“Oh, you’re a photographer. Do you sell your work?” How often have you heard that? Our society defines success in terms of dollars and cents. We can’t help but feel some pressure to have our work sell. And it’s natural for us to seek some personal recognition. An increasing number of schemes and scams are aimed at photographers, and all of these threats are targeted toward two points—our desire to sell our work and our desire to achieve recognition. The best defence is to know about these schemes. In that way, we will be able to recognize them and better protect ourselves. Although many of the following shady proposals and schemes may not be illegal, they may not be in our best interest, either.
Contact Lists for a Fee
Paying for contact lists of galleries, agents, or photo buyers is a waste of time and money. Th ese are not targeted listings. Lists of this nature are for shotgun advertising, and that is not the way to make initial contacts.
Galleries that want money up front to exhibit your work are vanity galleries. You are paying them for wall space. What incentive is there for them to sell your work if you pay them in advance? And they charge big money. Basic representation starts from $3,500 to $5,000. For that, you usually get 10 to 12 feet of wall space for a limited time. Some of these places will try to make it sound like this is the way it works in “The Big Time.” It is not. If you do sign up, they will try to sell you everything from Internet consultation to magazine space in their gallery publication. Beware.
Vanity Publications and Paid Publicity
When a publisher offers you space in a coffee table-style book for a fee, look out. These guys are slick, and again request big money. One page can cost more than $900. Two pages go for $1,400; and you can buy the cover for a little over $6,500. Sound good? These books are supposed to introduce emerging photographers to top galleries and “photography lovers.” However, the top people in the business all know what these books are: paid advertising. These books are on the same level as vanity publications like Who’s Who. If you want to part with a thousand dollars, find a nice charity. The same goes for paid publicity in any periodical. Any time a magazine, artist’s rep, or gallery wants money up front, your best bet is to back away.
Competitions and Exhibitions Charging Entry Fees
Some competitions and exhibitions can be helpful to both emerging and professional artists. However, it is best to enter only juried exhibitions sponsored by established photography organizations and trusted magazines. Contests sponsored by little-known sources or online galleries are questionable and often worthless. In almost all cases, you will be responsible for the shipping costs to and from an exhibit. Check if receiving and hanging fees are involved. Find out if the judges are established photographers, and research them on the Internet.
Online Galleries Charging Fees
If you simply want to display your work on the Internet, that’s fine. Find a free online gallery or one with very low fees. If you expect to sell your work this way, however, know that it’s not easy. It is very difficult to sell a piece priced over $250 on the Internet. Remember that your work can get lost in a large online gallery. If you decide to join, read the terms and conditions thoroughly. Be sure you know who is responsible for shipping costs in the event of a sale. Check if and when gallery commissions are charged.
Large Photography Expos
Large photography expos warrant a caution flag. These are the photography world’s equivalent to home and garden shows. Even so, they may be helpful to some photographers. It is good to be skeptical, because once more we are talking big money. A photographer may have to pay as much as a few thousand dollars for a booth at a large photography expo. For this, the photographer receives an exhibition space that’s about 4 by 10 feet. He is included in the expo along with 400 or more other exhibitors, selling everything from frames to lighting. This demands a lot of investigation and considerable thought before jumping in.
Promoters of Books by Photographers
These guys promote books that are produced by photographers. That includes everything from self-published books to scrapbooks. One outfit operates out of an old storefront in lower Manhattan in New York. If you join, they will go to book fairs and such and promote your self-published photography book. For instance, if you send them $500, you become an associate member. They’ll send you a tote bag and one of the books they have in the back room. Sound good?
If you are really in bad shape and have forgotten why you even bother to take pictures, photographer’s consultants are there to help you. They are ready to review your portfolio and offer pointed suggestions. An initial session costs about $425, but additional sessions are only $175. However, if the consultant needs a consultant, a “photography professor” will be called in. That will cost you an additional $50.
While some of this may sound grim, the point is that there is no quick or easy way to become a recognized, successful photographer. It takes a lot of hard work over a long period of time. Yet none of this should be discouraging. First, you must believe in yourself and your abilities. Work out a series of realistic goals and project them over the next few years. Plan it out as a fascinating journey and consult with those close to you. You want them with you every step of the way.