Gordon MoatTo Jim Collum, Jack Flesher, or any of the other few successful fine art photographers reading here, how good do you think opportunites are for fine art photographers with very little exhibit history?
Gordon's question was glossed over in the thread on Focus Magazine where this was posted. I will try and respond.
"successful fine art photographers" means different things to different people. Personally....To me a successful artist is one who makes an adequate living primarily from their personal art and who enjoy some respect from their peers. I don't count in this class people who derive most of their income from teaching art photography, these are photo educators. I know many painters who fit this definition but very few photographers. Personally, I only know only one, Witkin, but even he is doing commercial work now too. Caponigro told me a long time ago, at the height of his popularity (when "Running White Deer" was going for 12G), that he could not survive on print sales alone. If he were as well known a painter as he was a photographer he would have been well off. You would also be surprised how many so called successful FAP have other sources of income such as family money etc.
While I am a reasonably successful photographer (I have made my living at it since 1978) I do not include myself as a successful fine art photographer yet, as most of my income comes from commercial photography, teaching, stock sales etc. In my best year, I sold 20G worth of FA prints, but the norm is less and varies tremendously depending on shows, books etc. Last year was good because of exhibits and the new book, but this year is down. It varies way too much to depend on. My dream is to get out of commercial photography, but I am in my twelfth continuos year of putting kids through private colleges with a few to go, so that is a ways off yet. This year I am working on getting more consistent with marketing my art with a new agent and some regional advertising in art magazines while I struggle to get enough time away from commercial work to finish another book/exhibit project that is years overdue.
Gordon's question is kind of a Catch 22. You can't sell without showing (sorry web sales really only help support showing), but without a track record it is hard to get shows in quality galleries which actually know how to market photographs to real collectors who will pay real prices. There are opportunities always, but any art career is built piece by piece, first with small shows and (frankly) underpriced work, then better galleries and better prices, then small museums etc. etc. Frankly I think it is much more about hard work than raw talent (at least it has been for me). Tales of being "discovered" are rare and usually myths. Most people who are "discovered" have been quitely building a career and busting their a__ for along time. At some point all their hard work results in a qualitative leap.
I am rambling a bit here, trying to answer a question that has no easy answers. Perhaps Chris Jordon will chime in. Of all the regular participants here who uses their own name, he is clearly the most successful fine arts photographer. I have watched him from afar build his career and he seems to have done a remarkably good job of it.