Gallery Representation for Photographers
Want to see your photographs in an art gallery but don’t know where to get started? In this guest post from Kara Lane, the author of From Photographer to Gallery Artist, you’ll learn the top 5 criteria art galleries use to evaluate photography. Keep reading below to learn how to evaluate your work and find the gallery representation you seek. Find more tips on getting into a gallery here.
Keep creating and good luck!
Top 5 Criteria Art Galleries Use to Evaluate a Photographer’s Images by Kara Lane
(Excerpt: From Photographer to Gallery Artist by Kara Lane)
Submitting your fine art photography to an art gallery can be a frustrating experience if you do not know what galleries want. You can figure it out through trial and error, but that takes time. To save you time, I contacted over sixty galleries and asked them what they were looking for when they viewed a photographer’s work. Each gallery had their own preferences, but certain criteria were common to most galleries:
Is the work unique?
Many new fine art photographers create images that look just like everybody else’s, with typical subjects, formats, and styles. Laurence Miller (owner of the Laurence Miller Gallery) said that many artists think they are “inventing the wheel.” He recommends that artists go to as many museums and galleries as possible, read history of photography books, and then ask themselves what their work adds to what has already been done.
Similarly, Peter MacGill (president of the Pace/MacGill Gallery) noted that a successful fine art photographer is “one who makes an original contribution to the field, to the visual arts at large.” Many other galleries echoed these sentiments, noting they wanted one-of-a-kind images, not the same old thing. Originality sells.
Does the work mean something?
Lisa Sette (owner of the Lisa Sette Gallery) believes there has to be a reason for making the work, and it needs to elicit a genuine response from viewers. She also thought it should be relevant to our times. She sees too many photographers who have nothing to say with their work. They often concentrate on the medium, while ignoring the concept.
Galleries do not just want pretty pictures; they want to see the artist’s vision come through their work. Sandhini Poddar, an art historian and Guggenheim associate curator, said, “Great art should communicate an idea.” Many of her favorite artists are social activists. Your work does not have to be about weighty social or political issues, but galleries do prefer art that tells a story and expresses a point of view.
Does the work exhibit good technique?
Gallerists are looking for a high level of craft. They want to see images that reflect the artist’s mastery of technique and understanding of photography. A photographer’s technical proficiency in using the camera should be evident based on the exposure, color, scale, and composition of their images. The work should also show the artist’s skill in developing images, either digitally through editing software or physically through the darkroom. The result should be an exhibition-quality print.
One dealer I spoke to said most of the work submitted to his gallery was hugely inferior and unsophisticated. That may seem harsh, but it may just indicate that some fine art photographers submit their work before it is ready. Each gallery has its own view of what constitutes great art, but all look for good technique.
Is the work marketable?
Most gallery owners and directors love art regardless of its commercial value. However, they must remain profitable to stay in business. As a result, they only take on work they believe they can sell. In reality, whether or not art is marketable depends on the market. A major gallery in SoHo or Chelsea may be able to sell avant-garde work, even if the images are controversial or disturbing. Concept may trump aesthetics for their more liberal collectors. On the other hand, a small Midwestern gallery might not be able to sell similar work in their space. Aesthetics may trump concept for their more conservative collectors.
Stephen Clark (owner of the Stephen L. Clark Gallery) said some of his artists want to do more cutting-edge work, but their cutting-edge work does not sell. He said, “At the foundation of all of this is something most people in the business forget. When you get up in the morning, what do you want to see? After work, cocktail in hand, sitting at your dinner table, what do you want to look at?” Simply stated, the works of art that a gallery deems marketable depends on what their collectors want hanging on their walls. With research, you will be able to find the right markets for your work.
Is there a cohesive body of work?
If you only have a few good images, most galleries will not want to represent you. It takes a considerable amount of time, money, and effort to build an artist’s brand. Dealers will not make the investment if an artist only has a few prints to sell. Galleries want to work with artists who have produced at least one body of work consisting of multiple images with a unifying subject, style, or theme. The number of images galleries want to see in a portfolio varies, but 10 to 20 is common.
Janet Russek (co-owner of Scheinbaum & Russek) said collectors mainly buy for the love of the photograph, but they also want to know “whether the artist will have staying power.” If they are going to collect your art, they want to know there will be more art to collect. Russek said it is easier for a gallery to take on an artist who already has a solid past of projects and bodies of work.
If your fine art photography meets the above criteria, your work fits with the type of art that galleries want. If not, you now have some idea of what galleries are looking for and can begin to address any issues with your work.
For more information on what galleries want, how to identify the right galleries for you, and how to effectively market your work to galleries, check out From Photographer to Gallery Artist (available on Amazon).
Kara Lane is the author of From Photographer to Gallery Artist: The Complete Guide to Finding Gallery Representation for Your Fine Art Photography. © 2015. She lives in Carmel, Indiana. You can find more information about all her books at www.karalane.com.