May 19 2015

What goes into an image, and why does art cost so much? (Part 1 of 2)


Every now and again, a visitor to the gallery in Old Town will grumble about the price of an image.  I know that I am not the only one to have either had someone look at me directly and say “what’s the big deal, it’s just a photograph” or heard it whispered as someone walks away.  It doesn’t happen often.  Most people understand the value of art and what goes into it.  But, when it does, it is difficult to not list off the litany of reasons this attitude is so very, very wrong.

A woman once alluded to me the fact that she thought that artists were a bunch of entitled slackers and I could not figure out what the heck she was talking about.  My artist friends are some of the most hardworking people I know.  And, they often do it sacrificing a far more comfortable existence for something that they love.  Art is their living, and it is often a scant one.  The vision in people’s heads of artists partying like rockstars all of the time is oddly juxtaposed with the common usage of the term “starving artist”.  Yet, folks seem to manage to hold both beliefs in parallel without suffering much in the way of cognitive dissonance.

So, which is it?  Is our work overpriced?  Bluntly, no.

Much goes into even the most conventional photographic art in the form of talent, time, and monetary resources.  That is no “snapshot” you are looking at on the gallery wall.

In general, photographers have a comparatively high overhead.  We have lots of expensive equipment, anything from cameras to printers and computers, and those things must be maintained and replaced regularly.  They also must be insured.  Further, as they say “time is money”.  There is the time that goes into coming up with a photo concept, the time (and cost) of traveling to that special location, and the time spent waiting (often days or months) for that special light or moment.  There is the time spent developing our images, be it in an old-school or digital darkroom, which can be extensive (see part 2 of this blog series).  And then, there is all of the effort we must go to to get that image to you and the cost of doing so.  Printing can be costly, especially if we utilize special paper or techniques (consider the cost of a platinum print), and if we print on alternative media such as canvas or infused aluminum, that price is also dramatically greater.  If we show in a conventional gallery, we may not have to spend the time selling our work, but they take a hefty commission for doing it for us (40-60% is typical).  If we show in a cooperative, we pay rent or fees to do so, and we work days at the gallery effectively for free, the sale of our work being our only compensation.  And, many of us work several art and craft shows a year– usually 3 day events with long hours and high booth fees– to which we must haul whole tents and booth setups comprised of walls on which to hang our work (which we must purchase at no small expense), and all of the heavy frames and mats that we take with us to display and sell at those events.

We do all of this, because we love what we do.  And, most of us are not charging you anywhere near what our work is worth, given all of these considerations.  So, next time you are tempted to grumble “why does it cost so much, it’s just a photograph”… Think again.  That image isn’t just an expression of our personal vision and talent.  It probably has days or even weeks of our time and many other resources invested in it.  What we take home per image after you subtract out printing costs, taxes, and possibly commission fees isn’t often much.  We don’t ask you to accept less for what you do for a living, why would you devalue what we do?

We are so grateful for the support and enthusiasm of those that understand what goes into our work.  It helps immeasurably in going forward when times are tough.  To give you an idea of what may go into a single image of my own, see part 2 of this blog series (to be posted later): A Fine Art Fantasy Image from Start to Finish.  -Amy