The Photography Industry – Interview 2

The second interview was with the curator/gallerist at a local commercial gallery. As in the first interview I’ve removed the name and replaced the initials with “Ans” as I don’t want to place the name on the Internet without permission.

GW: How would you describe the gallery’s role or function? And your role within it?

Ans: It’s primarily our reception room but also a retail space and at the same time it’s a local space. The things that we exhibit tend to be things that appeal to local people, they’re our main market, so we get to know those people and the work of local artist’s or photographers. The tourists that come in and buy also want local works as it reminds them of their visit to Windsor.

At the same time we host and sell a lot of contemporary art. Strangely, some of our most popular prints are black and white ones of Kate Moss who isn’t local at all. Those seem to be bought either by people wo just want a black and white print because it fits their home ,or they know and like Kate Moss – that’s a really strange one. Still, it usually means something to someone, it’s really personal, which, I guess, is like the local art.

People come in off the street and if they love it they’ll buy it !

GW: How did you get to your current position?

Ans: We’re a brand agency and they had a space for a retail consultant. They employed a consultant who’s quite well down in the art dealing world, particularly contemporary art. She was brought in to open and front this place. I finished a degree in illustration and wanted to do something creative in the art world but didn’t want to work on my own all the time. This gave me the chance to work with art but also, people come in off the street and thy know that they want something but don’t know what they want, they don’t know about the area … in an art sense I mean. So I end up talking to them about art in general, almost like a consultant, to give them a background before they can decide what they want.

It’s funny, some people know exactly what they want and I’m almost redundant but others want or need to chat for a long time.

GW: Could you give a snapshot of your daily activities?

Ans: It’s split between a simple retail function and organising events. Because we’re a brand agency we normally have themed exhibitions here, and most of my time is spent organising those from the initial contact – which could be us speaking to an artist or us being approached by an artist.

Then it’s a case of organising the images and the commercials with the artist if they’re not already on our books. We usually have exhibitions lasting two or three weeks and there’ll be some advertising or marketing for each of them, sometimes three or four exhibitions ahead.

GW: What are the challenges and rewards your role at the gallery offers? Do you enjoy it?

Ans: The best thing is the variety, no day is the same which is want you want. It’s why I didn’t want to work on my own after uni, I don’t think that I’d have that variety.

GW: How would you describe your relationship with the artists – collaborative? How would you define collaboration in this sense?

Ans: It’s really good. Most of the artists are local and we’ve been working with them for some time so it’s a really friendly environment or relationship in that sense. We do work together and chat about what’s needed. Sometimes the artist wants to bounce ideas off us on a change of direction or some new work and we try and help. It’s not just to help sell the pictures but both sides get some comfort from it if that makes sense? We end up knowing much more about the artist and the work but the artist goes away knowing that we’re interested and on their side. It means that when a customer asks about a work or about the artist we’ve got so much more information and can talk about it personally.

That way we can talk about the story of the picture, where it’s come from and why the artist painted it or took the photograph – it makes it much more personal. And we can talk about how the artist painted it, what materials they used and why – it all adds to the background story and makes it more interesting.

Also, we’ve had a couple of artists actually working in the gallery, painting while the customers are watching which was interesting for the visitors.

GW: What is the gallery looking for in the photographers the gallery chooses to work with?

Ans: It’s on the basis of the local interest that we were talking about. Some of the artists that we work with have been on our books for years, but the new work tends to be local or have a local connection. Like I said, it’s very much a local market, even the tourists want local work, so that’s the main thing. Like any business it’s a case of knowing your customer and it’s the local work that sells, which is the important thing for a brand outlet like us, but it’s the more contemporary or modern work that’s selling the best.

The way that the artist or photographer is presenting the work is important too. Some of them want to present it in a certain way which just wouldn’t work here. Most of our pictures are presented in a very simple, contemporary way and if an artist is insistent on a bright, garish frame then obviously it wouldn’t look right here.

GW: What are you looking for when you curate or host an exhibition here?

