The "value" of your photographs

Discussion in 'Ethics and Philosophy' started by Dan Henderson, Feb 4, 2009.

  1. Dan Henderson

    Dan Henderson Member

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    The APUG community is blessed with the wide range of skill and notoriety of our members. Consider the distribution of apuggers as a bell curve: a very few are among the best photographers working today; many are highly skilled photographers who are not so well known but produce great work nonetheless, and a few lack the craft to produce good work. I would like to believe that I am somewhere in the middle of the curve.

    Although I would also love to hear from the photographers who are well-known and support themselves with photography, this question is aimed primarily at those who produce good work but sell very little, either by choice or because their work is not purchased by others:

    How do you value the worth of your photographs?

    I am asking a much broader question than how to determine a price for a photograph. Photographers spend a great deal of time learning and perfecting their craft. Most have a significant investment in equipment, and spend money on film, paper, and chemistry. The expected outcome is a photograph that communicates a message to its viewer; that causes some emotional response. But how is this response measured?

    As you may suspect, I am one of those photographers who has sold little work, which is causing me to doubt its "value," in much more than a monetary sense. It is making me ask myself why I continue to spend my time, energy, and money making photographs. I get good feedback on some of the work that I post here, pieces I show to friends, and photographs that are displayed in a co-op gallery to which I belong. Should I be satisfied with that?

    I envision art as a complete circle that begins with inspiration, proceeds to creation through the use of craft, and is completed when a strong response is received from viewers. When that response is manifested by the desire to own the work, it is easy to measure. But beyond that, how does the artist know his work is successful in non-monetary ways? Should it be enough for the photographer to be satisfied in the belief that her vision was translated into a finished piece? Does the verbalized response of viewers justify the energy put into the creation of the work? Is the simple love of photography reward enough?

    Thank you for taking the time to read this post, and for sharing any thoughts that you have.
     
  2. bsdunek

    bsdunek Subscriber

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    This is one of those things that's hard to determine and will cause lots of conversation. My prime rule is: "Don't undervalue your work!" When I first started selling fine art prints back in the 70's, I priced them very low, as I felt I wasn't worth a lot yet. The gallery owner told me the reason they weren't selling was because the price was too low. Her point was, that people didn't think a $25 print was as good as a $100 print. They didn't want a cheap print hanging in their house. On her advice, I raised the price to $60, and they started to sell. Now, I don't think that means they would really sell if I had raised it to, say, $500. You have to be within the market standards.
    My Wife does glass sculptures and has found the same thing. Don't price your wares too cheaply, or people will think they aren't worth much. Those that think her prices are too high just buy Chinese imports that are low price, and don't know the difference.
    If you actuelly want to make a little profit, think about all that you go through to achieve a marketable product. It's not just snapping the shutter and spending a few minutes in the dark room. There's a lot more to it than that, and all your time should be worth something. Would you work for $1/hour? Not me!
    Just some things to think about.
     
  3. keithwms

    keithwms Member

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    Impossible to answer.
     
  4. bobwysiwyg

    bobwysiwyg Subscriber

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    Bruce, very interesting and parallels my own experience in an entirely different field. I'm now retired, but when working, I was a systems manager for a large healthcare insurer. My dept's responsibility was to get providers of healthcare to submit claims electronically rather than paper claims. This involved both mainframe to mainframe, mostly hospitals, as well as dial-up via PC's in physician offices. We even provided "free" applications for both physicians and small hospitals to accomplish this. The software even had some very good functionality to the provider's office as well in addition to the data transmission capability.

    Getting them to use it was like pulling teeth. Guess what, as soon as we began charging a modest fee, it took off. The moral of the story is/was "free" is perceived as having little value.:wink:
     
  5. SuzanneR

    SuzanneR Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    I've been struggling with your questions of late, myself, so thanks for asking them. I haven't found the answers, but I think of the photographs I make as gifts rather than commodities. The very human need to create is, for me, driven by something other than the pursuit of money. My motivation and drive to pursue making pictures is a gift to me from, well... I don't know. The collective unconscious, perhaps, or as a member of the human race??? Whatever, I want to pass it along.

    The a conundrum... it costs a lot to produce. The materials (film, paper, chemistry) I use are very much commodities, but the final product isn't. If I sell some, like you say, that's great... puts a number on it. But at the end of the day... that's not my motivation for making them.

    I've had to find other ways to support this habit, but I don't want to stop. And I believe the pictures will become more valuable with time as all photographs do.
     
  6. SuzanneR

    SuzanneR Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    ...
     
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  7. jolefler

    jolefler Member

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    For the IRS,....

    since I'm working on that at this time of year, the value of my inventory is X number of prints held, times the last retail value I charged when actively selling. The retail value is VERY dependant on the fiscal conditions of the market you're addressing. Here in NE Ohio, I can't sell an 8x10 print for more than $40 matted....direct sales, or through a gallery. $40 seems to be the best margin considering the point posted above about NOT selling too cheaply without pricing myself out of the local market.

