy Ways to Become an Important Professional Photographer

  • Have an extremely hot girlfriend, preferably one who already works for, say, Victoria's Secret. Shoot grainy backlit shots of her changing clothes or rolling on the floor. Show them to your friend the Maxim publisher during a party at his home. Repeat.
  • Variation on the above: hot male friend with probable but infuriatingly uncertain homoerotic overtones (for example: you are, he denies it). Nice speedo.
  • Be famous for something else already, so that you will have numerous famous friends (and their hot girlfriends). Take photos of them drinking and standing around at Gstadt. Sell the photos as a coffeetable book.
  • Be a frustrated painter or sculptor, befreind more-successful sculptors and painters. When they are famous, photograph them. Before and during their fame, exploit their gallery connections ruthlessly.
  • It's your book company, they will print what you tell them.
  • Mix and match!

In all cases, hire a capable assistant as quickly as possible.

August 13, 2003





Comments on "Professing the Faith"

August 17, 2003 04:51 AM

While not disputing your basic premise that the sale off such a volume of prints may well be due to the "who you know" factor, rather than to any great artistic merit in the images, in some ways, I have to tip my hat to the photographer. It sounds like an excellent assessment of her market's needs/desires and a good sales job. Making a few bucks from photography shouldn't be a sin, whether from the sale of boring, safe photos to a hotel or by selling cute puppy pictures to Hallmark.

It would be nice to hope that the photographer is using the money from her commercial successes to finance a more personal quest for images with some greater artistic value.


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