Recently I had the unexpected experience of having to pick out from my collection 12 photographs that I wanted to sell. Or that I thought would sell. Or that I thought people would like enough to buy. Or that I simply thought were good enough to frame and offer to the world. It was nerve wracking, because I have never given serious thought about selling my work. Up until now I have never had to make decisions based on anything other than asking myself if I am proud enough of this piece to post it online. My photographs have always been for me, and something I shared with other people that I mostly do not really know. In simpler terms, I never really had to doubt myself before (regarding photography) in a way that would bring back verifiable results.
But the chance to test that prevalent online comment, “I’d buy that as a print,” came along, and I took it.
Four days before some unexpected spots opened up in an acquaintance’s craft market for local artist, the organizer messaged me about setting up and selling some prints. I was excited for the opportunity, but woefully unprepared. Prior to this event I had only ever shown work in a gallery at an Alice in Wonderland themed event. That was a different kind of preparation altogether. It had a theme, for one, so I could only pull from my Alice photos (which was all I was doing at the time anyway) and I had no intention or realistic expectation of selling anything, or maybe I just didn’t care. A market though, that is different. A gallery is there to show, but a market is there to sell. That is how my mind perceived the opportunity.
*** What do you think? Are galleries more about exposure than selling? Are they just fancier markets? Would you prepare for a gallery showing the same as placing your product in a store?
I had to put my print order in the very same night if I wanted to participate and so I limited myself first to only photos from 2016. This would ensure that anything I picked was taken with my DSLR and the file sizes would be big enough to print the size I needed. (For my gallery showing, I was only using my phone and some photos did not make it because they looked horrible when printed larger than 4×6.) I knew that I wanted to bring a broad representation of what I have been up to so I started looking in my Lego, Metroid, TARDIS, HO Scale, and Alice folders. And that is when I had my first realisation.
I do not capture photographs with an 8 by 8 frame in mind. Yet, all I had available were twelve 8 by 8 frames. This immediately made some photos ineligible. Having to crop to a square completely changed certain photos in ways I could not justify. And that just opened the floodgates. As I considered if I could “get away” with certain crops I started looking at my proudest works and wondering if they were good enough. “Do you deserve a frame? I only have 12,” I kept asking myself. It was an exercise in self-doubt, disguised as consumerism that I had not come into contact with before precisely because I have never set out to sell photographs.
“Is this good enough?”
“Does the crop change this too much?”
“Would someone buy this?”
“Would anybody like this enough to pay money for it?”
“Would I pay money for this?”
Perhaps because of the way my experiences fell, I was not this thoughtful about my gallery showing. Those photos were a simple matter of, is this file size large enough, and do I like this one? No self doubt, no fretting about what the consumers would want. It was much preferable to what I felt choosing photos with the express intent to sell.
*** Have you ever shown your work in a gallery, and did the idea of sales affect which photographs you chose for that showing? Have you ever picked out photos with the largely sole intent to sell them? What process did you use to choose what you would present for sale?
In the end, I want to tell myself I remembered the innocence of my gallery showing and I picked photos solely based on my creative vision, much as the way I capture them. But I know I didn’t. I know I thought about the consumer because when I look at my end choices there are still a few that I feel betrayed by. There are still a few that I know I included because they did well on Instagram, even though they are not my favorites.
But hey, bright side, finally found a good use for how to use likes on Instagram!