Musings on Photography


Posted in print pricing, the art world by Paul Butzi on January 8, 2010


I know a lot of people who want an art collection. I know some pretty wealthy folks who have significant collections. But mostly the reason why most folks don’t collect art is that, generally speaking, folks think you need to buy art to collect it. And most folks, frankly, are not awash in disposable income. And, to add to the conundrum, most people have the idea that with art, price is a reliable indicator of quality. I’ll grant that, in a sideways sort of way. I’ll agree that price is positively correlated with quality, in that art that is priced higher, generally speaking, is better.

Here’s the thing, though. I’ve been viewing photography websites on the web. And while I won’t say that I was always amazed at the work, I will say that I saw an awful lot of really good work. There are a lot of people making good art out there. No, let me rephrase that – there are a staggeringly large number of folks making great art out there. They’re making staggering quantities of great art. And, as a first order approximation, zero percent of that art gets collected, because it never gets sold. In some cases, it’s not for sale because the photographer doesn’t want to part with it, but I suspect that in most cases, the reason it’s not for sale is that the photographer realizes, as I did, that while the work would sell, it’s never going to sell in quantities that make it worth trying to make money from it. Life is short, and we’re not going to invest our lives in selling the art when we’d rather be making it.

The significant thing is this: for art which is not for sale, price is obviously not correlated with quality. Take a moment and think about that. What it means, bottom line, is this: there’s a whole, huge pile of art, ranging from completely without merit to soul-shatteringly good, and the price is not a reliable indicator of quality, for the simple reason that the work is all not for sale. And it’s not for sale, not because the artist isn’t willing to part with it, but because the artist isn’t willing to put up with the hassles of selling it just to score some money.

Wouldn’t it be cool to build an impressive collection of art, with all of the art collected from little known artists, with all of the art acquired either free or in exchange for either an artwork or a charitable donation? Would it be interesting if someone built a photography collection not by buying prints, but just by asking for them, and photographers just making it a gift?

9 Responses

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  1. Alexandre said, on January 8, 2010 at 2:17 pm

    A while ago, I tried a simple system for selling prints: free price. Basically, there is a minimum to offset printing and shipping costs, and anything beyond that is left to the discretion of the buyer, what he thinks the print is worth and what he can actually afford.

    I changed back to a more traditional system when I got an image for sale in a gallery, to stay coherent, but I think the idea has a lot of potential.

    Also, just as a way to say thank you for SoFoBoMo and for the present blog, I would be glad to send you a print of your choice, assuming there is anything in my portfolio ( that you like. Just let me know.

  2. Chris said, on January 8, 2010 at 2:50 pm

    I’ve organized print exchanges and group books. I’ve never sold a photo (despite trying), but I’ve been happy to give mine away and get others in return.

    I even have no problem with people downloading my master files and making their own prints. I’ll never become rich and famous off my photography, but making someone else happy is riches enough.

  3. Hugh Alison said, on January 8, 2010 at 3:42 pm

    I bought a pack of A4 Hahnemuhle Photo Rag just before Christmas in order to try and build up a collection by swapping prints with other photographers.

    I reckon that anyone anywhere in the world ought to be able to swap A4/US letter/8×110 prints without massive postal costs.

    I also got asked to sell copies of some digital files for personal use recently. I’m still trying to decide how I feel about that. I’ve never let anyone else print my pictures.

    Maybe we are on the edge of “democratisation of art”.

  4. Gordon McGregor said, on January 8, 2010 at 4:03 pm

    I have several prints on my walls that I’ve begged the photographers for, or was so enthusiastic about their images that they graciously let me force a print swap upon them.

    The Texas Photographic Society also co-ordinates a printswap each year that I’ve gotten some nice work from. I think it is a great way to get interesting images on the walls.

    Also, I’m always up for trades.

  5. Andy Chen said, on January 8, 2010 at 6:33 pm

    Ok. Hi Paul. I’m building up a photography collection and I’d love to have some of your work. 😉

  6. Eric Jeschke said, on January 9, 2010 at 4:52 am

    I’m always up for a print swap.

  7. mike said, on January 9, 2010 at 4:55 am

    Swapping would be fine with me, too.

  8. Walter McQuie said, on January 9, 2010 at 10:58 am


    I enjoy both your images and your thoughts. The grassy reflection one yesterday connected, but then I’m a sucker for reflections–the way they meld a portion of the world outside the framing into the image sets my imagination off, triggers associations, says something about how our brains derive meaning from images.

    The image today does something similar. I love the similarity of the textures of the grass and the trees and the suble distinctions of those texture. Getting down where the size of the grasses and the trees are comparable, the blades stocky at the bottom and fuzzy at top reflecting the structure of the trees, the predominance in the frame of lowly grasses, all sets my minds eye onto other-than-everyday ways of seeing. I can’t help but wonder about the parts you left out–the trees further up the slope, the sky–and thus about the choices you made. In viewing this image my imagination soars, so to speak, somewhat like with your last image–the little reflection among the grassy undergrowth sent my mind’s eye upward even while I recognized that you pointed your eye downward in making the image.

    Please accept these humble musings as my contribution in the exchange you implicitly proffer by so regularly posting your images. I find some of them quite moving.

  9. Paul Butzi said, on January 9, 2010 at 11:38 am

    I can’t help but wonder about the parts you left out–the trees further up the slope, the sky–and thus about the choices you made.

    Let’s see what I can remember. What captured my attention was the variation in a fairly low contrast scene – the texture of the grass and the texture of the trees on the slope. The camera position is on a floodplain, and I was standing in a narrow road/walking path, so I had the cut face of the grassy field in front of me.

    I specifically wanted to exclude the sky. It was monotone, and in such situations I often just crop the sky out. One or two seconds of fiddling with focal length and distance from the cut face was needed to get the proportion of slope and grass comfortable. Landscapes feel quite different without the sky included and I’ll often exclude it without any conscious thought. I’m sure psychologists could mine that for deep meaning but I suspect it’s mostly a habit I picked up on the beach and never unlearned.

    What I remember most clearly was making an exposure or two and then crouching to bring the camera down to the level of the grass tops, so that the angle of view skims across/thru the grass rather than looking down at it, mostly just to see what it would look like. Nothing planned or conscious, just an impulse to crouch down, and when I saw it I let the shutter go.

    The instant I crouched the dogs both came racing over to see what exciting thing I’d found, and I did wait for a moment or two for them to move out of the way because they were both wearing bright orange vests and I didn’t want half a dog wearing an orange vest in the foreground; Kodak is just outside the frame to the right. There’s a road, partly screened, at the bottom of the slope and I remember I was hoping for a brightly colored truck to show where the road is, but none appeared in the few seconds I was standing there. They’re never there when you want them, that’s my complaint about brightly colored trucks.

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