Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The Insult

I don't take offense when someone doesn't like a given print of mine. People generally don't tell you that they think this or that print is kind of lame- especially if they are strangers. It wouldn't be polite. But people I know well will sometimes. Of course all art is subjective and I've found there to be a wide variance in which of my prints will appeal to a given person. So far I haven't had anyone come to me and say "Your work across the board completely sucks." Maybe once I've been at this long enough that will happen. But even then I don't think I'd get too upset about it if it did.

But at Mayfair a woman said something to me that made me want to- I don't know- give her a kind of dressing down. A couple had wondered into my booth and were examining my work. They were both Penn State alumni and very much like you'd think Penn State alumni would be. For those not familiar with PSU or the character of its student body let's just say football and beer are two of the most important things in their lives. They were very friendly- and no doubt lived in a suburban development somewhere with at least one SUV. So we chatted a bit and they offered some compliments about my work. Then as they were leaving my booth the woman said "Maybe if you make enough money at this you can travel someplace exotic and photograph it."

Yes. If only I could travel someplace exotic I'd be an awesome photographer. Because travel makes photography awesome. I've said this before and I'll say it again: travel does not impart artistic merit to photography (or any other art.) Traveling to every exotic place and photographing every exotic scene there isn't art. It's tourism. Capturing scenes everyone already knows is beautiful is a photographic cliche and in my humble opinion such work has very little- if any- artistic significance. It might serve as eye-candy for some suburban housewife (like the one mentioned above) to throw on her wall but otherwise means little.

I said earlier there were some good things about Mayfair and indeed there were. One of those good things was another couple coming through my booth on a later day after the PSU alumni. This couple was a bit older- maybe in their fifties. The man was an amateur photographer and was quite complimentary of my work. We talked shop for a bit. He had taken some digital photography courses and had used some of the same equipment I was using. He made a very interesting comment to me and then repeated it to his wife. He was looking at my foliage pictures and said something to the effect of "It's really hard to take pictures like these around here (meaning within PA woodlands.) I'm not able to take pictures like these." And I said "Yes!" inside. This was the antidote to the alumni poisoning. Someone who has tried to do what I'm doing and knows instantly that the kinds of pictures I have are something beyond what your typical or even more advanced person walking into the woods in this area can take. It is pretty damn hard to remain in one's local environment and take beautiful and interesting pictures of a nature that people haven't seen before. And this is why 99% (excepting still lifes/macros of flowers or whatever) of art festival photography is a product of travel. If you aren't truly talented you can always travel. So am I implying that 99% of all art festival photographers aren't truly talented? Of course I am. But it will take me a few posts to prove that point (though it's easier to do than you might think.)

I can on any day of the year and under any weather condition walk out into my local environment and take beautiful and interesting pictures. And I have the pictures to prove it (and no they aren't all on the website yet. So far I have around 700 pictures I've deemed worth making prints of so it's going to be a bit till I can fully express what I'm doing on the website.) I don't think too many people can do that.

I'll talk about some other exciting things that came out of Mayfair in subsequent posts.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Quick Update

Sorry for my lack of posts this week. It's been a very full one but I now have a day job. I haven't done any festivals so far in June and don't plan any until July. I take notes for the blog at festivals and from those have about 30 posts to do so this will let me get caught up. I may do some day excursions to some nearby festivals in the coming weeks (not as an exhibitor) to talk to the artists and see how things are going. By the end of June a lot of festivals will have occurred around the country and most all full time artists will know what sort of season it's shaping up to be. I'll try and get some intel from some of the old-timers I've encountered along the way to see what's happening with other festivals.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Currently Experiencing Technical Difficulties

Last Friday I woke up to find that my electricity had been turned off. I found the latest bill from the power company- I had received it just before leaving for Mayfair. It said I was past due with a balance of 50.00 and said my service was going to be turned off if I didn't pay that amount by June 1. Well, I would have been happy to have payed it if I had checked the bill in time. A week's notice seems kind of short to be turning someone's power off. The only other bill I could find from them was from December.

So I called them up to find out what the hell was going on. The woman said my service had been shut off because I hadn't paid my bill since December. I said I hadn't received any bills in 2007. She said I was being billed electronically. So I asked how that worked exactly (the bills come to my email address.) I said that wasn't happening either so she gave me a number to call for the company that handles their electronic billing. I called them and they had no record of me- I hadn't signed up for electronic billing according to them. The power company hadn't been sending me paper bills and the electronic billing people hadn't been sending me electronic bills. So who was supposed to be sending me bills and why weren't they? I love mysteries. The electronic billing people transfered me back to Allegheney Power.

So I got the same woman back on the line there and told her what the electronic billing people had said. She insisted that I had electronic billing and that I needed to straighten out any billing difficulties with the electronic billing people. And it was going to cost me a couple hundred dollars to get my service restored because they required a deposit plus connection fees (since it had been so long since I had made a payment) plus the original bill. At this point I was completely pissed. I asked why it was that my electric bill was only $50.00 if I hadn't paid anything since December (it should have been several hundred dollars.) She said that was because I had paid too much on my December bill so I had a credit that spilled over into 2007. So the reason I wasn't being billed was because I had over paid my December balance. But that was also the reason my electricity was turned off. Or something.

So because I'm stubborn ass ( I'm not paying them a bunch of extra money just because they are incompetent) I didn't have power all weekend and I've been out chasing jobs today. I'll pick up the battle in the morning. It's not really hurting much of anything except the stuff I had in the fridge. And that doesn't amount to much either with it being a typical bachelor's fridge.

