Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Should I focus on sales or education in my next gallery show?


I am in the process of choosing about 21 vineyard/winery-related photographs to include a one-man (relax, it's politically OK to say man since I'm male) show at the Mumm Napa Gallery in Napa Valley. This will be a huge show from the March 10 to October 5. And it's a fabulous gallery that once showcased Ansel Adams' work.

All together I will show about 50 pieces, 1/2 relating to the vineyard, the remainder from my Africa's Undiscovered Myths Project.

Originally, I was going to show beautiful light on the vineyard landscapes in the hopes of selling work to support the Africa Myth project (and my thirst for good wines). Then I started to show friends, relatives and neighbors a handful of the 75,000 or so photos in my world-wide vineyard collection.

Darn. Their reactions presented an unexpected dilemma. With some of the images, instead of ooohing and ahhhing, the viewers asked lots of "what's-going-on-here" questions. Unfortunately, this forced me to choose between beauty–with the hope of sales–and education, between potential income and documentary education.

Check out the examples below. Then tell me, should the Mumm Gallery show be potential income or education?

Below are potentials from the Beautiful Vineyard Light Landscape Category which I hoped would potentially sell:

Then, like an unwanted house guest, viewers asked lots of questions of images like those below. So I call them Education or Enlightenment Category:
More documentary in style, these show something most people have not seen. And they scream for a caption.

Should I choose beauty with the potential for a sale? Or Educational? Or the Bhuddist middle path?

6 comments: said...

Hi Janis,
I think the answer is simple and that is stick to your original plan. Photography is only about one thing, drawing with light in a way that represents how you felt when you captured the image. The final image should be powerful enough to be capable of illiciting an emotional response from some viewers.
Your landscapes are clearly about the light and how you felt. I can imagine being there. They are your expression of places which are personally important to you and all that emotion comes through.
For me, the documentary images do not do that. The hut image is well composed and when I know what it is it is definitely interesting. But it is not emotionally engaging in the way the landscapes are. And it is the best of the documentary images.
One of the challenges of being a photographer is how to respond to the views of others. When in doubt, I think we must trust our own judgement. Because it is your vision you are expressing and no-one else's.
Personally I think you might have discovered a new project to pursue and that is possibly the way to take advantage of the interest of your friends to learn more. I can imagine a series of beautiful, purposefully created documentary images telling the story of what happens behind the vines. Personally I don't think the documentary images you show here are good enough yet for a show (forgive me for being blunt, honestly it is to be constructive) at a gallery. They are very interesting once you read a caption and intriguing when there isn't one. But if a picture is to paint a thousand words it should speak to the viewer powerfully before reading anything.
Focus on your gorgeous landscapes for your show. If you do I think you not only meet your sales objective, but your education objective too. I see those landscapes and I learn about what it feels like to be there when they are at their most beautiful.
I hope that helps. And I look forward to the day you announce a gorgeous documentary show.
Best. K

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