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Thoughts on Black and White Photography

Batman-Jack 

Batman Jack-8184, originally uploaded by Jeff Jones.

I like black and white photography. I might even go so far as to say, in general, I prefer black and white photography over color. Obviously, not all pictures work best in a monochromatic format but black and white photos produce a certain vibe that color can never produce.

It is rather ironic that, for something like 100 years, photography either did not have the ability to produce images in color or could not do so in a cost-effective way. In the days where “everything” was black and white people went through great lengths to add a color palate to their images. My parents, who graduated high school around 1950, had their photos painted, or at least touched up with some dye. Some red for the cheeks, some brown for the hair and maybe some blue for the dress. It wasn’t perfect, but it provided a splash of color that people felt were missing.
Once color hit the portrait studios, TV screens and movie studios, there was no looking back. People wanted, nay demanded, that their consumption media was in color. In order to increase viewership of older movies he owned, Ted Turner even when so far as to go back to the classics digitally rendered them in color, much to the dismay of movie buffs.

But yet despite that it is a technological throwback, many still enjoy black and white photography. Why is that?

It forces us to look at the world in a different way. Most of us see the world in color and are used to viewing objects and backgrounds tinted in the unlimited pallet of colors and hues that this universe offers. The act of taking a picture compresses the three-dimensional world to that of a flat piece of paper. Because we remove the important element of depth, we are left with fewer visual clues about the picture. The flattened picture becomes less about subjects and objects and more about interplay of color. It is no longer a green dress against a beautiful green grass, but rather a splash of red against a swath of green. Even with a person’s features, it is more of an interplay between colors more than about the subject itself (i.e. the blue of the eye against the pink tone of the skin)

Stripped of color the photo allows us to pay more attention to the lines, the textures and the shapes of the image. The interplay of the elements of the picture changes, it becomes a different animal all together. With portraits, monochromatic treatment allows us to concentrate on the subject and the characteristics of the subject.

Also, since we don’t see in black and white, black and white photography causes us to look at subject in a way not found in nature. While the term “abstract” is not correct, there is a somewhat abstract to black and white that facilitates introspection rather than a passing glance.

 
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Posted by on October 22, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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The Cost of a Photography Business – Selling Photos as Fine Art

Gallaries

So, you decide to put your work in a gallery. The advantage is clear, the artist does not have to be physically present to sell the work because any time gallery doors are open customers can browse and purchase. This frees up an enormous amount of time and allows you to other things with that time. But this service isn’t free because, generally speaking, galleries must earn money to stay in business and that money is made by charging the seller a commission on work that is sold. The percentages vary, but from my limited experience the magic commission is 40%.

On a side note, one time I put my work into a gallery that charged a modest monthly fee ($25) in addition to a reduced commission (20%). I agreed to this as an experiment for three months. I believe I sold one item which did not make up for my costs and so I pulled my work after the contract period. Recently, I got a card from the gallery stating that they did away with the monthly fee and bumped the commission to 40%. I think that, in general, most people’s work was not selling and too many people pulled their work out.

Back to my point…Now you have a pricing issue. Lets say the work is priced at a level the photographer is comfortable. For simplicity lets use my previous example of $85 for a framed and matted 11×14 print. Remember, the while the photographer sells the work for $85, she has material costs the equal $35. If the photographer feels that this is the highest price the market can bear, she needs to keep the price at $85. But when the work sells, the gallery takes $34, leaving the photographer with $16 profit ($85 price – $35 material costs – $34 commission). That stinks. Instead the photographer says, “phooey”, and prices the work such that the new price covers the commission. Doing some calculations, the total comes to $119 (gallery price=$85 * 1.4). Will the work sell at this new price? If the photographer has doubts she needs to work out a number between the two prices that she feels properly enumerated for her work and believes is not priced too high to sell.

So far, I have sold work through two galleries. The first was a frame shop in the small town of Washington, Illinois. While one might wonder about the sanity putting my work into such a small community, it really was a reasonable chance. This woman’s gallery had a LOT of very high quality original work from regional artists, the town was well-off, economically, and she did get traffic. Apparently, other than one local artist, not many other’s work sold since she changed her model to being strictly commission. The proprietor is wonderful woman to work with, and will likely put my work back in next year once the selling season ends.

The second gallery, The Blue Connection, is ran by students from the local university (Millikin). The gallery has a good vibe and filled the work of good artists. Since the gallery is tied to a university and loosely, with the local art council, customers may be willing to spend a bit more money on art than those going to Farmer’s market or community celebration.

In both my dealings with galleries, they operate in a highly ethical way, and when my work sells, I get paid. I have heard stories from artists who had work in a in another city, who was having problems getting the gallery to pay them for sale of their work.

One downside with galleries is they are dependant inventory. Not only does inventory eat up money but it becomes one more thing to manage. The more your work gets spread out, the more of a hassle it is to pick up and to swap out. It may well be worth your while to get your work in multiple venues, but think about the hassle that brings to your life before signing on.

 
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Posted by on June 17, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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