Sunday, January 31, 2016

Art Galleries

Wheat Grass - Tehachapi, California
An aluminum print of this photograph hung in two different art galleries.
Should my photographs be in an art gallery? How do I get my photographs into a gallery? What kind of money can I expect to make in an art gallery?

I get asked questions like these fairly often. Perhaps it might be helpful to share my experiences with this. Maybe something I learned will be helpful to you.

Back when I was in college nearly two decades ago some of my black-and-white prints hung in the college's art exhibit. It was common for students to be invited to display their work for a month in the ever-changing exhibit, and, like many others, my work made it there briefly. This was my first gallery experience.

When I moved to Tehachapi, California in 2011 I immediately went to the best art gallery in town, Crossroads Gallery, and asked what it would take to get in. They asked to see some examples of my work and, after showing them some images, they invited me to be a guest exhibitor. This meant that I could display a small number of images in the gallery for 30 days. 

I was a guest artist for two months, and then I was invited to be a permanent member of the gallery. I had half-of-a-wall that I could do as I wished with (sort of, everything had to be approved by the manager first). I had several photographs on display, including a large aluminum print of Wheat Grass (at the top).

Unfortunately, I didn't know that the gallery was struggling financially. Six months after being invited to be a permanent member, the gallery shut its doors for good. I had to pick up my photographs and bring them home.

A different gallery, started by one of the owners of Crossroads Gallery, opened up across the street. I was invited to display two photographs. I happily accepted the invitation, but soon realized that it wasn't a good match for me. This new gallery was an arts and craft store with a gallery as an afterthought in an unfinished back room. Two months later I removed my images.

After that I put a number of photographs into a consignment store where other artists were selling things. This experiment lasted two months because it just wasn't profitable. 
African Daisy - Anaheim, California
A canvas print of this image hung in one gallery, and more recently on my daughter's bedroom wall.
What did I learn from these experiences?

Location, location, location. A great gallery in a poor location isn't going to do well, and those within the gallery will not do well. The gallery needs to be in a place people flock to for art and it needs to be highly visible. Tehachapi just isn't known enough for art. 

There are three types of galleries, I think. One is highly successful and is difficult to get in. One is just getting by and is easier to get in. And one isn't really in the art gallery business--they are using art as a ploy to get customers in so that they can sell them other things--and anyone can get in.

You want to be in the gallery that's successful and difficult to get into. In order to do that you have to know the right people and be darn good. If you haven't already established a name for yourself you are going to have a difficult time getting an invitation.

If you can't get into the successful gallery, then, if you want, try one that's just getting by. This isn't ideal because you are not likely to sell much, but perhaps you can begin to make a name for yourself and create a positive reputation. 

I would avoid the third gallery type at all costs. It's not worth it. They just want to use you, and you're not likely going to get much out of it (if anything at all).

Obviously the point of having your work in a gallery is to make money. You want to sell photographs. Galleries will charge fees. Each gallery will be different with what and how they charge. There might be monthly dues. There will most certainly be a commission. The more successful the gallery the more they will charge to sell your images.

It also costs money to create the photographs. There are printing costs, the cost of your time and effort, the cost of your gear, and all sorts of things you wouldn't even think about. You have to price your photographs high enough that you'll make a profit.

The problem is that your work has to be good enough to justify the high price tag. Is someone going to pay $300 for a photograph that's just alright? Not likely. But you might be able to sell an exceptional photograph for $5,000. How good are your photographs?

That was my problem more than anything. My photographs weren't all that great. I thought they were good at the time, but, looking back, they were not exceptional. I'm a significantly better photographer now, but maybe still not good enough to be successful in a gallery.

In the end I spent more money than I made, so I was in the red. I lost money in the gallery business, which is not an uncommon experience. But I learned a lot so it wasn't a complete waste. If the opportunity presents itself again in the future, I'm much better prepared.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Commuting: Part 5 - Oak Creek Pass In Monochrome

Energy - Tehachapi, California
Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4

One area that I will miss driving through when I move to Utah in May is the Oak Creek Pass. It's an interesting landscape, with wind farms and wild horses, turning from desert to mountain. The summit is about 4,500'.

The drive is along a winding road that become steep. Some cars travel much too fast and will pass you when it isn't safe. There are also slow moving trucks that crawl to the top. In the winter this road will commonly close for days at a time for snow and ice.

I've stopped many times through the pass to photograph. Most of these images were captured right along the road and some were even photographed through the car window while parked on the shoulder.

