I did this exhibit in 2010.
I used to know another amateur photographer who was constantly emailing around “I have a gallery opening!” invitations. I’m not sure how this particular idea popped into my head, but once I had the idea, it had to happen. I was going to be in NYC to speak at a conference, so I took the easel and one of my prints along and banged this off really quickly.
Most photographers have a “big one that got away” story, and this was one of them. About 20 seconds after this was taken, as I was putting my camera back in my bag, an elderly New York Lady walked into the picture from camera left – designer handbag, high heels, pearls, gloves, two little white dogs on leashes – the whole bit, stopped and looked closely at my print, sniffed loudly, and walked on. It would have been a perfect moment and the composition was just right, but I wasn’t fast enough with my camera to get the shot.
I had another project I was toying with, which was to produce a few of my best works and set up on a blanket down in SoHo with a sign, “fine art, $5” and see if I could sell any of it. To me, selling an artwork doesn’t make me feel vindicated or better; it’s confirmation of a sort that someone else saw what I saw, and that’s about it. But: I lived through the transition-period where photography went from ‘silver gelatine baryta prints’ to ‘giclee’ (inkjet) and there was a pretty radical re-adjustment of the dynamics of supply and demand; people seemed to think that a silver print was more special because it was harder to produce (not much, once you’re geared for it) and there were occasional sniffs of derision when someone tried to charge $500 for an inkjet print instead of a silver print. My feeling is that a great deal of art is ridiculously over-priced, and I resent the artificiality of scarcity-based pricing. At the time, photographers I knew were hanging prints for sale at $500 a print and selling none – I was thinking it’d be fun to be able to report, “I did a show in SoHo over the weekend and sold half of the plates I took.”
The question, to me, is one of “victory conditions.” I think we need to be brutally honest with ourselves, as artists, and ask ourselves how we define success and then be ruthlessly honest with ourselves as to whether or not we have contradictory goals. If my goal is to “have lots of people hang my art” then I should give it away. If my goal is “make lots of money” then I should do crowd-pleasers and market myself to the most receptive market/price-point. If my goal is to “never sell out” then I should do whatever I want to do and not care about what’s popular. I believe that there are many artists whose personal power flows from their understanding exactly what it is that they want to do. Then, they do it.
Terms like “giclee” or “silver gelatine print” make the art-work sound fancier than it is, if we just call it “photograph.” The word “pretension” literally applies: the artist is trying to pretend that their work is harder to do/more important/more significant/whatever than it is. Saying that a particular print was shown at The Guggenheim is also arguing that it’s more popular or has had better critical reception. A few years ago I got an email from someone who said that a certain wet plate I had done was exactly what they wanted for their bathroom. Unfortunately, I had already disposed of that plate, but I set up another one that was very similar (all plates are unique) and, in due course, sent it along. My victory conditions are that I am happy when other people like my stuff. I feel the same way about my soap: it makes me happy if someone says they like it.