We are in the final stages of preparing for our annual holiday photo open house, which begins tomorrow evening and runs through the weekend. Once again the issue of pricing our prints has come to the fore with its conflicting values and complications. Because we do not work as commercial photographers, but rather as fine art photographers, we do not get an income from our love for the camera and the darkroom, but instead hope to sell prints through gallery and open air exhibits during the year. We had what we considered a major show this Summer from twenty-five years of photographing in an around Spokane, had plenty of visitors to the museum gallery where it was presented for about two months, but didn’t make any money at it.
Viewer enthusiasm is great, but it takes real money to buy film and paper and chemistry, and especially as Kathy and I are both using 8X10 cameras, the costs are pretty hefty. Our open house, in which literally our house becomes a living gallery, has been a pretty good source of financial relief. This is our tenth year doing it so we have our hopes up. This brings me to the point: setting prices, a dirty business full of angst and stress. I am a firm believer in the democratic nature of photography as a medium. Even apart from digital, a photographic piece of art is reproducible. We work with film negatives. A printmaker using a copper plate to produce her images will print an edition, and no more. Having a negative means I can always go back and print the image again. There are two ways of seeing this: Because I have a negative, every print becomes less valuable due to the law of supply and demand; Because I have the negative, I can make prints available to a broader and bigger group of patrons, who may not, for example, be able to afford having an original etching made in an edition of 50. This second is what I mean by photography being democratic. I once was a painter and as a hopeful artist I took slides to galleries in Chicago to see if I could find some interest in my work. What I found was the gallery people and the patrons were from a different world than mine. I lived in a lower middle class neighborhood growing up, in a factory town that smelled of the smokestacks. The folks in the Chicago galleries were not the people I knew, and it seemed to me at the time, unlike them in so many ways.
Everybody responds to photos. I want as many people as can to be able to enjoy an image I made and possess it. But this means that I have to be very careful not to price my prints beyond their means. I also have to consider what it takes to produce my work in terms of time and knowledge and experience, and all the years I have put into perfecting my skills and my knowledge of the techniques required. Then there is, as I suggested earlier, the costs of supplies. Some people tell us we don’t charge enough. We have photographer friends who charge, what we think are outrageous prices and there is no way I could afford to own a piece from them.
Thus this frustrating and anxious process of setting our prices for the open house.
I thought I’d throw in this quick little blog to see if some of you have some thoughts on it.
Bill Kostelec, December 5, 2019