I went public with my photographic work and opened my little studio five years ago, in May 2009.
Part of my plan was that I would devote 20-25% of my time to that, the rest I would remain with my peace work at TFF, The Transnational Foundation. That’s how it has been.
What have I learnt? Is it something that can be useful to you, dear reader?
When I started out in 2009 it was a kind of ”let-me-try-it-and-see-what-happens.” Today I know it’s a ”for-the-rest-of-my-life” endeavour. That’s # 1.
It’s problematic to not be able to give 100% of your time to something you love and I have not been able to solve that issue and probably won’t for the next few years either. I can’t just abandon my peace work, travels, teaching etc. But I can push the balance towards 30, 40 or higher percentages in the future.
Peace and photo
Shall peace and photography be completely separate? I started out thinking so; in the peace ”sector” I was public, non-commercial and a leader of some 60 Associates around the world. My photography was private and would, over time, become commercial. I thought my ”niche” could be ”peace photography” in contrast to the tremendous amount of images of violence we see every day.
Five years later they are not separate, they are related. For instance I publish photos and art stories as well as peace stuff on the social media – Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin. When I go to, say, Somaliland and write articles of a peace political nature from, I also present my photos. People on social media have found out that the photographer is identical with the mediator/commentator on international affairs.
I know nobody who combines peace research/teaching and politics with art photography. Perhaps I should – even without knowing what it is – insist that my photos are or aims to be peace photography? One could always provoke some healthy discussion with all those who find violence so interesting?
I’ve learnt that at least 50% of your time must be devoted to telling people what you do. It’s about contact work, social media, website work, email services, exhibition announcement, blogging. It consumes extremely much time to first establish the technology and setting up yourself on various media and platforms.
Contrary to what a lot of marketing experts tell you – I read and see them on videos! – you don’t see any immediate economic results. The hundreds and hundreds of hours you spend doing public relations after taking the photos, processing, printing and presenting them does lead to thousands of people knowing that you exist. But that doesn’t mean that they also buy any of your works.
At the same time I am sure that quantity will, at some point, translate into quality. The old business rule that the more people you are in contact with, the more you are likely to eventually sell, still applies. Competition is fierce and there are so many brilliant photographers out there who spend their time 100% on the art. Unless you push and pull continuously and regularly (which is difficult when you live two lives), you’ll likely only get more and more of your brilliant works stored in your basement…
Should I hire a professional marketing firm? It’s a Catch-22 question – I would need the money first to pay for it and would need some real sales first to do that.
Should I join a gallery and let them do the PR? Well, I could but galleries usually take 50-60% of the sales prices and that would make my works more expensive than I want them to be at this point.
Should I go for specialisation? Most experts are convinced you must but I do what I feel passionate about and at the moment it is no less than 21 different categories on my photo homepage + a lot of experimentation, for instance with printing on paper, on canvas and on metal. If I put myself up as a photographer specialised in fashion, pets or weddings I’d surely earn more but I’m afraid I would soon be bored. And that would be the end of it all.
Important is to read as much as you can about marketing, social media etc – and then only pick some good ideas that suit you and keep on doing your own thing. If we all followed the same – even good – advice and the experience of others instead of our own, there would be less diversity in the world. I react to it this way: This sounds fine, could even be true, but will it work for me? And if it doesn’t: forget it. (Or put it in an archive where you store ideas that may become relevant)
I spend a lot of time studying manuals such as how to do business on Pinterest or how to exploit new technologies on Facebook. If you are behind the curve of the rapidly developing technology, you’ll lose a lot of opportunities that could help you. Trends are important to follow too, statistics and analyses of how people behave on social media. Much of it is written for other types of businesses than mine but there is almost always something to learn.
For instance, knowing new technologies that open new vistas can lead to an iPhone shot like this that you can’t take with a normal camera.
In addition, take as many photos as you can anywhere. Even your living room, garden or your street can have interesting stuff to shoot and experiment with. Remember that holding a camera in your hand makes you see the world in a different, more intense manner. I always have a camera with me, the iPhone. As illustration, here is one of a series of pavements:
See as many photo and other art exhibitions, read and browse as many books you can, and – above all – use the Internet to explore site, journals and discussions among professionals. Take a look at the menus on top here and see some of those that inspire me… There is always – always – something to learn, something to get you going. Photography is a way of living.
