Welcome to my Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page!
Before we begin, let me put my Gold Standard information in front of you, so you have an understanding of how I think about getting my photographs out into the world.
In the words of one of my teachers, Ansel Adams, "I don't take a photograph, I make a photograph." Well said! I consider each individual photograph when thinking of materials to use and sizes to print. This is a handmade product, and every element of the process is carefully considered. I use extremely high-end materials, which are hand selected. I make myself intrinsic to the printing process, so I'm sure my buyer is getting the artwork I intended. Anything less cuts into the quality of the image and the result is an unhappy artist, and potentially unhappy customer! And I am all about making you, and myself, happy. If I haven't answered one of your questions on this page, please send me an email, or give me a call. I'm here to help you on your collection journey.
How is fine art photography different from other photography?
This is a tough and far-ranging question with a lot of softness in the answer, which is why this section is so long! But here goes:
A fine art photographer uses a personal approach, as opposed to a commercial approach. The goal is getting to the heart of the aesthetics of the subject instead of documentation. The photo is created from the artist's heart and unique voice, and has no connection to what another entity (like a news outlet) or person demands. We are driven by intuitive creativity instead of objective representation, and our goal is to express ideas, messages and emotions, not just to record an event.
A fine art photograph requires the viewer to critically engage and invest in interpreting the image, and asks that they personally connect with the content. Other photography makes aesthetics secondary to the goal of promoting a product or idea of immediate value. Typically, work that is not fine art involves literalism and realistic approaches to the subject matter. Fine art photography explores that which is not obvious or accessible to the human eye, which is magnified so a different aspect of the world can be shown.
Art is a door to the mysteries of life that is not superficial, and the artwork contains a depth to see beyond as its main characteristic.
Fine art photography is the result of the concept, feeling, and idea that exists only in the mind of that artist. The artist materializes that into a unique image.
Fine art photography is in contrast to representational photography, such as photojournalism, which provides a documentary account of objective reality rather than the subjective intent of the photographer. The inclusion of photojournalism into collections of fine art in museums is because the subjective intent of the photographer was visible in those photojournalists' work. Examples of artists of that capability are Dorothea Lange, W. Eugene Smith and Walker Evans.
Being an artist is related to self-knowledge. It's about emptying yourself and removing the layers that have hidden the unique and unrepeatable part of yourself. Something magically miraculous happens, and that is art, whether it's painting, sculpture, photography, music, or any endeavor resulting from human creativity.
How should I care for my archival photograph?
Avoid bright sunlight! If it shines on the face of the photograph for extended periods of time, that can damage the artwork over time. Protect your photo from physical handling and contact. Use adequate anchors to hold the artwork on the wall. Always pick up photos larger than a sheet of paper using both hands, and never touch the actual image, just the edges.
Why is metal not listed as a substrate choice?
Aluminum is very soft in its 99% pure form, but does not corrode (think aluminum foil). Photographs with a backing of just aluminum need an aluminum alloy to add stiffness. Alloys that are stiff enough have short lives due to several forms of corrosion from the mixture of other metals with aluminum. Even in dry climates, the metal corrodes as crystals of contrasting metals react to each other internally. The alternative is to use DiBond backing, made from stiff plastic foam core sandwiched between two sheets of pure aluminum. For larger paper prints, I prefer to use DiBond for its archival and virtually indestructible properties.
Why is acrylic not listed as a substrate choice?
Acrylic plastics are inert materials, on the good side. On the bad side, they scratch easily, eventually lose clarity, and are subject to cracking as the material ages. It's great material to put in front of a photograph, but only if it's installed to not actually touch the photo. I use acrylic in framing over a print on paper as the most reliable protection. (Glass is more brittle than acrylic, and dangerous when broken.) Sometimes acrylic is laminated with a clear mylar tape which is stuck to the front or back of the photo for a sleek, brilliant look. I don't offer this because any damage or degradation to acrylic ruins the entire artwork. My methods of mounting and displaying fine art photographs are limited to those methods that are known to be indefinite archival, lasting materials. Your artwork should last many hundreds of years.
Why aren't some of your photos available in all sizes?