The worst thing is not being able to operate my desktop computer and not having Internet access at home. I have some more posts on Mayfair to do which I'll try to get to tomorrow.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Mayfair Aftermath

At my first Sugarloaf event an elderly artist told me that there's an old joke- you can do festivals/craft fairs until the money runs out. That's very funny. Well I'm out of money. The old-timer photographer I was talking to at Mayfair said this is a very strange year. Some shows are going okay and others are complete disasters. Overall it's starting out as bad year for artists. It is easy to look back at a show and say that particular show went the way it did for this or that reason. But looking ahead I don't think anyone really knows how any given show is going to go this season. Some will be okay. Others will fall apart. From here on out I'm sticking with low cost events. I don't have any further resources for high booth fees or travel. Right now I'm focusing on getting a full time day job to stabilize my financial situation. And I'm following my own nose for shows- no more recommendations from other artists and no more guidebooks.

The strange thing is that I'm more confident than ever that I'll eventually be successful at this. From the sales I've had and the feedback I've been receiving I feel very good about my long term prospects. I'm especially encouraged by the kinds of people who are taking to my work. But in the short term I need to be able to pay the bills before my landlord kicks my ass out.

So what's happening? That's what all the artists out there are struggling to understand. Everybody seems to have their theory. And the answer is probably a complicated one with no single pat reason. But I'll give one anyway. My brother was at Mayfair on Sunday. And seeing the small crowd he speculated that there is some underlying anxiety that is keeping people home and from spending money. It might be said that they have a kind of bunker mentality. I think artists are the canary in a coal mine for an ill society/economy. People buy art when they are happy and feeling confident about the future. But our nation is suffering a deep malaise at the moment. Some of it's this damn war. Some of it's the overall direction of the nation under the Bush administration. Festival sales across the nation peaked in the late 90s and then declined throughout the Bush years. Bush tries maintain his political support by keeping people afraid. But that isn't working out for him anymore even while it's hurting everything else. It may be that this situation won't get turned around until there's a different administration in power.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

My First Storm

Around 6:00 we got hit with a thunderstorm. Lots of wind and hard rain. There were about two inches of water running through our booths. I also found out my tent leaks in heavy rain- that's awesome. Stupid EZ-Up company! It gets a bit scary at times when you see your tent starting to rise straight up into the air under the force of the wind. Fortunately the storm didn't last that long. But till we got our tents opened back up and the water drained away the show was pretty much over and most artists closed up and left.

Today was my best sales day so far at Mayfair. It started off like it was going to be the worst and then late afternoon some people started coming through and buying things till the storm shut it down. I've been comparing sales notes with an old-timer photographer there. I like his work- he's a very sharp person. He's been doing this show for the past ten years or so. Yesterday he did better than me and today he didn't sell anything but all of our sales don't add up to much. I had a similar thing happen at Sugarloaf Gaithersburg where I outperformed a well-established photographer. Such information is helpful for me to know because it tells me that my low sales performance for this event isn't a reflection on the salability of my work. But otherwise I don't consider it a good thing. If he'd be doing well I'd no doubt be doing better than I am- and vice versa.

So what is happening with the art festival market? There are still shows that are doing okay. A woman told me Lambertville was an alright show for her but she was still down about 33% from last year (for salaried people think about taking a 33% pay cut.) Another artist told me she had done a couple of shows in the Carolinas and they went well. So it's not as though every show out there is completely tanking. But something significant is clearly going on- something that reaches beyond specific shows or regions. As I've talked to these older artists about it I've kept hearing them say this particular show (whichever one it may be) isn't typical and not to base my overall prospects on it. But I wonder if they say that for their own reassurance as much as mine. I think they are worried about this and are trying to make sense of what is happening as much as I am. I think my brother made a comment this afternoon that starts to get at it. But that's its own post.

Not all the news from Mayfair so far is bad. I've had some very interesting observations (and one horrific insult) made about my work which I'll get to later. But now I have to get my beauty sleep for tomorrow.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Mayfair is a Train Wreck

I really, really want to report good news on this blog- I really do. But I can't yet. Mayfair is horrible. It's the sort of place bad artists (maybe I should say evil artists- there can't be any one place big enough for all the bad as in lousy artists) end up. It's artist hell. And I am in it for two more days. There's something kind of funny about all this. I just can't put my finger on it right now.

Mayfair was supposed to be a decent festival with lots of people. Not the best in the world but good. With lots of people. The people part has been missing. The woman next to me sells jewelry. She's from Florida and has been doing Mayfair for the past 15 years or so. This was the slowest Saturday attendance-wise in all that time. It's really bad. Everyone's sales are down. It's not like a modest decline down- it's more falling off a cliff down. And yes the woman beside me came up from Florida. I'm staying with a sister so aside from the booth fee it's not a huge expense. But other artists have major travel expenses in addition to the booth fee. I feel bad for them. To add insult to injury the food is terrible and expensive (the worst funnel cake I've had at any event so far.)

Maybe something miraculous will happen in the next two days. Maybe the artists will start rioting. I'll keep you posted.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Bird Crap Really is Good Luck!

Who knew? Apparently everyone except me. And Bush and I having the exact same mishap in the same week? That's just scary.

I'm staying at my sister's place so I have Internet access while away for an event. I'll be doing a couple of posts over the weekend.

Mayfair is going- well, it's going. Talking to the other artists I'm hearing the same things I've heard at other events- it's much slower than last year. Tomorrow and the rest of the weekend will be the key days. I did have a couple of cute girls come through the booth over the course of the day/evening and buy some 5x7s so the day wasn't a total loss. And there were some other people talking about purchasing some of my large prints.

We'll see what happens tomorrow...