Marketing For Fine Art Photographers

An interview with Mary Virginia Swanson                                                                                  by Matt Bailey

MB:  First of all, thank you for taking the time to add your insight and expertise in this subject for the rest of us to benefit from.

As we’ve discussed in the past, I started out as a fine art photographer in the late eighties, well before the Internet gave artists access to a global marketplace.  I’ve seen first hand how commercial photographers have gone from shipping physical portfolios from agency to agency as their primary form of promotion to circulating links to a wide distribution list with a well-designed email campaign.   How have you seen the world of promotion and commerce change for the fine art photographer over the last 10-15 years?

MVS:  Today, introducing your work to new audiences or keeping in touch with those whom you’ve met should be consistent in brand identity and intention whether it is in print or via email.  Depending on the market segment you are targeting, using social media such as Facebook and Twitter may be appropriate.  Regardless, your website should be the anchor of your marketing, featuring a tight edit of images, and a clear message, with simple navigation.

Portfolio review events have evolved in recent years to become an important  forum for artists, ranging from FotoFest’s “Meeting Place” component of its biennial festivals (est. 1986 in Houston, Texas) to nearly 20 events per year available to photographers in the US alone.  Some are juried (such as Review Santa Fe, deadline for application 1/27/11), others are regional in focus, still others offer meetings with a range of international curators, gallery directors, photo editors, publishers and more.  Some events now offer opportunities to meet with industry professionals in one market segment, others, with a broad cross-section.  I encourage anyone considering attending a portfolio review event to weigh the price, the value of potential contacts and the opportunities they will or will not have to meet with those Reviewers who are a priority to them at this time in their career path.   These events offer an opportunity to gather together with their peers and to begin professional relationships; whether participants work to grow the relationships they begin at review events is up to them.

MB: With all this change, and a move toward disintermediation in the world in general, how have you seen the role of the gallery change, and where do you feel the relationship between artist and gallery is headed in the future?

MVS:  Few traditional galleries are taking on new artists, a direct consequence of the global financial challenges.  The idea of “gallery” extends beyond the brick-and-mortar spaces, and the notion of representation may or may not include responsibility for marketing of fine prints.  Today’s gallery representative may also handle commissions and licensing opportunities for the artists they work with.  At the same time, we see a rise in photography being featured in interior design and décor projects, as well as art in public places such as airports.  While diversification is wise in challenging financial times, I believe you should be represented by individuals who are excellent at what they do, have a clear understanding of conducting business of any and all market segments and have the respect of the professionals within the fine art, advertising, editorial, or corporate markets.   It is rare to find someone who has a current perspective on all markets, and more common that photographers will have someone who may handle one part of their professional life, and that they themselves with be their best representative to other (or all) markets.

MB: I know a lot of commercial photographers who do personal work that they would love to have up in a show or sell to a collector.  Do you work with people who do both commercial and fine art photography?

MVS: YES.  An increasing number of my clients are finding a place for their personal style within commissions/assignments, and interest in acquisition of collectible prints produced for clients.

MB:  Is it difficult for them to tap into their creative side after working on client work?

MVS:  In the best-case scenario, commissioned work is a creative collaboration, one that is engaging for all parties.  I find those whose commissioned work is not necessarily within the subject area of their personal work making a commitment to their personal projects, keeping engaged and stimulated and making new work for themselves.

MB: There are many photographers I know who have been working in the same way for many years, and have huge archives of beautiful work (ie. http://www.salmieriphotographs.com/ ), and are just getting comfortable with the idea of marketing online.  The first step is often creating a website, but then there is the challenge of driving traffic to the site.  Do you encourage any specific strategies to address this issue?

MVS:  SEO strategies are proven; don’t ignore the potential for launching a website that is poised to communicate your message.  PRINT is the most important companion to marketing the presence of one’s website.   Marketing via print mailers is down dramatically, but in my opinion the impact and the experience is preferred to an e-announcement.  Network!  Be present at industry events, where you will give out your promo card personally.  And of course social networks are the logical first form of communication for some clients/some markets/some locations.

MB: What would you say are the most important things for a photographer to do when trying to get traction in the fine art world?

MVS:

RESEARCH online and in person and TARGET YOUR AUDIENCE

NETWORK in person and online

And most importantly

MAKE NEW PHOTOGRAPHS – FOR YOURSELF - EVERY DAY

MARY VIRGINIA SWANSON helps photographers find the strengths in their work and identify appreciative audiences in today’s diverse marketplace. Her lectures on industry awareness and marketing opportunities in the arts have aided countless photographers in moving their careers to the next level. She is the author of The Business of Photography: Principles and Practices. Swanson and co-author Darius Himes have recently completed Publish Your Photography Book (Princeton Architectural Press, Spring 2011).  Her website address can be found at  www.mvswanson.com.

© 2011 Mary Virginia Swanson

MATT BAILEY is Co-Founder of liveBooks, inc. (http://livebooks.com) and currently serves as their VP of Market Development.  In addition to spending the last seven years helping photographers market themselves online, Matt’s background in the photo industry includes more than 20 years of producing his own fine art work, which has shown at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Ft. Mason Gallery, and the 1994 Tornio Biennale in Torin, Italy.  As studio manager and master printer at Henningsen Studios in Taos, New Mexico, Bailey printed for such artists as Richard Avedon, Jerry Uelsmann, Robert Mapplthorpe, and the Ansel Adams estate.

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