How Do You Price Your Work?

 

 

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

Photo Economics: Multiformat Large Format

Getting the Most out of Camera and Lenses

The equipment for large format film photography can be very expensive. While this is true for 4X5 equipment, it gets even more so for 5X7 and 8X10.  Modern lenses and shutters for the bigger formats go for the amounts I am more inclined to pay for a car, and I have worked carefully over the years to avoid investing that kind of money into photo equipment.  The quality of my negatives has not suffered for that avoidance however and I am quite satisfied with my camera kits.  I’d like to talk about that and offer some suggestions on getting the most out of a limited set of equipment.

paragon
Protar VIIa and Ilex Paragon 12 in 4.5

I have a C-1 black beast 8X10 camera that I bought about 15 years ago that came with two reducing backs and an extra 8X10 back for about $250.  The 34 inch bellows was full of pinholes, hence the price.  Still, after about doubling the price for a custom bellows and installing it myself, I had a camera with three film sizes for not that much money.  It takes a six inch lens board and I had one lens, a 12 inch Ilex Paragon 4.5, uncoated and unshuttered.  I found a dealer in Spokane who had the big Compound shutter #5 and who made a reducing ring and mounted the Paragon in front of the shutter.  Mounting it in a wooden 6 inch board got my camera working.  The shutter and mounting cost me 75 dollars.  The lens was free as it was in a closet having spent 20 years demonstrating what aperture leaves looked like to photo classes.  The reducing backs set me on the path of photo economics as a 12 inch lens on 4X5 is very different in aesthetic and technical qualities than it is on an 8X10 inch piece of film.  Combining that with a 34 inch bellows gave me a camera and lens of awesome versatility! My second lens was also someone’s throwaway and I found it dusty and uncovered in a cardboard box, and when cleaning it up recognized the name Protar VIIa, and doing a little research got me very excited.  It is a 7+ inch lens with combined elements, 11+ with only the rear element, and 16+ with only the front element, mounted on the rear.  This lens combination was meant for 5X7 work, but the rear element covered at least 5X8 and the front much more than 8X10.  As the coverage area increases the closer the focus, and as these anastigmat components increased coverage are as they were stopped down, I had a 1920’s lens that gave me wide angle coverage to ultralong coverage depending on which film I was shooting.

the black beast
BlACK BEAST  B&J C-1

I have said before and will repeat that these old lenses prove themselves in both sharpness and contrast, and that I have found no significant loss of negative quality in their use.  In the meantime I had picked up a 5X7 Eastman 2D complete with tailpiece from a friend in California, a donation as he was going blind and couldn’t photograph any more.  This camera takes 4 inch lens boards while the C-1 takes 6 inch.  Over several years I found an 8 ½ inch Commercial Ektar and a 254mm Ilex Calumet Caltar, both in Ilex shutters, for the 5X7. I wanted to be able to switch between cameras and extend the use of my lenses.  The solution came through my friend Johnny Coffey who is a locksmith and machinist extraordinaire.  I took slider parts from a defunct Speed Graphic 4X5 Pacemaker, showed him what I wanted and he created a 6 inch anodized metal lens board with the sliders mounted at top and bottom of a 4 inch square hole.  The 4 inch wooden or metal boards dropped into this ridged slot and the Speed Graphic slider fastened them into place.   Now the 8 ½ inch Ektar and the 254mm Caltar fit nicely onto the 8X10 C-1 with its abundance of camera movements.

reducing lens board
Modified lens board, 6 to 4 in.

What it boils down to is that one of the virtues of a view camera is the flexibility of its front and rear standards, and with the combination of reducing backs and the reducing lens board, and throwing in the convertible nature of the Protar VIIa, I have six different lens possibilities on three different film formats.  I know that the Commercial Ektar doesn’t quite cover the 8X10, but with that long bellows I can do all kinds of in-close work with that lens on the largest film size and it has made beautiful 8X10 negatives in that mode.

 

If I had to do this all again I would look for an 8X10 camera, not a monorail, but like the C-1, or like the Eastman Commercial 8X10, folders that are easy to transport without a big long case, and the reducing backs. One added advantage of having the biggest camera body is that the big bellows can significantly reduce the in-camera flair caused by lenses with more than adequate coverage.  The wider bellows doesn’t reflect light and bounce it all over the inside of the camera like a narrower 4X5 bellows might.  Most photographers who would shoot large format in the first place would tend to have other cameras and multiple formats. Reducing backs simplify that. Reducing lens boards is not a new idea and having acquired one I have found it to be a great one.

 

The biggest drawback is of course that a big camera is a big camera, and an 8X10 is, generally speaking big. It can also be heavy, although the new custom built cameras of carbon fiber and nice thin wood have reduced the weight but at a price far more than I could justify paying (both to my conscience and my wife and partner Kathy.)

Commercial 8X10
Eastman Commercial 8X10 B

Speaking of weight, I now have an Eastman Commercial 8X10 that is manufactured from magnesium, and it is considerably lighter than the C-1.  It doesn’t have the wide range of movements, especially at the front standard but for field work it proves itself fully capable.  The C-1 on the other hand is the studio camera of choice.

 

Good Shooting

 

Bill Kostelec,

July 5, 2018