December 31, 2021  •  Leave a Comment


This week I'd like to end the year by continuing my round-up of what I consider some of my best work of the year, along with some more thoughts on my attempts to actually make money as an artist in America. On the whole my last eight weeks at Saturday Market went very well. After some initial doubts about my sanity, I enjoyed being back at the market, while resolving to change some of my ways next year. I remain convinced that I am a very good photographer, and a lousy businessman. I think the answer lies somewhere around the idea that if the businessman can compromise on his search for another "magic bullet", and just go with what actually works, I can afford to enjoy myself by not compromising on the actual art, and make my work even more personal. Above all, I need to work to make things easier for my workforce, namely me.


The first priority for next year is to continue my struggle to "bring less and sell more", which has become my goal ever since Fran introduced me to this novel concept several years ago. I have slowly become convinced that this is the way to go, that customers are more receptive if they are not overwhelmed by choices. The people who want more choices can be tricked by making them themselves, which I have been somewhat successful by leaving more stock in bins that they can explore to their heart's content. Even more important, I am reconciling myself to the idea that a person who really is moved by my art can show their appreciation by working just a little by ordering it off my website. Large art purchases are rarely done on the spur of the moment anyway. Fundamentally, by reducing the stock of what doesn't, or rarely sells, and also reducing set-up time for the stock that does sell, my enjoyment earnings will probably go up without affecting my actual earnings very much.


If all this sounds pretty easy, well remember who is talking. I have also resolved to pay more attention to price points, those elusive points where quality can seem a small price to pay for art. I have discovered that I am now at a price point lower than my less accomplished competitors on the low end, while at the high end I just can't compete with my fellow photographers who seem to be hell bent on giving it away. My answer seems to be threefold - possibly raise my lower price points, because I can, and keep my higher end the same because anything but drastic, and unrealistic reductions have never seemed to make any difference. The real trick seems to be finding that middle ground which I can persuade a possible buyer that they are getting a real steal, while also acquiring my art. Thus I am searching for a price point of about $100, which seems to be the upper limit of a random purchase, while not cannibalizing on what I already sell. I have enough failed concepts already taking up space in my basement.

These first three photos illustrate a few trends in my artwork this year. I have fallen in love with the 1:2 Panorama format, either through stitching several shots together or cropping into a strong horizontal perspective. I believe that it has real advantages over the typical 2:3 format, in that if an image is in a horizontal orientation, it probably deserves to be a true horizontal. For a person who usually crops to a square anyway, I find that this panoramic crop really says something different. It hones into the world in front of my camera without introducing the excessive overview of a wider 1:3 panorama, which is hard to fill with enough subject to justify its breadth. The other trend in my art is my love for the monochromatic alternative. All three of these images looked fine in color - but they all worked better as black and whites, so that is what they shall be.

                            CRATER LAKE DETAIL : FINAL VERSION

I have also learned some marketing lessons in the value of strength in numbers. The market works best when there are more vendors, not less, and I can even stand more photographers, since it will take them years to know what they are doing. On this theory I will become even more of a "fair weather vendor" than I already am - I am just not willing to put up with real discomfort anymore. I am also probably going to go only on Saturdays in the future, except possibly on incredibly beautiful Sundays in the summer. After fearing that setting up, and taking down eight hours later would feel impossibly stupid, I now realize how much fun it is to not have to go back on Sunday. While my hard work has gotten me enough seniority that I am out of the weather under the Burnside Bridge, I will never make it into what I call the "penthouse", which I believe is the only location which appreciably improves sales. Thus it makes even less sense than before in accumulating seniority points when I have achieved my place in the heirarchy, such as it is.

                            SMITH ROCK REFLECTIONS : FINAL VERSION

Despite our frequent complaints that Saturday Market is not really an "art market" that promotes visual artists, I learned a valuable lesson on my last day of my selling year. A new local art gallery(!) on Division Street invited me to show some of my wares in an outside space (think outside dining) that they had procured in a parking spot in front of the gallery. It was covered, heated, and right outside the front door. Yes, it was a horrible rainy day, but that wasn't the problem. My art was very accessible, well lit and displayed, but the public was not expecting to find me there. It wasn't just that after three hours and no sales and finishing the newspaper that it was time to leave. I had not had any interaction, much less a meaningful one, with any one at all. It wasn't like anyone was making any money. The barber down the street had about six customers in three hours. The gallery owner paid her son much more in minimum wage than the gallery made while I was there. What was very illuminating was that even though about one hundred people actually went into an art gallery, they couldn't even take a second to look at my art right outside, even with eye contact and a hello. While Saturday Market vendors frequently grouse that "it doesn't seem that people are aware that these objects are for sale", at least they have been trained to at least give them a look-see. It's all about the expectations of the selling environment, and I will try to restrict my involvement to those times where I can sell more, or at least have a pleasant time. Such dreams.

