Sometime last year, I decided to pick up conceptual photography and dedicate all my time and energy into that style. It's been endlessly rewarding to plan, create and execute my visions and it's incredibly humbling to see the outpouring of support I've received since I've begun this journey.
Unlike family or senior or stock image photography, there isn't a large opportunity to make money through conceptual art, and even though making money isn't the reason we create art, it is a useful tool in being able to continue creating your visions. So, you need to realize that your market lies within the art collector community and you reach these people through galleries who are willing to show your work for you. You grow your recognition through platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Filckr, 500px etc... but really your target audience should be the collector. The art buyers. Wherever they are...
I spent a great deal of time wondering why I wasn't getting contacted by hoards of people clamoring to buy my art. I figured with as much as I put myself out there, surely someone would see me and think "OMG, I HAVE TO HAVE THAT PRINT ON MY WALL RIGHT NOW!!"
It doesn't quite work that way. In fact, it works entirely the opposite. YOU have to be the one to seek out buyers and YOU have to be the one to sell yourself and YOU have to be the one to approach galleries and agents and magazines.
So, step one: Approaching a gallery.
It is a terrible idea to pack up your portfolio and take a day trip around town to every gallery you come across, interrupt the owners and beg them for a chance to shove your work in their faces. You should probably do a little research online about the gallery first, visit the gallery in person (SANS PORTFOLIO!) and get a feel for what kind of artwork they like to deal in. I've been lusting after a gallery here in my town for a long time, only to finally realize that they deal exclusively in paintings and sculpture. It would do me NO GOOD to approach this gallery with my photographs. They just aren't interested.
Most galleries have an option to become a member and membership grants you certain privileges such as first crack at submitting for a show, or a member's exclusive show in which you can submit for free. I highly recommend becoming a member of any gallery in your area. There are all kinds of benefits such as free or discounted classes, opportunities for networking, group field trips and plenty more.
If you do find a gallery and you truly feel that your work would be a good fit, then do a little research, find out who is in charge of accepting new work (a curator? a Jury? A monkey with a dartboard?) and send them a polite email introducing yourself, explaining what kind of artist you are, and that you would be honored if your work would be considered for showing someday.
"Dear Cathy, My name is Tara Denny and I am a conceptual photographer. I specialize in creating bizarre, dreamlike darker art and I would love to someday be considered to have my art on display in your beautiful gallery."
Be sure to thank them for their time and consideration, leave them links to where they can see more of your work and possibly even pay them a compliment on a show that you have seen in the past
"I was moved to tears by the show you hung last spring from Bagger Manning, his work with processed cheese is unprecedented and life altering"
Seriously, though, don't be insincere. Make it a compliment from your heart because nobody likes a disingenuous compliment.
ANSWER THE CALLS FOR ENTRY!
This is the time when a gallery is asking for you to submit your work and it's the best time to get their attention. Usually this is done online now, however, I've seen a few where the options to submit an actual paper portfolio is still there, but still not preferred.
A call for entry usually goes down like this:
The gallery will make the announcement that they are looking for art that fits a certain theme or medium. I once saw a show entirely dedicated to afro's. Sometimes there is a submission fee, usually around $15-$35.00 more or less. This is to cover the costs of promoting and hanging the show, and it also serves to weed out the artists who aren't serious about their work.
Submit your BEST WORK that fits their theme if there is one. Otherwise, just submit your best work. If you are submitting for a solo show you may not even have to submit the same images you plan on showing, the CFE will give you those details.
For that fee, you usually get to submit around 3 images and can pay an additional fee to submit more if you like. They often ask you to accompany your submissions with an artist's statement.
WHAT IS AN ARTIST'S STATEMENT?
Boiled down, and artists statement is like the blurb on the back of a book, only about you, the artist and what kind of art you create. It is your first impression to the viewer and the gallery and it is an essential and valuable aspect in showing your work to the art world. You can make this as long or as short as you like, but it should include who you are, what kind of work you do, possibly what influences your creativity. I've seen some artists statements that tell the viewer exactly how to look at their art, and I've seen others that tell the viewer to make up their own interpretations. Mine reads more or less like this:
" I am Tara Denny, a surreal, conceptual photographer who specializes in dreamlike darker art. I use my art as a way to express my emotions and work through chaos in my life. It is my way to communicate to the world when words fail me. Even though my work is darker, I believe that is speaks to more uplifting themes such as hope, empowerment, and overcoming odds."
Like many people, I have a hard time writing about myself and my art. I feel better just letting people see my work and judge it on that alone, but galleries like a statement, so you need to create one. It needs to be personal to you and you can add as much or as little as you like, as long as you have the basics covered.
Here is a helpful link regarding Artist's Statements and why you need one.
Once you have submitted, wait. and wait. and wait. The artist panel or jury or monkey with a dartboard needs time to review all the submissions and earmark the ones they feel will best represent the theme. They will always notify you whether or not you are selected, and if/when you are selected, they will offer more instructions with how they want you to proceed.
On a side note- When I submitted to Artlink, they also asked for an Artist's proposal. And this really threw me, because googling that dang thing didn't bring up anything useful. An Artist's Proposal is for when a gallery is selecting solo shows (a show all to yourself!) They want to know what you are capable of doing with the space they are offering.
"If given the space, I would be able to commit to 10 30x30 images, framed, mounted and wired for hanging.." Or "I imagine using the space to hang 3 images in this size and 6 images in this size, all dealing with the many subtle sub-plots of every Monty Python movie ever made"
I found this handy link- http://theartguide.com/callforentries It seems to be a giant list of galleries and art shows around the country who are accepting calls for entries for the next few months. Read through each one, as sometimes the calls are only open for local residents, certain age groups, or certain themes, and most of them require a submission fee, but it can go a long way into getting yourself "out there" to show as many times as you can.
Now, having said that- check your contracts!! If you sign on with a gallery, you may be agreeing not to show anywhere else until your contract is up, or the gallery may be asking for exclusive rights to your images forever. Make sure you read the fine print!! You don't want to get sued!
My Fellow Fine Artists
Tammy Zurak of Z Photog Studio | Memphis, TN, USA | Fine Art/Illustrative Photography Gallery:
Pam Korman of District Photography | Philadelphia, PA, USA | Fine Art Photography:
www.bonniealrifai.com Fine art photography
Handy Andy Pandy