Free, Worthless, and unsolicited Advice
First, you are probably wondering why am I so cheap? Yeah, I'm, let's call it, inexpensive. Why is that? For several reasons. Foremost it is because I am new at this. That is, I'm new to portrait photography. And ten dollars sounds reasonable. Most people want more than one portrait anyway. So I do ok. It also challenges me to get the best portraits possible.
Yeah, but what about the prints you are selling? Why are they so...inexpensive? That's easy too. I'm not looking to get rich is my first and most honest answer. But also, I want to do this a while and see if my customers are pleased, if my website is working. When I trust the quality of this website and how it handles transactions, those prints will start going up in price. There is a good bit of expense in a single photograph. For starters, there's all the camera, gear, computers, the actual cost of getting to where you are shooting...and well, the list would never end. But mainly for a single image, it is the cost of getting there and the cost of time preparing the photograph. (A single image can take as much as two weeks and a photographic trip can last as much as two weeks, too. And yeah, sadly you can come away from a huge photography trip with one, maybe two images. For every one photograph on my website there are thousands of discarded ones.) So when you see local photographers selling their digital images for hundreds of dollars, I try to keep in mind that they are not only artists but also be providers for their families.
So you bought a print, now what? Unless you are going to use it just on your computer or social media or whatever, you are going to want to print the image. Printing the image can make or break it. There have been times I've sent an image out only to have it returned with different shades and tones throughout. That's when I learned places like pharmacy stores or other big box, general merchandise stores do not specialize in photography. That's not to say you won't get lucky. But really? Another reason not to use stores like this is longevity. Every photograph that ages increases in importance. In my father's office is a photograph of a great, great, uncle. I don't know his name but I do know he looks exactly like my brother. When thinking about printing a portrait, don't just think about where you are going to hang it, think about where your great great granddaughter will hang it. That means thinking about where you're going to print it. I've been using places like Nations Photo Lab, Mpix, WHCC, and Bay Lab Photos. I've haven't been pleased with every image, but whenever I have expressed a concern, they have all been willing to print it again. And don't count out your local printers. I've been happy with a company close by called Image Monster. The ones I've mentioned are just a few of hundreds of great printers out there. And some of these places will frequently have great deals.
So now you know.
What else you want to know?
Who and what is considered an artist and art? What makes one artist successful and another one the living embodiment of the starving artist? Let's make this pretty easy.
Who is an artist?
Anyone who is trying to tell a story.
What should we consider art? Do it speak to you? Does it illicit an emotional feeling?
If yes, call it art.
What makes an artist successful? First you have think about your definition of success.
I would say 99% of success is luck. Many years ago I was a reader for one of the leading literary journals in the country. We received hundreds (thousands?) of submissions. Our job was to reject 98% of them. And then of the two percent that was left, we got rid of 98% of them. Maybe there was one that would be published. Mostly we rejected manuscripts because they were clumsy or didn't get the technical stuff right. Some we rejected because, despite the fact they were well written, we just didn't like the story. And still others, we rejected even though they were written perfectly and told a brilliant story. The fact that I have been published in any literary journals, despite having not been paid by any of them, makes me a "successful" writer. If that is what we what to call successful don't bother being an artist--only disappointment and endless self-doubt await your future.
So let's use a different definition of success. If success is defined as art for art's sake then essay your way to perfection. In fact, I would consider a truly successful artist as the individual(s) who forms an emotional relationship with her art. If 99% of becoming a famous artist is luck, more than 99% of artist toil in obscurity. And that's not a bad thing. A successful artist doesn't worry about what sells, what's published, or what brings them accolades. A successful artist doesn't sit down to write a story. A successful photographer or painter doesn't try to render an image. Artists are successful when they hear or listen to art speak to them. They have surrendered control over the artistic process, allowing the muse to create through them. Artist are merely the conduit. That's why, I think, art and religion are the right and left hand of human expression. In the same way a Christian listens for God's calling or a mystic prays for an epiphany, the artist awaits for something beyond himself.
How an artist pays the bills is an altogether different story. And yes, sometimes that story means compromising artistic integrity for food or paying rent. And let's face it, huge swaths of humanity (especially the American blend) can't distinguish between compromised art and art. Looking at a painting or a photograph, most people's standards rise as high as pretty. Listening to a new song, how often do we ignore the actual lyrics and base our judgement solely on its beat. Can you dance to it? That's sort of like finding a spouse who is handsome. Whatever else she may be doesn't matter.
That's why I am so judgmental towards photography collections and portfolios that pump up the clarity, over saturate and vibrate colors out of the atmosphere. They sell great because they are bold, gorgeous, and head-turning. But are they anything more? Sometimes the answer is yes. But most of the time when the image is poured through a strainer, it all runs down the sink.
How are mine different? I'm not going to call them great or say that I'm the best photographer in the world. That would be crazy and dishonest. What I can say about my photographs is that they are real. And they deliberately tell a story. How well that story is communicated is up to the viewer. But I always and only offer photographs that meet my high standard of substance.