A number of my "best" images this year were taken many years ago. I have always had a lot of fun post-processing my images, and part of that exercise has always been trying to find some hidden gems in my archives. This year I had the additional desire to find images for my latest photo book, a survey of my images of Oregon beyond Portland. It provided an excuse for my latest toy, a real scanner that allows me to convert my old prints into digital files so that they can be useful in this digital age. More importantly, it allows me to process the image, rather than relying on the minimum-wage one hour technician of yore. It can be amazing what you can get out of an old print that you were ready to throw away, once you have actually processed it yourself. My God, I wasn't that bad twenty years ago after all.


                                                     EASTERN OREGON LICHEN : FINAL VERSION

                            VINTAGE CANNON BEACH : FINAL VERSION

These five images all were included in my new book. Upon inspection of my archives, I discovered a few images that surprised me. Despite the lack of a wide angle lens, I had made a few nice images at Crater Lake. I had made an image at Smith Rock just a little different than my own rendition of everyone else's Smith Rock shot. Even though I couldn't tell you where those mountains were until the New York Times published an eerily similar shot in their coverage of this year's forest fires. My attention to detail found some color in the High Desert. And it turned out that I was capable of taking a fairly conventional image of Haystack Rock and post-processing it to be as timeless as it really is.

                                                   GRAND CANYON OVERLOOK : FINAL VERSION

                                                   CHICAGO : FINAL B&W VERSION

Even more interesting to me was to leaf through thirty years of prints and to find a few images that struck me as seriously "not bad at all." The Grand Canyon is notoriously one of the hardest places to photograph, since its overwhelming majesty seems to defy expression as a small two-dimensional image. But among the numerous failures, I did find this image which believes in some way conveys the power of the place by concentrating on one beautiful tree on the edge of the North Rim. The other image seemed to leap into my hands as "Chicago", especially it is a rare (for me) original black and white film rendition. The giant Calder statue is very red and is usually seen in front of a modern Miesian skyscraper on the other side of the square; I like my black sculpture in front of an older type of Chicago skyscraper.

                            REAR WINDOW : FINAL VERSION

These final images shows how black and white can benefit a long-standing image that I had always seen as a color shot. I took this image from a downtown parking garage when I realized that it was right across from a dance studio on the third floor of an old office building across the street. Uncharacteristically I took some action shots of one dancer peacefully practicing. I of course recognized the surreptitious nature of the image by labeling it "Rear Window" as an homage to Hitchcock, but I had been careful to not show the young lady's face, and this image was right smack in the center of one hundred years of street photography in both legal and ethical terms. As a coaster, it was reasonably popular, especially among dancers as you might expect. Then one day a middle-aged woman showed up in my booth and literally started screaming that she would sue me for all I wasn't worth if I didn't remove her daughter from my art gallery. Rather than argue, I stopped selling it even though I was well within my right to do so. I didn't even remember the image until I started looking for black and white photos to show on my 500 Pixels site, where I only showcase my black and white imagery. I have garnered some interest as I am what my "public" there assumes as just another old geezer who has never taken a color photo.

                            REAR WINDOW : FINAL B&W VERSION

I feel this rendition is much, much better, and I might even risk Mom's ire again to show it. The straightening out doesn't hurt of course, but look how much black and white allows me to concentrate on the dancer. It realistically allows me to cut down on the interior clutter and the reflections in the window by just reducing the exposure beyond the dancer to near zero. The reflections and scratches on the window are still there but all attention is on the white shirt, which was actually a beige that matched the brick color. Mom must be mistaken since her daughter now has black hair.

So that's another year of photographs, and I am grateful for all of the readers out there who read what I write on "Blog Wednesdays." Like my books, it has given me something to do during these pandemic years, and I appreciate your interest. Unless there are some literate bots out there, about 119 people on average read this blog every week, which is pretty amazing to me. If you are interested in my exploring a particular topic next year, or just want to tell me off, I encourage your comments on these postings. Happy New Year!