Seven of these photographs were captured using a Nokia Lumia 1020. Yes, my cell phone. Can you tell which ones? I bet you can't, because vision matters more than gear. Other cameras used include a Sigma DP2 Merrill, a Sony RX100 II and a Nikon D3300.
Abandoned Boles-Aero Trailer - Mojave, California
Uninhabited Window - Mojave, California
Abandoned Desert Trailer - Mojave, California
Deserted Desert Home - Mojave, California
Storm Building Over Mine Hill - Mojave, California
The Desert Cross - Mojave, California
Dramatic Sky Over The Wind Farm - Tehachapi, California
Wind Farm - Tehachapi, California
Wind & Power Co. - Tehachapi, California

Wind Turbines - Tehachapi, California
Broken Wind Farm - Tehachapi, California
Mustangs & Wind Farm - Tehachapi, California
A Mustang In The Tehachapi Mountains - Tehachapi, California
Cassette Player - Tehachapi, California
Foresaken Sink - Tehachapi, California
Abandoned Homestead - Tehachapi, California
Tire, Abandoned Ranch - Tehachapi, California
Living Room View - Tehachapi, California
Abandoned Mountain Ranch Home - Tehachapi, California
Hole In The Wall - Tehachapi, California
Three Nails Left - Tehachapi, California
On A Brighter Day - Tehachapi, California

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Thoughts: Olympus PEN F

Someone asked me my opinion of the upcoming Olympus PEN F camera. This camera has started to make the rounds on the web thanks to Olympus loaning them out to the big photography blogs and magazines. They didn't give me one, so I've only seen the camera via other people's pictures.

The PEN F is a retro-looking 20-megapixel Micro-Four-Thirds interchangeable-lens mirrorless camera. It's smaller and lighter than a DSLR. The camera looks like a small rangefinder (but it isn't a rangefinder). It has a bunch of knobs all over it, many of which seem to control JPEG settings.
Micro-Four-Thirds sensors are smaller than APS-C sized sensors and larger than 1" sensors. Image quality shouldn't be a concern (my Sony RX100 II has a 1" sensor and it has good image quality). The highest practical ISO is probably right around 1600.

What do I think of the camera? I like the way it looks. I'm a big fan of any camera that's smaller and lighter than a typical DSLR because you are more likely to take it with you. Heavy gear tends to get left behind more often, so when that great unexpected scene unfolds before you there isn't a way to capture it. Small gear means photographing more.

While the PEN F is smaller and lighter than a DSLR, it isn't pocketable. And it's not as small or lightweight as I'd personally like it to be. In fact, it's only slightly lighter than the Nikon D3300 DSLR, and similar in size, mostly just thinner.

I don't like the price tag. The $1,200 body-only MSRP is shocking. You could buy a cheap DSLR (such as the D3300) plus a couple of good lenses for the same price, and you'd have superior image quality. Or, for less money, you could buy the Sony RX100 IV and have similar image quality in a pocketable package (just as long as you can live with fixed-lens).

If you have the money lying around and want the PEN F then by all means go out and get one. If you are like most people and on a budget, my recommendation is to pass. It's too expensive for what you get. Besides, it's better to invest in experiences than gear.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Ask Yourself: "What Do I Photograph?" And Not "How Do I Photograph?"

To The Reader - Rosamond, California
There was a time that I wanted to be an author. Perhaps I still do.

When I was a kid in school I hated english classes. I wasn't very good at diagramming sentences and understanding adjectives and prepositions and how to appropriately use the semicolon. I got by, but barely.

I loved to read, though. I could get lost in a good book. Sometimes I would stay up nearly the whole night reading. It was an escape. My imagination could take me anywhere.

So I began to write. I wrote short stories and poetry. I tried to write a few novels, but would give up before they were even halfway complete. I almost finished one. An interesting idea I had (which I started but never finished) was a fictional thriller where each chapter was written in the first person from the perspective of a different character.

Even though I wasn't an expert in the technical aspects of writing, I knew what I wanted to write and so that's what I did. And I became pretty good at it. Back nearly two decades ago in college my English 102 teacher told me that I had a real talent for writing and that if I didn't pursue it I was throwing away a promising career.

One reason that I never pursued writing--one reason that I never finished penning a book--is self-doubt stemming from those struggles in school. How could I be a writer if I'm not intimately familiar with all of the language rules?

Seneca the Younger in Moral Letters To Lucilius said, "Find out what to write, not how."

As Seneca the Younger states, what's most important is not how to write but what to write.

The "how" will come. Don't worry so much about that. The more you do something the better at it you will become. You'll learn it with time and practice.

It's the "what" that separates the good authors from the average ones. It's the author's mind and heart--his or her creativity--speaking through written words that makes a book great.

This all relates to photography. It's the same thing.

Don't ask, "How do I photograph?" That is the wrong question. You'll figure out all the technical stuff as you use your camera. You'll figure out what works and what doesn't by doing. It will all come with time and practice. Don't worry so much about that. The more you photograph the better at it you will become.

Instead, ask, "What do I photograph?" That's a key to successful photography. It's what's in your mind and heart--your creativity--speaking through your photograph that makes an image great.

Find out what to photograph, not how.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Perfect Imperfections

Brother & Sister Sliding - Stallion Springs, California
In photography we often strive for perfection. We want the sharpest lenses, the best sensors that provide the largest dynamic range and cleanest high ISOs. We want everything to be just right. Flawless. Perfect.

But what if flaws are good? What if perfection is a hinderance to greatness? What if art is found in brokenness?

