The Search for the Private Photography Collector:
Building a Community of Collectors
By William J. Eastman, M.D.
What Defines a “Collector” of Photography?
More specifically, what is an art collector? In a very general sense, anyone who accumulates pieces of art assembled (sometimes quite loosely) based on a subject of interest might fairly be considered an “art collector.”
Based on this loose definition, we might agree there are many collectors of art generally, and some of them are collecting in the visual art genres: painting, drawing, sculpture, etc. A fraction of art collectors are building collections of photography, specializing in any one of dozens (by some definitions, hundreds?) of categories: abstract, black and white, landscape, portrait, etc. Some prefer vintage prints, while others seek to collect only from contemporary artists. I think we can also agree that in today’s digitally-consumed art photography world there are very, very few collectors of the photography we love – loosely termed “alternative process photography.”
How many collectors of photography can you name? Of course, there are a few well-known private collectors (Elton John, David Dechman, Randi and Bob Fisher, etc.) that come to mind. Artnews compiles a Top 200 Collectors list that identifies about a dozen global high-profile collectors of photography – some of them certainly have an interest in alternative process prints, right? Do you personally know any collectors of photography? A lucky few of us may have personal relationships with collectors of our work, but that is certainly uncommon.
Who is Collecting Your Art?
To ask a more pointed, personal question – who is collecting your art? For most of us, the answer to that question is most often “not many.” We all hope to make lasting and personal connections with potential collectors, but the reality is that the universe of known collectors of contemporary alternative process photography is quite small. Really, really small.
So how does a photographer get the attention of this small circle of potential collectors? Very few ever do. Excepting the very rare, highest profile photographers – the chances of making a single sale to or even being seen by this elite clique of collectors are, well…very small.
The Traditional Gallery Model
In the traditional gallery-focused marketing model, artists seek representation by a brick-and-mortar gallery to promote and sell their art. This historic approach, though occasionally (and consistently) successful for selected artists, is undoubtedly biased towards the business interests of the gallery – rarely does the traditional gallery:artist relationship truly focus on the interests of the artist. In fact, many galleries negotiate 40-50% commissions on sales, requiring artists to deliver art (most often framed and shipped at the artist’s expense) to the gallery in exchange for very limited physical space, presented without consideration of the photographer’s artistic interests or techniques and too often offering vague promises of some limited promotional efforts. Some well-established galleries located in geographic foci of photographic art do offer connections to a curated list of collectors, but these establishments are, again, rare and the exception to the general rule.
Though the traditional gallery system is certainly an established channel, it is a system perhaps best suited to well-known, established artists with an extensive and developed following. Many new and less-well-known photographers have difficulty initiating and maintaining a relationship with a gallery where the artist’s interests are truly understood and supported. Many photographers become frustrated by their inability to penetrate this complex and often opaque system.
Building a New Community of Photography Collectors
If we can agree that the community of well-known private collectors of photography is very small (and the sub-set collecting alternative process photographic prints is a small fraction of those collectors) and that the traditional gallery model only serves a small fraction of the most well-established photographers, then we must conclude a new model is needed to connect the majority of artists seeking to establish relationships with potential collectors. Not only should we seek to connect with the elusive but established small community of top private collectors – we should develop a new community of collectors drawn from our own familiar circles of like-minded artists.
GALLERY5X7 was founded on a different value set – we are establishing a trusted online channel to market handcrafted photography to a focused collecting community, while simultaneously building a collecting philosophy in the minds of the artists represented. GALLERY5X7 does not simply connect artists with a known set of alternative process photography collectors – we are OURSELVES supporters and collectors of this special photographic art form. We value the craft of photography, the creation of one-of-a kind prints. We desire not only to promote our individual art, but to promote the interests of the community of artists with similar interests.
One of Your Own
David Aimone is one of the first photographers to be represented by GALLERY5X7 – we found our interests in alternative process photography and our mutual desire to build communities of collectors made for a natural collaboration. I hold David and his work in high regard and appreciate the opportunity to address his community and followers as a guest blogger!
We invite the community from Aimone Photographic to read “An Introduction…” and “What Does It Mean To Be Represented By GALLERY5X7” from the GALLERY5X7 site to learn a bit more about the collecting community we are building. Please join the GALLERY5X7 community by providing your email address in the footer of any page on the site (we will send occasional updates as new artists join us and new prints are offered) and follow us on social media using the links located on the right sidebar of any page.
Please leave your comments and questions below – I would be pleased to hear from you and welcome your thoughts. I also look forward to David Aimone’s guest post on the GALLERY5X7 site – coming soon!