Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Post-Gallery Opening Report

Stillpointe Theatre in its current configuration hosting my humble gallery showing. It is a struggle deciding whether I'm happy with the balance of the empty walls... arguably I want them completely empty, but then I would also need to figure out what to fill them back up with and that is something I do not want to rope myself into...

It's been a very busy several weeks, both in terms of work and ancillary projects commanding a greater dedication of time than originally expected. All great learning experiences, and certainly networking opportunities, however I'd be lying if I said I didn't greatly want some brief period of zero-expectations for some needed reprieve. Suspect such freedom from the shackles of obligation is quite out of the near-term picture, unfortunately, but even then it's a great test of my limits (or an entertaining opportunity to fall apart completely).

My last post here I mentioned an inaugural gallery showing of my work. The event has received some mixed reception. Opening night was dense with people coming to view each piece, varying from patrons of the hosting theatre Stillpointe to family and friends, co-workers, co-workers of friends and family, and even among friends the variety spanned social circles from high school pals to current photography partners. It was actually quite the struggle to navigate from the social perspective, so many different spheres not really co-mingling so much as existing beside one another, thus it was difficult as the only common thread in the room to engage each different group in turn. Can't help but feel I may have left some parties feeling abandoned or ostracized, but for the life of me I tried to give everyone the face time they were due for showing up to support me.

While I absolutely appreciated the turnout and was flabbergasted by some of the distances traveled, the comfort zones stretched, to come in at the gallery opening, it was not the kind of turnout I was entirely expecting. Perhaps my vision of how things would go were too lofty - My interest was in the arrival of complete strangers, engagement, interest, and sales made to people who otherwise did not know me and did not know my work. But the space was ultimately rife with people I knew, people who knew me, had seen my work and heard my stories before. There was nobody to whom I really had to play salesman to (which wasn't necessarily a bad thing), and everyone there who bought a piece I suspect knew they intended to do so already as a show of support. It was a hug box of sorts, a space entirely entirely safe and seemingly insulated against open criticism, and I was rather excited to engage with people who didn't like the work I chose for the walls.

This expectation was contrasted by the worst-possible-case scenario the following week - Open Thursday through Saturday from 6:00PM to 10:00PM, I was lucky to have seen maybe 4 or 5 people come in, grand total. Thursday night one of the local homeless "regulars" spent 2 hours conversing with me in the gallery lobby, and I bought him a pack of cigarettes for his time. Friday wasn't too dissimilar, perhaps 2 strangers wandering in, and Saturday some friends stopped by and a couple more strangers but certainly not the random reception I had envisioned and hoped for. My conclusion based on this post-opening experience is absolutely in line with my thoughts on gallery showing of work up until this point of weakness when I thought photography-as-art could ever be relevant and sell... Nobody cares. Outside of the hug box opening night, people really just don't care. And they shouldn't, because I don't care either. Call it bias for staring at the same pieces on the walls for so many nights in a row, but none of it compels me, it doesn't call out to me, it's not engaging. My first mistake was picking pieces that would look good on walls. They may as well be on the interior decor shelves at Target or Walmart.

The other trick I thought might pull people into the space involved co-opting with other businesses, specifically wine distributors and breweries. Baltimore is host to plenty of both such companies I would have loved hosting wine or beer tasting in the space, but legalities got in the way. Baltimore City liquor licensing specifically limits distribution of alcohol to the business' home address, and without the ability to sell along with the tasting no company realistically saw a benefit, which is just good business sense and the way the cards fell on that idea. This week I'm employing the desperation play of offering headshots to purchasers or those who donate to the theatre hosting the gallery. That will likely appeal to the actual theatre crowd in the area, but even so I don't expect to see pieces flying off the walls. At this point I suppose I feel sort of stuck with work I cared about before being forced to stare at it for 16 hours over 4 days.

Things did sell well opening night, though, but I'm still plenty shy of any sort of "profit threshold". This gallery is not a thing I went into with any expectations beyond hopefully breaking even (of which I am also still tremendously short of accomplishing). The financial burdens of gallery showing are very much a behind the scenes thing, and while art buyers may stare at a piece and be appalled at the pricing of what seems so simple and cheap to make (value of the artwork displayed altogether abolished from the equation), what they completely miss are the costs of the gallery space (typically a 50% commission on the sale price of the artwork), the sales and use taxes for every piece purchased (often burdened at the seller's expense to make for easier pricing and transactions in a gallery format), and of course the time spent manning the gallery itself lest nobody ever have the opportunity to come in and see/buy the art (or scoff at the pricing because they "could get the same thing cheaper at Walmart"). At the very least, a gallery shower must earn 60% on top of the cost of production to break even on materials/commission/taxes, leaving extremely little wiggle room for a New Name artist showing work to pad at all for profit. It's a bit of math I suspect not all artists take into account in their gallery showing aspirations, but it is absolutely a bit of knowledge I will pass on to every aspiring artist henceforth. Without a name of pre-developed base of demand, a gallery is a mechanism of debt with the expectation of being a networking opportunity. A way to make new business with new people. If one wishes to sell artwork for profit... Try Etsy.

