Will fine art work fly?

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I am photographer working steadily on my personal work, but regretably it is not my full time job. I have been toying around with the idea of starting a portrait business, as that is what I consider my strong point. I have been trained as a fine art photographer, and don't think I could be happy doing standard portraits against backdrops, etc. I've done weddings and hated it. I've worked in a few labs and hated that. I really feel that only by shooting work that I wouldn't mind hanging in a show could I find gratification in marketing my skills and vision.

I suppose my question would be to any of you pros out there, does the general public want something more than another posed portrait against a backdrop with a couple strobes and reflectors? My idea is to offer black and white photography, medium and large format in which I charge a standard sitting fee for an hour of shooting, and then a variety of fine art prints (archivally printed) including standard silver, sepia, selenium, and perhaps incorporate a few atiquated options such as Gum-bichromate (for 4 X 5 and 8 x10) and Cyanotype.

I would shoot my subjects in their home or a favorite place, to bring out their character. I would like to work only in B & W, but I am afraid that may drive away too many clientel. Is this idea too narrow?

I live in Washington, D.C. and am close to many wealthy middle and upper middle-class families, so this market is ripe.

Understand however, that I'm a TERRIBLE businessman. I don't market myself well, and frankly am afraid to take the plunge even if I could put together a viable plan. I work hard on my personal work even thoough I also hold down a regular job during days. What could I do if I had all that time I'm not photographing to contribute to a business!

Any input you have is welcome, including criticism. In fact, please criticise me ruthlessly. I respect those photographers who are able to make their way financially in the world, and I would greatly value their input. Do people want to pay for fine art work?

Thanks in advance.

P.S. How do you compete with big studios who offer large picture packs at low prices, both private and commerical?


-- Matthew Williams (william@westat.com), October 27, 1999


Matt, it's all there in the words which you have written: "I'm a TERRIBLE businessman". Reading Edward Weston's Daybooks I came upon a statement of his in which he remarks on what a good businessman he thought himself to be. I think a good businessman could make money at portraiture and show good taste via black and white offering color as an option (reversal of what is normal).

-- kirk kennelly (kirk@ioa.com), April 08, 2000.

Check out www.gallianiproductions.com. I recently met him at a show and he does b/w portraits in outdoor or casual settings. He is very friendly and may be able to help answers some of your questions.

-- Claudia Dunn (cd@fillitgroup.com), September 06, 2002.

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