    I do inventory all my stock and declare the value on my Schedule C. Likewise, since I upgraded equipment, I declare THAT as part of the inventory, as well.

    I'm currently NOT selling actively, but plan on doing so again in the future. I have stayed active in the business through film/chemistry/paper/board purchases, as well as income from portraits/weddings (normally not carried in inventory, except surplus supplies purchased specifically for the event).

    I'm guessing you're looking for a more metaphysical answer, though.

    Jo
     
  8. mooseontheloose

    mooseontheloose Subscriber

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    I envision art as a complete circle that begins with inspiration, proceeds to creation through the use of craft, and is completed when a strong response is received from viewers. When that response is manifested by the desire to own the work, it is easy to measure. But beyond that, how does the artist know his work is successful in non-monetary ways? Should it be enough for the photographer to be satisfied in the belief that her vision was translated into a finished piece? Does the verbalized response of viewers justify the energy put into the creation of the work? Is the simple love of photography reward enough?

    Dan - I'm far from being a good photographer that produces good work (and have certainly never sold anything) but I don't think the end result has to necessarily end with a strong response from (other) viewers. Photography is the best way for me to express myself artistically, but I don't do it for other people. In fact, I'm often suspicious of those who express praise for my work. :wink: That being said, I do question sometimes, why I spend so much money on what is basically a hobby. I suppose it would be easier to justify if I could earn a living from it, which is what I would love to do. But I've been in love with the photographic medium since I was quite young and can't imagine not trying to creates photographs. Right now, at least, the love of photography is enough for me.
     
  9. cdholden

    cdholden Member

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    It is for me, but then I'm not one who tries to make a living with it.
     
  10. lorirfrommontana

    lorirfrommontana Member

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    I am one of those at the bottom of your bell curve right now. Hopefully not for ever! I think that for me the learning and joy of creating are justification for what I spend on my photography or any of my other crafts. Will I ever create a print that someone will want to buy? I don't know but I do this for myself. It seems that when I turn something I love to do into something I have to do It no longer is something I want to do? Lori
     
  11. Andrew Moxom

    Andrew Moxom Member

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    Dan, Photography for me is a passionate hobby and not something I make a living at. That said, would I like to make a living out of it? Absolutely. However, I always hear.... "Don't quit your day job!" I have sold some prints along the way, and am only now looking at the same questions you are asking. How do I get more of my work out there, what will people be willing to pay etc. If you feel your work can stand on it's own, and from what I have seen of your work, that is the case. And if you think you have sufficient income from other sources, it can be easier to justify selling your work for decent money, but not the overly inflated costs that some other people can and do regularly. If you keep at it long enough and bang enough doors open to get a reputation and I think more importantly representation from a gallery, then I think you have options. It can be a long process to get that visibility and or notoriety and like all art..... It's fashionable. I saw this first hand last year myself when I was lucky enough to have a print juried for exhibition at the 2008 MN state fair. At the private view, you could see many of the artists working the circuit of 'important' people that had influence. You could see the politics playing out. That was a turn off for me, but may be something that is important in the future. I just do not like playing the game.

    That said, I had a solo show at a Dunn Bros Coffee house in Minneapolis. The theme was around all the local architecture from the old milling and grain industry of which many buildings were converted into yuppy condos. I personally felt the work was strong as did some friends who went to see it. I had 17 prints on show that were archivally matted, framed, and hung all by myself. Prices were between $200 for a regular print, and $275 for a lith print. A not insignificant investment of time, and money was spent on gearing up for the show. I also thought they were fair prices..... I only sold one print, and I got no feedback from viewers via email. I viewed this as a failure, and I must have been completely off base with my theme for the target audience, and what people were willing to pay. Or, it was to them nothing important they wanted to see. My wife says that I should have shown more appealing work like my English landscapes as she felt it would have sold. To me that was not the purpose of the show. To me, I wanted to project my viewpoint of the local area and not settle for displaying more 'commercial' commodity type images just to sell. Each to their own I guess, but my point is, you will have setbacks, things will not go to plan, expect to invest money and not make it back quickly, or ever! When I do actually sell a print, I am very happy about it and use that money as a way of recouping some material costs at least. Until you become established and people pay big bucks for your work, to me its purely about the enjoyment of photography and celebrating the successes when and if they happen. Investment in it as we all know is substantial for equipment, consumables and then finishing the end product ready to sell. If it does not sell, you are now out of a lot of time and money and it makes me ask what am I doing? For me, its the pure enjoyment of taking and making an image happen and trying to share that. Make the images that you want, stay true to your vision and don't compromise to what you think might sell, otherwise you won't grow as an artist.

