There are many photographers who take photographs with the sole intention to capture the moment for their own satisfaction or to show family and friends. However, there are others are seeking a broader audience for their work, and monetize their work and time by showing their art in a gallery. For those in the second category, I will simply share a few tips that will increase their chances to be represented in a gallery.
First: get in their shoes
Imagine you are the gallery’s director. The both love looking at photographs and are surrounded by great ones every single day. However, their time is often quite limited. The time to review new artists is almost non-existent. Many of the get as much as 500-700 requests for representation each year. At best, they can only add 1-3 new photographers to their exhibitions. More often than not, they have an established artist who has been aggressively courting them when an opening does occur.Be aware that directors would really appreciate if artists understand their situation and don’t simply throw their work around all possible galleries for review but take the time to carefully find the ones that match them best. That would increase your chances drastically.
Do your research homework
Research galleries to find those that are compatible with both your subject/style and your exhibition resume. If a gallery is dealing with masters and top professionals, they won’t be a good target for new artists.Check whether the gallery is devoted to traditional process or leans toward image-manipulations. If you don’t fit within their current topic and style, your chances of being accepted are really thin.
When you have identified a well-matched venue, edit your portfolio tightly. If you have different bodies of work, consider carefully whether to present more than one. If you do, make sure they are cohesive unto themselves and compatible with each other.
Your best bet
What often is a best first approach is a letter of introduction along with a resume and samples of work: slides, presentation prints or high-quality digital reproductions. For an unsolicited introductory presentation, don’t send anything that you expect to get back without return packaging and prepaid postage or shipping vouchers, and even then, there are no guarantees. Everyone hates having to take the time to return work I didn’t know was coming. Follow this correspondence with a phone contact after enough time has passed for them to have received and reviewed the material, but not so long that it has been forgotten, misplaced or round-filed. Ten days to two weeks is about right. It is great to be persistent, even modestly aggressive, but know the difference between aggressive and obnoxious!
When you do get the point of an in-person presentation, plan to show work in the size, format and presentation you would supply the gallery for inventory. Even if you may feel your work is self-explanatory, be prepared to discuss your motivations, technique and influences. Have written bios and support materials available. Go with a price structure in mind, but ask for input from the gallery if they indicate interest. Just as a friendly reminder, the most common commission for galleries is in the range from 40-60%.
Ask the right questions at the right time
If the gallery shows interest in carrying your work, ask away! Negotiate the commissions. Find out whether they offer exhibitions in either a group or solo format, or if they show work salon-style, or both. If it’s salon, find out if you will receive consistent wall space; if not how often you can expect to be shown. This is extremely important. You can’t expect a buyer to ask to see your work, and though they try, don’t count on the gallery staff to always bring your work out. Will you be represented in their advertising, point-of-sale materials and outside promotions? Will they offer an individual brochure on your work? If not, will they distribute one you provide them, assuming its done to their standards?
If an agreement is reached, an entirely new set of issues arises. To mention just a few:
- Do your own book-keeping. Keep careful records of what you’ve sent them, and make sure you receive a signed consignment memo detailing each piece of work and the terms of your arrangement.
- Make inventory reports at regular intervals and ground rules to be kept informed of and paid for sales in a timely manner. Its in your best interest, not only to avoid problems down the road, but so you might know what is successful at the commercial level and to promptly replace stock of that work.