Finding Value in Art Shows
In Making Connections, we examine where and how we share our photography and the interactions we have with the audience of our work.
Where does your photography live? Does it make a difference if anyone sees it? I started pondering these questions when my “hobby” became a serious investment of time and money, leading to some healthy introspection regarding my motivations for this pursuit.
I have discovered that the process of crafting beautiful images alone does not bring me quite enough fulfillment, if the images are destined to reside in a hard drive and hardly see the light of day. For me, a key piece is the sharing of the work, and the meaningful connections that this can generate.
Like many photographers, I share my work online, on my website, and on social media. I have also had a few images exhibited and published. All ways of sharing take some effort, with varying types and degrees of returns. One, however, stands out as being very time-consuming: participating in art shows. Weekend shows involve long days, from setup on Friday morning through takedown on Sunday evening. Getting ready for these events occupies most of my spare time in the week leading up to them, and the nights after a day at the show are often spent reprinting to restock sold items. Some shows bring good sales and some don’t, but even the good ones are hard to justify from a sales-only standpoint. This begs the question: are these shows worth it? The answer depends fully on one’s motivations and expectations.
Since I do not rely on photography as a primary source of income, art shows are optional for me, and I understand that photographers who earn a living off their work might see things differently. I enjoy every single sale, but not because of the money. It is really about the satisfaction of feeling that someone loved an image enough to take it with them and make it a part of their lives. While this borders on sounding ego-driven, I believe that the real reason for this satisfaction – and the reason why I enjoy doing art shows – is the opportunity to make connections.
It is hard to create genuine connections on social media, with the often-overwhelming amount of content available, and the interfaces which facilitate jumping from image to image in a matter of seconds. With the Slow Photography Movement, we are trying to counteract that reality by publishing articles and featuring images with stories that encourage a slow approach. Even so, the road to building a sub-culture that appreciates and prioritizes more intentional interactions feels long.
Art shows give an artist the opportunity to connect with a broad audience over an extended period of time, gauge what people respond to, and engage in meaningful conversations about artistic process or individual pieces. I am often surprised at the way in which someone sees a particular image, and the meaning that they may derive from it. In some cases, I have come to appreciate my own work differently after hearing what others see in it. My best selling images are not the very dramatic sunrises or sunsets that tend to garner the most love on social media. Instead, they are the images that people can strongly connect to, often because it is a place they know, but sometimes because something in the image just resonates with them. For example, this image of the Búðir Black Church (below) always seems to draw comments about space, peacefulness, and serenity. I have learned that for a lot of people, it is the bird that really completes the image. I love this feedback since I briefly considered removing it, fearing that it was a distraction. I decided against it as a matter of principle; I try to not over edit images nor remove items unless really necessary. Every comment I’ve received about the bird validates that decision.
Making a sale is significantly more satisfying when you understand why the buyer loves an image, and I have learned that people are more likely to buy a photo once they know the story behind it. This tells me that personal connections are mutually beneficial to both artist and consumer. The chance to connect allows both sides to appreciate the meanings and contexts of an image more deeply than they would alone.
It’s hard to say if art shows are truly the best way to share my work, but they are certainly the best way that I have found to create significant connections with my audience. These real world connections make for more meaningful sales and feedback. A “very nice work” at an art show, coming from someone who has spent ten minutes flipping through matted prints or looking at your wall display, feels somehow better earned than a “like” from an unknown social media account. The same can be said for a sale that happens after a conversation on the particulars of an image, versus an online sale to an undisclosed buyer.
So, are shows worth it to me? My answer may depend on the day; often – while doing them – I think that they are too much effort, that I may only do a few more. Sometimes I spend a good part of the weekend wishing that I were outside, capturing images instead. But I have not stopped yet! Using my images as a launching point for conversations regarding art, nature, and other topics makes photography truly fulfilling. Just as photography is a tool that helps me reconnect with nature, an image at an art show can be a tool that helps me to connect with others. And this is what I believe the Slow Movement is all about: creating stronger connections to nature, place, and people. So I’ll see you at the next show, unless by then I’ve found a better – less time consuming way – to connect with and share my work with everyone!