Gallery aside, it's been a nonstop rush of the more common one-off business. Several weddings, which were actually quite fun to shoot for sake of being far less stressful in that they were not beleaguered by traditional format. Running a steady project of maternity photos for an old elementary school friend as well, which typically would be well outside my realm of interest but 2 shoots in I'm having a blast with the happy couple and am looking forward to a third session in a couple more weeks. Extending my restaurant photography services to new clients in new avenues as well, aiming to try and build a more local network in which to provide the service without always relying on contracting agencies for jobs (much how I took real estate work outside of the same sort of format over time, partnering with clients on my own terms). It's been a lot of work, and I'm sitting on a backlog of photos with no time in-between to process them. For obvious reasons that has me remarkably anxious, but folding to the stress would achieve nothing. I predict several weeks upcoming will be spent slaving over Photoshop and Lightroom. I have no time for personal artistic pursuits, save for the 1 or 2 hours spared every week wherein just a hint of that sort of freedom can be gleamed. Winter is coming, and it is my busy season (which still makes no sense to me from a business perspective).

To close on a pedestrian note, Photokina:

  • Olympus EM1 Mk. II is doing exactly what it needs to do in confronting the prosumer DSLR's only discernible advantage, continuous autofocus. Not relevant to me, but it will be a happy upgrade to my workhorse EM1.
  • M. Zuiko 25mm f/1.2 is the replacement I want and need for the 12-40mm f/2.8 (which is also a great lens but normal zooms have never felt particularly useful to my shooting style).
  • M. Zuiko 12-100mm f/4 is kind of tempting as a mid-range walk-about stand-in, but my use cases for it would likely apply to night shooting and I have doubts as to the ability of an f/4 lens to provide ample imaging feedback for decent composition at night (maybe in the city, but is that too limiting a use case for a $1600 lens?).
  • FL-900R = YN-560 with TTL metering. Cool, but I'm not convinced of the regularity of its usefulness.
  • Fuji GFX is a camera to instill fantasies of medium format real estate photography that looks amazing with the proposed 23mm f/4 and by god do I want it. Realistically, however, I'm not sure I am of the skill level to justify such forward investment, and I sure as shit don't have the computer to deal with processing 50+ megapixel RAW files without significant struggles.
Oh do I have such awesome fantasies about using that Fuji GFX, though...

Friday, September 2, 2016

Back to Time Lapse?

Live Composite on the Olympus OMD E-M1, 7-14mm f/2.8 set at 9mm and f/4, ISO 200, compositing time ~40 minutes.

I've been on a crazy time lapse kick this past week, and it feels good to rush into a process that ultimately forces you to slow the hell down. The photographer's equivalent of meditation.

Business is still kind of slow, but might be picking back up finally. Would be interesting to discover a new market trend wherein all the work inevitably gets mashed into the last 3 or 4 months of the year (such as what happened last year, however weird a rush that was). Meanwhile, with Summer scorchers taming down a bit, it's nice to have the latitude in personal time to just run out and screw around with photography techniques new and old alike. Time lapse stands out as the hallmark experiment of the last week for its part.

Capturing sunset from Terrapin Beach Park.
Rob and I have made it something of a habit to chase sunset scenes (since mornings are still horribly inaccessible to us based on our normal 9-to-5 work lives). We've bounced from Terrapin Beach Park on the east end of the Bay Bridge to a multitude of parking garages in Baltimore City chasing the light. Never with any genuinely preconceived image or goal in mind, literally just picking a vantage that seems cool, setting up and running a sequence (or five). Done some storm chasing, too, and I'm squarely in the camp these days that the best time to be taking photos is when the weather absolutely sucks. Frankly, anything is more interesting (to me) than a clear blue sky. At least cloudy days lend themselves well to black and white shooting. Blue skies are just... generic garbage.

Since my incessant bitching began, oh, 4 years ago, in regards to the loathsome post-process of photography I'd mentally locked myself into, I feel the new methodologies I've employed with the flexibility (and frankly the power) of mobile phone editing paradigms and the multitude of mobile-only sharing networks have really released a pressure valve I'd kept clamped down for far too long. The sense of liberation comes from the freedom of not giving a shit how an image looks on any device other than my cell phone screen, especially if the manner in which that image is shared is nearly exclusive to other cell phone screens. It completely breaks my pixel-peeping impulses, and while it took some time to train away from some haughty sort of "brand control" when it comes to image quality, I'm discovering there is far more appreciation all around for the willingness to embrace scattershot sharing and high turnaround (all things I really should know already considering those were value propositions that got my business off the ground to begin with).

