ROSE CITY RAIN : FINAL VERSION
This week I would like to indulge in two end of the year activities, and I hope you find them interesting. The Market has closed for the year. I can rethink for the next few months, so I will try to tell some stories of marketing art this second pandemic year. In an effort to provide some images during that discussion, I took a stab at presenting some of my favorite images from this year. Ansel Adams famously said that a photographer should be very proud of coming up with a dozen good images a year, and in that spirit I went through this years crop, allowing myself two caveats - I could include some images from 2020, since these past two years have sort of run together. Since Ii have spent a lot of time this year going through my archives and extolling the value of taking a new look at old images, I've also included some of my best vintage images that were either transformed through post-processing this year, or even just rediscovered.
FLORAL EXPLOSION : FINAL VERSION
After being away from the Market since March of 2020, I returned for the last eight weeks of the season, and it was a shock to the system. The Market has only been open on Saturdays since the pandemic originally closed it down in 2020. Since I was getting unemployment from my gig at the hardware store, I couldn't afford to go to the market even if I had wanted to. So, despite unbelievable reports that business was great, I stayed away until unemployment finally ended. Of course that was the end of October, so the boom immediatly stopped upon my return, but I'm not complaining. It was a lot of fun to be back selling my work, and on the whole I did well.
BLACK AND WHITE FLORA : FINAL VERSION
Which is not to say that my return to the Market was not without it's frustrations. That first weekend I had the impression that ten years of experience meant nothing, and that I couldn't do anything right. I found myself literally staring at a bungee cord, not remembering how it worked. The alarm at 5:30 AM was the least of my problems, and I finally "finished" setting up at 12:30, two-and-a-half hours after the market actually opened. I was so fashtummeled that it was a miracle that I sold anything at all.
CHERRY BLOSSOM DETAIL : FINAL VERSION
The next few weeks were better as I gradually re-knew what I was doing. It remained a very long day, since I had to pack up everything, including my tent at the end of the day. Even Fran admitted that I was allowed to be tired even though I worked only one day a week, since that day was over twelve hours outside. I gradually finally started bring less to the market, something I had been struggling with over the last five years. It's not only me, since the photographers have two problems at the Market, both of which lead to bring more and more stuff despite logic. The only vendors who need more "sizes" than photographers are T-shirt people, since customers inevitably love an image but want it bigger or smaller, and there goes another sale. Since photographers are making art out reality, we also face the problem of not bringing an image of a subject that a customer suddenly realizes that they need, but is back in my basement - they kind of think that a Portland photographer should have that image. It's not the same as a painter, who more closely follows Fran's retail theory of a customer not missing what they do not see - "if they don't see the red one, sell them the yellow one." Unfortunately, potential customers actually know what is missing. The result has been that traditionally the only vendors who take longer putting their wares away are the potters, whose work is even more fragile.
These first four images are all floral portraits, which while I enjoy I had largely left aside in recent years. The problem is that I lacked three key pieces of equipment that could improve my images. I do not own an expensive macro lens, so that in many ways an Iphone is actually better for this work than my SLR. Even more specialized is the expensive ring flash that really separates the men from the boys. And while I will bring along the tripod, I don't have an assistant to hold the black foamboard behind the blossom that gives that great black background. But the pandemic so limited my usual travel that I found myself taking floral portraits again, and I liked these four the most. I spent a day by myself in the rain at the Rose Garden, but also found subjects in Fran's garden. I even limited my view of this year's Cherry blossoms to just a couple of blossoms instead of even one tree. I've also had fun converting flower images into black and white, a perversion that is challenged only by black and white sunsets.
BEACH GRASS DETAIL : FINAL VERSION
Another problem that I face at the Market is my over-exuberance on subject matter, especially when I discover a new "magic bullet" in my marketing efforts. Despite my resolve to limit my efforts until they have been proven, I still run things up the flagpole even when the flagpole has fallen down. My photo coasters have kept me in business for over ten years, but this year I finally reached something of a compromise with myself by cutting down on coaster production in an effort to reduce the "tyranny of choice." Over the years I have tried over 500 different images on coasters, both in an effort to keep me amused, and to actually appeal to different audiences. I realized that by allowing customers to pick out the images they wanted, to mix and match, I was allowing an "unpopular" image to actually provoke the purchase of a set of four. Thus car guys, and flower gals and animal fans could be coaxed into a set of coasters that also included the most popular images that went along for the ride. The trouble was that by the end I was actually displaying 200 images, and usually selling one each of dozens of different shots. It was all too much, and this year I finally held it down to fifty or so, and what they didn't see didn't hurt sales.