I make art I consider to have depth and meaning far beyond our own lifetimes. Depending on the intention and technique used to make the photograph, some sizes would be inappropriate for that particular artwork. Ex: the photograph was made on a fast-reacting film, adding graininess when blown up, and ruining the intention of the artist. I also limit the size offered when I consider the embedded meaning of an image. A photograph with many elements and shapes may look and feel too condensed in a smaller size, elements that blossom when made larger. I just can't treat a fine art photo like a commodity, if the wrong size feels like the wrong aesthetic.
What do the terms "limited edition" and "open edition" mean?
In an open edition, the artist makes as many copies of the same work as they choose. A limited edition is a predetermined number of copies, such as a limited edition of twelve. The advantage of the open edition to the artist is that the artwork may have greater income potential if the image is popular, and the advantage to the buyer is that the price is usually lower. I offer some open editions on the two smallest sized prints, I use good quality archival paper, and I sign them.
A limited edition is for a buyer who thinks of an artwork as something to collect, as opposed to something decorative. I do my limited editions for that buyer, on the presumption that at some point in time it will add to the value of the artwork. The limited edition concept is one reason that at a recent auction a contemporary photograph sold for over three million dollars US. To help my collectors understand the value I put on my creative ability and extensive history, I make work available in medium to large sizes in limited editions.
In considering the frame, I use only wood made from recycled wood products. Not only is this environmentally friendly, but it ensures that no chemical is a threat to the longevity of the artwork.
How long can I expect a work on paper or canvas to last?
Four things are the enemy of an artwork: the material being printed on, extreme light, pollution, and moisture. If none of these is a threat, scientific studies promise more than a century of longevity, and possibly a great deal more. I do everything I can on my end to mitigate these threats, but once the photograph is out of my hands, the only thing I had control over in the end is the material upon which the photo is printed.
Will my photograph gain in value over time?
In some situations, yes. If the value goes up, as has happened to some photographs, some or a lot of gain can be realized when sold in the secondary auctions market and on commission with galleries that specialize in that artist or type of work or theme.
Are photographs developed in the darkroom more valuable than digitally printed photographs?
Generally speaking, no. Photos made in the chemical darkroom are sometimes valuable because of their vintage and reputation of the artist. On the other hand, in contemporary photography, some limited edition photographs have sold for a million dollars or more. As an example in one recent auction, one was a black and white vintage print and one was a digital color print.
What should I look for in collecting photographs or fine art?
It depends on your purpose. Are you trying to:
add decoration to a room that goes with or enhances objects already there?
have the subject matter relevant to a location or something in the past or ongoing in your life?
collect? If so it's better to have a coherent theme.
show and/or engage with your passion about the artist?
show and/or engage with the historical perspective and vintage?
show that you like a particular style, e.g. Deco?
...and last, but most importantly, consider if the artwork means something to you, makes you feel good, and some part of your life is enhanced by having this in your life.
Is buying art online a safe way to collect?
Yes, but do your homework! Find reviews about the artist or whomever you're purchasing from online. Check into the artists' background: what is their CV, solo exhibits, media coverage over the years, record of getting foundation awards, and artist residencies. Do they have a commercial book? Are they an established artist? If not, are you still willing to pay whatever price they are asking for their work?
Why do your artworks take a little longer to ship than other websites promise?
Quality issues are the answer and it makes a huge difference in my opinion. Perhaps it is my artistic control freak at work because I can’t let myself sell you a work of art that I have not printed myself. The control freak is a result of my being a musician in the major symphony orchestras for years. Sometimes a bassoonist like I was has a solo to perform that all those 2300 people in the audience can hear in great nuanced detail. You can imagine how exquisitely perfect that solo to be. My conception is the same with making a fine art visual artwork. I would not hand my instrument to someone else to perform my solo for me, and neither would I do that to an artwork that I want to make great.
(For full disclosure, I want to point out that the exactness of the print is determined by the editing and printer setup, which is what I do, or dictate to my studio assistant. When the art comes out of the printer, I inspect and approve or disapprove of it. In other words the only thing that may not be hands on for me is the action of turning the machine on and putting the fresh piece of paper into its feeder).