There is the endless debate about which is better: film or digital? Most photographers have come to the conclusion that digital is superior in practically every way. But many film users will point out that film has a charm that digital is missing. Film has character, often found in it's imperfections.

It's pretty common and easy to replicate the charm of film in digital photography using software. I do this regularly. But the question is why. Why do I purposefully put imperfections in my otherwise clean digital images?
Summer Country Feeling - Stallion Springs, California
There are film photographers who purposefully damage their film. They add scratches. They purposefully allow dust to gather on the film. They modify their cameras so that there will be small light leaks. They'll put their film through different chemicals to give different effects. They desperately want flaws.

These photographers will tell you that perfect photographs contain imperfections. The world is a broken place and so brokenness should be found in our art. It's what gives life color and character. Flawless photographs are boring photographs.

Look at that great landscape scene you are photographing. It was created through a harsh and unforgiving nature. Wind and rain. Earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. Floods and droughts all shape the land over many years. The beauty that's in front of you was made possible by rugged weather and disasters.

People are shaped similarly. We become who we are by way of heartbreaks and disappointments and failures, as well as love and learning and successes. Life experiences. Constantly by daily life we are being transformed little by little into the person we'll become tomorrow.
A Football Dream - Stallion Springs, California
It's imperfections that shape nature and mankind. It's ingrained into us deeply. Perhaps that is why we respond more strongly to something that's flawed than something that is flawless. We can relate to and understand more profoundly things which are imperfect.

I heard a song this morning by Jars of Clay that inspired me to write this post. Let me share with you some of the lyrics.

The storm is wild enough for sailing
The bridge is weak enough to cross
This body frail enough for fighting
I'm home enough to know I'm lost
The land unfit enough for planting
Barren enough to conceive
Poor enough to gain the treasure
Enough a cynic to believe
Confused enough to know direction
The sun eclipsed enough to shine
Be still enough to finally tremble
And see enough to know I'm blind

Far more important than creating a flawless photograph is conveying a thought to the viewer through your photograph. You want the viewer to feel the emotion, which means that they must be able to relate in some way to the image--the more profoundly they can relate the more successful the photograph. It's not a perfect image that the world wants to see, but perfect imperfections. Brokenness. Flaws. Dirty. Real life. That's what makes a photograph good.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Commuting: Part 4 - Antelope Valley In Monochrome

Thorns - Palmdale, California
Part 1 Part 2 Part 3

I took a couple month break from this series because of the holidays and a move. I've been busy. But now I'm ready to complete the last three parts.

In case you are new to the Roesch Photography Blog or you missed first three posts in this series, I am publishing photographs captured on my daily commute route. Or what was my commute up until a month ago. I was commuting 70 miles each way to my "day job" but now I live a little closer. Soon I am moving to Salt Lake City, Utah, so I won't be traversing this path again.

In the first half of this series I took you from my home near Tehachapi, California to my work in Palmdale through color photographs. The second half, beginning with this post, is from work back to home through black-and-white photographs.

All of these images were captured along (what was) my typical commute route. Most of these were photographed while I was traversing to or from work, although not all were (but all were captured along the route). I bunch of different cameras were used, including a Sigma DP2 Merrill, Nokia Lumia 1020, and a Nikon D3300. Gear isn't what's important, vision is.
Rene Rios - Palmdale, California
Tree Branch - Palmdale, California
Stealth Flight - Palmdale, California
Air - Palmdale, California
Dilapidated Lancaster Home - Lancaster, California
Abandoned Couch - Lancaster, California
Dog & Butterfly - Lancaster, California
Leaning Joshua - Rosamond, California
Rainy Day In The Desert - Rosamond, California
Joshua Tree Flowers - Rosamond, California
Lake Front Property - Rosamond, California
Wall Shadows - Rosamond, California
Industry Deserted - Rosamond, California
Bolt, Burnt - Rosamond, California
Three Eaves - Rosamond, California
Abandoned Monkey Onesie - Rosamond, California
View of Yesterday's Tomorrow - Rosamond, California
Shelvador - Rosamond, California
Half Cup - Rosamond, California
Unwanted Joy - Rosamond, California
We Will Deliver - Rosamond, California
The Train Meet - Rosamond, California
Covered Hoppers - Mojave, California
Desert Hoppers - Mojave, California
Train In The Desert - Mojave, California
Knob - Mojave, California
The Face In The Mask - Mojave, California
Messy Shed - Mojave, California
Window, Three Shadows - Mojave, California
Divine Window - Mojave, California
Ghosts of the Past - Mojave, California
Joshua Roof - Mojave, California
Shadows of Abandonment - Mojave, California
Cactus, House - Mojave, California
Memories of a Sunny Day - Mojave, California
Light From Above - Mojave, California
Hallway - Mojave, California
Old Plumbing - Mojave, California
Broken Gate, Broken Home - Mojave, California
Forgotten Cans - Mojave, California
Soledad Mountain - Mojave, California
Joshua Trees - Mojave, California
Joshua Tree Desert - Mojave, California
Dale Detjen - Mojave, California