A RARE NICE DAY AT FLORENCE : FINAL VERSION
My second magic bullet plodded along at the Market this year, but again I think I learned something. I was the first photographer at the Market to display metal prints, with my images printed on aluminum sheets. These are so beautiful that people can't help themselves, except that the premium prices required usually keeps them just looking and not buying. They set up a completely bifurcated market, with rich people wondering why they are so cheap (they are a reproducible product) and regular people wondering why they are so expensive, which they are. Thus I am left with an inordinate amount of what vendors call "billboards", which bring traffic into my booth but rarely leave it. So while I have sold thousands of dollars of metal prints over the years, I usually have thousands of dollars of stock on display in my booth on any one day. The real problem with the metal prints was that they ruined the value of every paper print I had created. Despite any logic, customers refused to buy a paper print after they saw the metal print that I couldn't sell a paper print until I had reduced their prices to nearly below my cost to produce them. They wanted the best version of my work, but they refused to pay the price or to settle for a version that while it wasn't the "best", they could actually afford. After years of frustration, I have finally resolved to concentrate on the lower price points of smaller metal prints, and stopped replacing any large prints that actually sell, which they haven't. I also raised prices on the large prints, since after some experimentation lowering or raising the price didn't make a damn's worth of difference. And my price to buy the metal prints went up as well. So I will, I swear, bring more smaller prints and leave the big ones at home. We'll see how it goes.
COASTAL SUNSET : FINAL VERSION
My third magic bullet, which I call the miniature, has cooled down as well. Another element of frustration that surrounded my coaster success was that I never could translate the coaster to the wall. I couldn't add any "frame" that seemed to make sense to convert the coasters to wall art, especially since any customer with half a brain realized that of course they could do it themselves. Thus the coaster, which originally was a mistake when I ran out of wall space and put some of my small prints on a table, now could never make the transition back to the wall. People looked at me and said they couldn't put them on the wall because they were coasters, after all. Then they would graciously email a photo a few months later of their brilliant installation of four coasters on the wall! I finally came up with the miniature, a coaster on a thick wood block, that finally seemed to be the answer, even though several customers insisted they could work as coasters. They obviously are more accurate with their glass than I am after a couple of beers. Even though I refused to make more than one copy of a miniature until I had to replace it, you know what happened. I soon had made more than I could possibly display. The problem was compounded because since they were no longer coasters, I could finally make miniatures that weren't squares, so I soon had three more sizes to display. I then realized that people really only seemed to want the square ones! So I have finally resolved to canibalize the unsold images when I need to replace the rare sale of a miniature, and maybe just display the other sizes at home.
NORTH JETTY PARK, FLORENCE : FINAL B&W VERSION
My final magic bullet is almost dead. I created posters in a fit of creativity when I realized that I could have a poster if I just straightened out the four coasters I printed on a sheet of photo paper, finally came up with a common theme, and printed Portland and my name on the bottom of the paper. This unused portion had been formerly used as the world's most expensive shopping list. You can see why market vendors can proclaim themselves geniuses and five minutes later realize they are dufusses because it took them years to come up with such an obvious idea. I allowed myself to think that I could always just cut up the unpopular posters into coasters if they didn't sell, and I was off. They sold, because I framed them with cheap frames I got at Walmart that were cheaper than any I could buy online, even at Walmart.com! The price was so low that I could give the poster away, and still make about 8 times what they cost. I only raised the price when customers proclaimed that my price couldn't possibly include the frame. After I had nearly doubled my price, and was spending too much time at Walmart, I faced an unsolvable problem. I had justified my low prices for my art on the theory that it was only a poster, and it had my name on it after all, so it was kind of an advertisement. The trouble was that my fellow photographers were suffering so badly that they kept reducing their prices for matted paper prints to the point that they were now competing with my cheap posters, and of course taking up valuable counter space. So now in an effort to reduce inventory, they have been reduced to packing material, with no worse for wear, serving to separate metal prints in their boxes. I have to still decide whether to re-introduce them, or just to use their back sides to print more coasters. We shall see.
GEORGE BEACH, VANCOUVER ISLAND : FINAL B&W VERSION
Well I hope that has given you some insight into the struggles of this particular artist. Remember that I am among the world's worst businessmen, so I am actually proud that I actually make money, if not a living, selling my art. These coastal images were taken on the two trips that Fran and I were blessed with this year, to the coasts of Central Oregon and Southern Vancouver Island in Canada. I will now call it a day, now that I realize that next week is still this year, so my year-end blog post will end with a stunning wave, and you will have to wait for next week to see those gems I rescued from the past in 2021.