Some ideas for the future
Expand my studio
Next to it, there is a room to be liberated from some 4000 books and archives and I would then have almost 100 sq metres to show stuff in.
Fewer exhibitions and more drop-by Open Studio
To produce 40-50 works on the same theme or related to each other and do the kind of self-curating it takes is very very time consuming. Then you have an opening, lots of people come, talk, enjoy drinks and snacks and then – it’s over. You see very very few of them again for the three weeks those works hang there.
So I think now more of small, short events – having Open Studio weekends or evenings now and then when I have some new pieces to show and large diversity instead of one theme.
Using digital publications and make books
I’m exploring platforms like issuu.com on which you can produce online magazines, catalogues and newsletter and browse them page-by-page. More than 99% of those whom I am in contact with are anyhow not near Southern Sweden and wouldn’t be able to come around. And art is increasingly seen and sold onlline.
I also love to make printed art books on paper such as the – so far only – one on blub.com, art book quality paper and printing, small editions, numbered and signed – and with, say, 25 quality photos on a theme. A modern portfolio.
I believe in global thinking and interaction. Photos are easy to send, modern technology gives us the marvellous opportunity to communicate, inform, promote and market our stuff across the world in a way never experienced before. I want to even visit China, see what is going on there in a breathtaking tempo, and hope to make my way also into some little corner of the Asian art scene.
Exploring nature, or portraiture, or collage, or… – it all keeps me going. I won’t settle for one type or one style even if eventually that turns out to be selling better in the ‘marketplace’. I feel completely turned off by today’s art market orientation and its Damien Hirsts.
How would artists ever have produced something innovative if they just followed some trend or fashion simultaneously? Innovation is based on ideas, passion, curiosity and the refusal of repetition.
What types of photos – what style?
The most important of course. I have some ideas and will mention three – “Somalia 1977 and Today” – “China 1983 and Today” and “Iran” – all in the art documentary category. But I don’t know when they will be realised. I have too many other ideas but won’t commit to any here and now. I’ll see. You’ll see.
Results so far
- Over these five years almost 450 photos that I consider good enough to sit on my homepage; thousands of other photos tried but didn’t make it! That is 1,7 photos per week. Under the circumstances – only 20% of my time – that is not too bad. But I strive to create both more and better photos the next 5 years.
- I’ve learned a lot about Photoshop, printing techniques and media such as different kinds of fine art papers, canvasses and metals to print on. My research background comes in handy there but I am not analytical, only intuitive, when I create my images.
- Over these years I have set myself up with a cutting-edge photo site at PhotoShelter, pages and platforms on Linkedin, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Vimeo, About.Me, Google+ as well as this blog. I may try a few more places since they all have different types of visitors and character. I also have a professional e-mail service and will soon have an app too (in the future our mobile phones will be increasingly important).
- I so far spend my energy on these tools rather than on getting a few of my works shown in a local gallery or café. I’ve had a couple of small exhibitions in Lund; it was a good experience but nothing tangible came out of it.
- I have had so many lovely visitors, so many Likes here and there, so many who wrote from around the world that they really like my photos. For instance I have gotten a whole bunch of Somali friends on Linkedin and Facebook because I posted some of my photos from there. That is as much of an audience as some visitors to my studio – it is all communication and sharing of an interest in art. It’s meeting across cultures and it is great fun for me!
Thanks to every one of you who have encouraged me by clicking Like, commenting and sharing or made me your friend, visited my studio, bought a piece or whatever that contributed to my development and joy.
Thanks for three friendships I’ve made through photography – another benefit on the way:
Anders Jönsson who has been my mentor on printers, printing and print media. Anders Brun at NyföretagareCentrum in Lund who saved me from making a serious mistake and offered me solid business advice (without any tangible economic results but then it is free of charge too!) and to dear Viggo Rivad who, now at 92, remains my mentor in photography since 1983 and whose official website I have produced as a very small token of my immense gratitude to him.