    How you price your work is purely subjective and must be what you think it is worth, plus whatever the gallery charges. If you are not confident about it, why bother going to the extent of getting it out there. I try to at least cover my expenses with a print that's ready to sell so that I can break even at least. My time, I get nothing for that except what I gain by experiencing the taking of the image and all the processing steps. It's a stress reliever for me.

    Hope this helps?

    Andy
     
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  12. rudolf

    rudolf Member

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    I will tell you a short story.
    As every photographer knows, our photo equipment is usually quite expensive.
    However, one day I've noticed, that I left my backpack with Hasselblad, lens and stuff on the ground unattended, just because I saw something interesting. In a moment I realized that my camera is far away from me, there is a lot of people around and... I am completely calm because exposed films are in my pocket.
    I think the situation would vary if the half exposed film were in the camera waiting for the next frame.

    So, for me it's not the value of money. My photographs begin their life in the exposure moment, and - like an unborn child - they wait to be born in development process.

    (almost)Every one of them is unique and precious for me.

    But, I believe FirePhoto asked about the prints.
    Well, they just have a market value. Not any more or less.
    As long as there are people willing to pay some amount of money - I am ready to sell it to them. Of course that amount should be greater then cost of materials and time spend to produce them :wink:
     
  13. terri

    terri Subscriber

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    I agree with this. It doesn't always mean that the circle gets completed for everything I put out, of course. Bottom line: if YOU are happy with the final product, if your print matches what you envisioned creating, then how can that not be enough of a measure for success?

    I spent some time wandering through local arts festivals in between sets when my musician friends were playing there. I saw enough bad photography displayed to get sufficiently inspired to submit my own stuff to a juried panel, and invest in a 10x10 tent when I got accepted. My thinking was only: Why not try to "complete the circle" and move some of the growing pile of unframed prints I was collecting? Arts festivals are low-key and generally pleasant events - plus, I'm scared of galleries. I don't understand most of the stuff I see hanging with dramatic-sounding names on little tags next to them. I can't compete. :tongue:

    So I have had some small success and moved a lot of prints out of my house. But there will always be more, because my reason for printing won't ever be to make a sale - and I'm getting too lazy to drag out the tent every few months. So I guess my answer to you is that the "value" of your photographs is going to be whatever you make it. Do you want to make a lot of sales? Or are you just as internally validated if someone whose artistic opinion you respect tells you, "Great job" with no intention of offering a dime? When you know those answers it kind of settles the deal for you. Then you are free to just enjoy it.
     
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  15. mike c

    mike c Subscriber

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    I've have dwelt with this before all so, ambition and interest always peaked when taking foto class in high school, collage,working as a wedding week end warrior .Once I got married and started raisin and providing for a family had no time for it.Know that my kids have grown up I got the bug again.Becoming a member of this site helps to restart my interest . I don't have to sell any fotos but I could try, also put them on the critique forum . Going out shooting with other members would be really cool also. Sharing got to be the icing on the cake to keep me going in photography. m.c.
     
  16. VaryaV

    VaryaV Member

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    Thank you, Andrew - I needed to hear that! Not relating to this topic but to another issue I've been trying to deal with.

    Cheers.
     
  17. jovo

    jovo Membership Council Council

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    My wife is a professional artist. She will maintain that as such, it's a business and has to be approached in that way. Visiting galleries, getting work in front of gallerists, networking with other professional artists and a whole lot more is absolutely essential to getting your work on walls. There is also an element of pure calculation in that the portrait of your own navel that moves you beyond measure isn't likely to ever be of interest to very many people who might otherwise buy your work (if it is well made), but more catholic in its appeal.

    In other words...photograph what you need to photograph the way you feel works best for you, but if you're counting on the results being commercially viable, expect to keep your audience in mind when you make your photographs, and work hard at making it available to potential buyers. It's got to BE you day job!
     
  18. Maris

    Maris Member

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    Ever since I got out of the commercial side of photography I've had the luxury of ignoring market forces and just setting my own prices.

    I figure on offering a fine photograph made from an 8x10 negative at the same price as two SUV tires. It seems anybody, even poor looking people, can keep good rubber under their vehicles so price is not the limitation.

    If nothing sells I tell myself that it is psychologically much more comfortable to not sell at $600 than not sell at $60!
     
  19. catem

    catem Member

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    I think these doubts, this need for affirmation, is something that most if not all creative people feel on some level or another, once you've invested a certain amount of time, and purpose. And my own feeling is it's not necessarily resolved by becoming 'successful' in terms of outside recognition, fame, wealth, whatever. Although when you don't have these, it can seem as if to have them would provide the answers (by answers, what is it we're looking for...I'm asking myself this too...a kind of contentment? An acceptance of who we are?). Knowing a couple of artists and writers particularly with a large dollop of what I would term 'success', my hunch is that there is in fact no reason for thinking that this is the case. The doubts continue. In fact the need for outside validation can become like a kind of drug...the more you have, the more you need. Which is a conundrum and is not to deny that we all need some kind of validation of what we are doing. It's working out the balance that is important.

