Photography: Is it Art or Commerce?

“Drinking beer doesn’t make you fat, It makes you lean….against tables, chairs, and poles.”—Anonymous

Sometimes I think that photography is a lot like Miller’s Lite beer. Instead of tastes great or less filling, the argument would go — is it art or commerce? One of the problems with the business side of photography is that we always don’t get to choose the kind of assignments that come our way. Bread-and-butter studio or location shoot may pay the rent but may not always be as exciting as we would like. One of my old studio’s biggest moneymakers was a shoot for a national department store that involved making photographs of every (and I mean every) display in one of their flagship stores. While technically challenging and financially profitable, the assignment was, nevertheless, aesthetically, unsatisfying. It was as the beer commercial goes “less filling.”

One of the best ways to get the kind of assignments that you really want is to give them to yourself. Here are two self-assignments that had very different outcomes but regardless of what happened after the assignment was completed, the projects “tasted great.”

Mary knew that a local bank held monthly art shows and was having an upcoming anniversary and used these two facts as a basis of pitching them an exhibit of environmental portraits of prominent local business women. The subjects of the portraits were selected by members of business woman’s network and a local lab sprang for all of the prints as well as a sign to place in the bank’s window. The display ran a month but the bank liked the portraits so much they asked Mary to leave it up for another month, which naturally she did. All but one of the women photographed eventually purchased the prints and another ordered many prints as gifts. The result was increase in Mary’s stature as an on-location portrait photographer and the project made money

Baltimore Streetcar Museum

My project involved volunteering as a photographer at a streetcar museum and the photos would be used the museum for publicity purposes and by me as portfolio material. It was all shot in black & white and the result was that I got to met some interesting people, had some pictures entered into an juried art show, but little else. Nevertheless, I made some fun photographs and got to meet some great people.

Joe Farace is author of “Studio Lighting Anywhere” that’s available from Amazon and your friendly neighborhood book or camera store.

Author: Joe Farace

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