For many artists, collectors can seem like an elusive group. Who are they? Where can artists find them, and what makes someone a collector? A photographer may not have any ties to major private collectors, and some of their friends may have never purchased a piece of art from a gallery or an artist directly. But nearly everyone has had a professional portrait made. At the very least, school pictures are an annual event, cheap combs and all. These types of photographs are not widely considered “art” and a large part of the world does not consider art part of its everyday life.
New collectors are often advised to first connect with the work emotionally before thinking of the financial investment. Brides, families, graduating seniors, and new parents often hire professional photographers, placing monetary value on their expertise and style. They are already emotionally connected, but view these photographs as well-lit, well-composed records of people and moments, not as commissioned pieces of art.
Photographers who offer traditional services with a “high art” aesthetic can bridge the divide, creating an overlap between their commercial and personal work. Hiring a photographer for a portrait or event has many similarities to the art-collecting process. The buyer researches different artists and compares aesthetics, and ultimately selects a photograph to be printed and displayed in their home. Much like buying fine art, a relationship is established between artist and collector.
By removing the intimidating aspects of art buying, a photographer can introduce their work to new group of people. There are no echo-y white cube galleries with unwelcoming receptionists, and no confusing art speak. While it may be challenging to convince someone with little interest in fine art to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on a piece for their home, hiring a professional to photograph a special day or person is something many people are entirely comfortable with and often budget for. While the client may think of art as something that hangs in museums or is otherwise unattainable, by photographing someone’s personal life, they are now owners of an original piece of art, and a commissioned piece at that. Art has entered their world, if only through a side door.
Incorporating an artists’ personal work into this type of “bill paying” photography is an excellent way to introduce new people to the idea of collecting and art as investment. There are a few photographers that are already successfully in moving between their commercial and art practices.
Robert Alexander Williams is a photographer who works in wet plate collodion. This bridal portrait is an 8x10 ambrotype on black glass. Photographed two weeks before the wedding, this piece was not only on display at the reception, but is also the couple’s very first piece of original art. For them, watching the process of coating the plate and using the 8x10 view camera opened a new appreciation and understanding for how unique photography can be. A timeless photograph, it is sure to become a family heirloom.
Shane Godfrey is a Boston-based wedding photographer. In addition to the 700+ digital images made at each wedding, Godfrey offers a one-of-a-kind 8x10 Chromogenic Color Print. What began as an effort to bring more of his fine art sensibility into his commercial work has since grown into a unique marketing tool, and a beautiful body of work.
Presenting commercial clients with the opportunity to take part in a fine art piece can not only help a photographer stand out in their market, but is also an excellent way to encourage those who value professional photographers’ time and talents to think of themselves as collectors.
Kat Kiernan is the Editor-in-Cheif of Don't Take Pictures and the Owner and Director of The Kiernan Gallery.