    I've come to think though - In the end all that is necessary – all that needs to be done, whatever you're relative 'success' (and definitions of this are all subjective) – is to carry on.
     
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  20. ChrisC

    ChrisC Member

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    I've been toying over this question a bit recently as I'm aiming to sell prints at an up and coming Affordable Art Exhibition this city has every year. I've never sold anything to anyone outside friends and family, which have usually been pretty much at cost or a little bit my way.

    For me, starting out trying to sell something, I'll personally be happy if I get my money back for everything and enough for a handful of rolls so I can keep shooting. For some reason I have a hard time selling someone something I do for enjoyment at a huge profit.
     
  21. df cardwell

    df cardwell Subscriber

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    "How do you value the worth of your photographs? "

    Hi Dan

    I know this guy.

    He’s a farmer, and he gets by.

    Weekends, he takes his fiddle to a dance.
    Plays his heart out for hours. Amazing stuff.
    Water from the Well.

    The more worked up folks get, the better the music.
    Makes his gas money and a little for a rainy day.
    Goes home.

    Gets up, does his chores.

    I asked him once, why don’t you go to Nashville ?

    Looked at me for a minute, said, “Who’d take care of my cows ?”

    See, he chose to farm, he loves it. Works at it. He gets by.
    Music is just inside him. More he plays, more energy he has to farm.
    Doesn’t have to think about the fiddle.
    Doesn't really have a choice about the music.
    He has to play the fiddle.
    But he has to work at the farm.

    What’s his music worth ?

    I guess, its worth everything,
    because without it, he couldn’t farm.
    And he couldn’t get by.
     
  22. cooltouch

    cooltouch Member

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    I think any artist has to be true to him or herself, first and foremost. If I like something I've produced, that's good enough for me. Approbation is always nice, but it only reconfirms my opinions of my work.

    As I grow older and look back at the images I've taken over the past few decades, I have begun to see them in a different light. The older they become, the more historical significance they have. So now I think of much of my work in terms of historical, rather than monetary, value. Little slices of a past time that is now gone forever. It's hard for me to place a monetary value on this sort of thing.

    Best,

    Michael
     
  23. panastasia

    panastasia Member

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    It depends on what your intention is. If you're selling for the pleasure of it, that satisfying feeling you get when someone will ask if you will sell them a particular print you created, that's one thing. The price is not relevant to anything. If you're thinking of doing it for income, as a business, the rules are different.

    Rule of thumb: decided what your time is worth, add the cost of running the business, which should include bills you need to pay and material outlay, then multiply the number you come up with by 2. Those that don't do this will not be in business for long, that's why most small businesses fail. They don't charge enough. Another reason for failure is no need for the product. "Find the need and fill it."

    The words of Fred Picker: "Unfortunately, fine art photography is not a business." He was selling his prints for $25; Edward Weston sold his for $5.
     
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  24. Thomas Bertilsson

    Thomas Bertilsson Member

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    I think you have to feel your way with the clientele you're trying to reach.

    My approach is like the story cardwell tells. Photography is my asylum, where I can focus on one single thing and attempt to make it perfect. That charges my batteries, helps me focus my efforts with energy on everything else. I crave it.

    Then, if other people like what I do - jackpot bonus. If I sell a print here and there, it's just as with Andrew above, it helps to pay for expenses. And I'm going to try to make as much money on my photographs and skills as possible. If I turn out to become the next Michael Kenna - great! But it will be on my own conditions, no matter how detrimental to the results of sales. I will never create art work based on what other people want. Ever. There is, of course, a breaking point where if my life depended upon it, I would, but you get the idea.

    So, to me my accomplishments - my prints - are worth a lot more than the little money I've been able to make from it.

    Unfortunately my balance sheets don't have me at the break-even point yet. I did register my business with the State of Minnesota late in 2008. No tax payments due from that year yet... From this year a little, but not from sales of art, but from sales of inventory I foolishly thought I needed once.
    I expect it to be a while before people invest in luxuries like art again. In the meantime, I'll just enjoy it, and feed my soul.

    - Thomas
     
  25. WolfTales

    WolfTales Member

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    The value of my work is priceless because I pay for my supplies using MasterCard (c).
     
  26. abstraxion

    abstraxion Member

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    Why bother to become a professional artist?

    To me, having a day job and being an amateur is actually more pure. I can let my boss manipulate me during the day, but at night, I live and create only for myself. I get to have freedom of vision AND more money.