I bring that up because it also applies to recent time lapse adventures. The OMD E-M1 produces a good enough 720p, 30FPS movie right out of the camera with all the specifically tuned JPG image processing settings applied beforehand. And it's great, gets rid of the post-process middle man, looks clean (if you shoot smart and front load your efforts), and the output files are perfect for web upload. That said, I have been trying to stab at these recent time lapses with LRTimelapse, which I stand by among many others as being the best time lapse rendering software out there, bar none. But holy crap, it requires the sort of time investment one can only reserve for an extraordinarily boring Saturday when all your friends are out of town and the skies are so oppressively clear and blue you hiss like a melting vampire for entertaining the very thought of stepping outside. It presents great possibility, but is such a bear to use and a time sink like none other. Perhaps when my next depressive spell takes hold it will seem like a good use of my time, but damnit, right now, while my mood is manageably good, I just want to be out shooting.

Live Composite on the Olympus OMD E-M1, 7-14mm f/2.8 set at 9mm and f/4, ISO 200, compositing time ~50 minutes.

That does bring up a tangential thought, oddly. And I'm surprised I haven't mentioned it on this blog before, but I'm sure I tried to write something on the matter at some point, found myself frustrated with the insurmountable difficulties of translating a train-of-thought coherently into metered keyboard strokes, and chucked the post into the abyss of Blogger's trashcan (although, really, it's a Google company now, so I'm sure there's a pile of failed writings stacked pretty high somewhere on some Silicon Valley database, indexed under "WTF?").

I have a gallery show coming up. My first gallery show, actually, in that it is MY gallery show. I've shared walls with other artists and photographers before in themed galleries, but never had a showing of work dedicated to me and me alone.

I owe Rob for planting the seed in Ryan's head. Ryan is the owner and artistic director of Stillpointe Theatre in Baltimore, and Rob has been shooting their shows over the past year with great success. A side project of Ryan's, when the show season comes to a close or there's a long break in between productions, is hosting artists in galleries at the theatre space. He's already run a few such galleries, and Rob thought of name dropping me. Sure enough Ryan embraced the idea, with alarmingly little forethought (I'm honestly not entirely sure he's all that familiar with my work). And thus the rush to print began.

As someone who doesn't really buy art (I am doggedly Libertarian in my approach to the art process), I never understand the justification for what I always took to be high prices for gallery wall art. Keep in mind, in my business I sell a service, not images as product. I haven't the first clue how to valuate the abstract of time investment into creation, so I did a lot of research on the subject. Even with that knowledge, it still struck me as insane, so I ignored it and went straight into the print making. Then it all suddenly started making an extreme sort of sense when hours and days poured into curation, selection of print media, mounting options, sample products for test, panic attacks, lost sleep, inability to function at work and taking sick days on account of genuine psycho-billy freakouts, all finally culminating in a 4-digit expense for the final order, anxiety over shipping damages that may or may not happen, whether a product would get forgotten or lost in the midst of such a big order, checking each piece for quality... I'm 3 weeks into the process since hard starting it (once the shock of "Oh crap, I have a gallery show coming up" kicked in), and I'm STILL working out organization, pricing details, marketing of the show, making proof-of-sale cards for each print, calculating realistic discounts for series... and it's probably still not going to be over even once opening night hits. Something will change, something unexpected will be in effect, and it won't end until the show ends.

So, from the perspective of a person who never understood the actual cost and time investment of putting on a gallery, please let me apologize to all artists for never getting it until now. Even from the standpoint of this very minor gallery of mine in a theatre in Baltimore, THIS SHIT IS HARD.

That said... September 9th, 2016, starting at 7:00PM at Stillpointe Theatre's space at 1825 North Charles Street, Baltimore, MD, I'll be on display in my inaugural "Place and Time" gallery, showcasing a multitude of pieces covering a variety of subjects photographed (for pleasure, not work) in the last year. Stillpointe will be offering food and drink (booze!), and all pieces will be up for sale, including series at a deep discount when purchased together. Everything is mounted and ready to hang on the wall, no frames needed. Some pieces (my industrial abandoned building stuff) is printed on sheets of aluminum for something REALLY unique. Furthermore, the gallery will be open for 4 weeks, so if the opening night isn't doable but you really want to come, there's plenty of leeway in the schedule. So please, swing by, I'll be around to chat and tell stories and teach and learn and generally try not to be brutally awkward as I inevitably seem to be in large social situations with strangers as of late.

And if you're genuinely interested, I recommend following the Facebook event page with an RSVP. I'll have my marketing hat on and intend to run some fresh ads and sample collages of coming gallery pieces over the next week. Hopefully all this time investment pays off in the end, but worst case scenario I will at least have lots of new stuff to hang on the walls at home!