Ans: We’re primarily a brand outlet so our usual, day-to-day, gallery exhibition simply contains a selection of the artists, works that might interest potential buyers. Obviously, we still try and present these in a complementary fashion. Our occasional, themed exhibitions continue this, and we might just have one artist or two or three covering the same subject. The main idea behind these is to act as an introduction, getting the artist known to the public, raising his or her profile, getting them to the market.

GW: How involved are your photographers when it comes to mounting, hanging and installing works or do you do it all? – What tips or advice have you got for when it comes to installing work?

Ans: Our established artists or photographers tend to know what they want and are very particular, mostly, stick to a single style of mounting and framing. With newer artists we get involved if they want help. Generally, in photography I like a simple black frame though some contemporary images like these here can take a white frame.

The main thing is for it to look professional. If the work doesn’t look slick, if it isn’t presented well,  then the viewer doesn’t really look at the picture, just the mistakes.

We’ve had some school exhibitions and graduate exhibitions here and it’s not too bad then because ….. it’s OK because it’s an amateur setup but if it’s a professional artist then the presentation is really important.

GW: What keeps artists in the photography industry today? – What are the main challenges you think artists are facing today?

Ans: It’s rare now for a photographer to just be in a gallery. For example one of our photographers also exhibits in Savill Gardens and works closely with the Windsor Tourist Board, the Council and the Castle. That way she has a number of outlets but also she does commissions for those people. It’s important for artists and photographers nowadays to have those channels or markets if they want to make a living out of it to any degree. It’s no use just churning out work and expecting people to find it if you don’t make the effort to get it out as widely as possible.

It’s like fashion photographers who appear in Vogue, they wouldn’t get known by Vogue unless they were in galleries beforehand or being interviewed. Basically it’s a case of doing everything to broaden your profile, maximise the number of channels for your work.

GW: Do you think that artists or photographers need to understand the history of their medium and their place in the genre or should they just paint/photograph/sculpt?

Ans: It’s difficult … a small number of photographers seem to be able to just go out and take amazing images that sell but for most it really helps to understand the background of the field. It’s crazy really, some people come in here to try and place their images when they haven’t even got the horizons straight in a landscape or something. It’s not that they don’t understand the background, but they haven’t learnt the basics and still expect to sell their images. Sorry, that’s a sore point of mine but going back, the more that a photographer understands the background of his field the more chance there is that he or she will get an image that talks to the viewer.

GW: What do you think contemporary photographers need to understand about storytelling to produce compelling work?

Ans: It always helps to have a background story because people can relate to it better. Obviously, some simple images don’t have a story or need one, but they tend to be in the minority. A lot of images don’t need the photographer to create one or talk about it because the viewer can make up their own. A simple picture of Windsor Castle has so many stories already in it depending on the experience of the person viewing it. Is the viewer a royalist and want to be part of it or do they look at the castle and thing of the class structure that it represents.

Even if it’s just the story by the photographer, just telling why they’ve taken the image or where it was, when it was taken and all that stuff. It all adds to the context of the image.

GW: In what ways do you think writers/critics and galleries influence the way photography is consumed, disseminated and understood by audiences?

Ans: Unless it’s really hardcore art I don’t think that they have that much influence. In fact, I don’t see so much of it – I think that Social Media has replaced a lot of that stuff. Now it’s simple for an artist or photographer to put their work out via Social Media and the feedback will come very publicly so that it affects everybody’s perception of it. Sometimes I think that it’s difficult to separate the work on Social Media from all of the stuff around it like the comments, links to other places, just the general chatter around it.

If you come back to it though, it’s just a person making that art and it’s their art so the feedback from a critic shouldn’t make any difference. Then it’s a case of the viewer looking at it in their own way, does it work for them. Like we said earlier, it’s all so personal and subjective. I think that people look at art, photographs at least, from their own viewpoint.

GW: Do you think a photographic artist should make work with the intention to sell, i.e. cater to the market? If so, how might one do that?

Ans: Be different !

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