Many online art sales do not involve the artist at all once they have listed the art work with an art sales gallery. The gallery makes the sale, collects the payment, orders the print from a commercial printing house (usually a large sign-printing firm that does fine art printing too). The printing place then ships the artwork to you. For the artist, it meets the need of some people to receive their order in a few days, though most of these online outfits charge for the shipping, while I ship to you free (and if you are willing to pay for expedited shipping, I can be faster).
Frankly, I would not buy a print at the fine art level of prices that was made by that arm’s length procedure. But if the art is being sold at commodity levels of pricing, as the majority are, I believe you may find the relation of the price to the value you get to be well worth it. You can see on this website store that I have priced small, signed prints that are open edition, so that I can help new collectors and those who love art, but have a small budget. The limited edition prints go for the pricing that is typical for a mid-career artist, because after the last of the edition is sold, an artist like me can never make any money on it again. What makes commodity pricing possible for artists willing to treat their art as a commodity, is the use of arm’s length mass production printing facilities and use of cheaper materials (in some cases).
So there are different strokes for different folks, and you the collector can choose from among the online galleries for the price/value relationship that fits your needs. I like that about today’s much more democratic art market. But for a career fine artist like me, you are getting a work of art and a relationship, to some degree.
Regardless of your financial ability, we recognize paying a fine art price is an act of faith and trust from you. For me, I hope you feel your purchase is the start of a relationship, as I certainly regard it that way.
Is it possible that a work I purchase from you may become more valuable over time?
There is not a concise answer so I will provide a list below of factors that affect the values.
How many years have passed since creation of the print?
Did the artist print it themselves and if so, is their provenance included to assure its authentication?
Is the print vintage (made at the time around when it was first publicly shown, sold or in the media)?
Is it an estate print (made by the artist’s formal estate after their death)?
How close to original is the print’s condition?
Does it include the original materials it was adhered to or placed in (if applicable) or any other add-ons, such as a window overmat or frame?
Was it a limited edition, and what was the total number printed (if known). Consider if the number of prints in existence are less than the edition size.
How large is the print?
How is the strength of the artist’s resume and exposure in the art world?
Have institutions collected the artist’s work?
How popular is the artist with the collecting public?
Is the specific artwork one of those of the artist that is among their most popular?
Finally, but very helpful if it exists, is finding that the artist’s work has been acquired and sold on the secondary market such as at auctions or through gallery consignment sales. Did the selling price reach a level more than the likely price it originally sold for, and how many years did that take? Also how many years have passed since the last auction of this artwork
What are some examples of changes in an artwork’s value?
From my first-hand personal experience:
My Bathhouse Gallery sold many hands-on Ansel Adams 16x20 inch framed black and white prints for $150 each. It was that gallery’s opening exhibit. Four years later, these images, unframed, were selling for $450 each in New York City galleries.
Adams “Vertical Aspens” in that size, unframed, was selling for $1,000 ten years after the Bathhouse opening. My second gallery acquired one of those prints and sold it six years later for $3,000. At its price height, that image was selling in the secondary market in various sales ranging from $29,000 - 75,000. The purchaser at the $3,000 level retains that print today, thirty years later, and is smart enough to wait for the next dramatic increase in the value of very famous images that are original vintage prints before he considers selling.
My second gallery bought an Edward Curtiss print on very delicate Japanese tissue for $1,000 and twenty-six years later, another gallery that specialized in Curtiss’ work sold it to a collector for $32,000.
A simple, small painting that looked amateur and quite derivative was purchased for likely a hundred or more in a frame, kept for a half century, then sold for $13,000. As it turned out, in some corner of the country that deceased artist was well known, and this vintage and style of that artist’s work was very desired.
These are obviously surprising stories, and illustrate that investments in tangibles once in a while have spectacular returns over time. But this is very unusual, and often the work is for sale for years before any action happens, unless it is sold through an auction. Tangibles must be kept for years for any real gains. They have a low liquidity, meaning the selling and buying is difficult to measure because there are very few transactions made over the years.
Lastly, you need very good objective advice, or a lot of experience, to judge the value of every expensive artwork. You can avoid this challenge by following the centuries-old dictum about buying art: you should buy contemporary art that you love and can afford, and can see yourself enjoying for years. That way, the connection between the cost and the benefit is sensible, and you will always feel confident of your original decision to buy that work.
I want to get a series of related artworks of the same size to fill up a wall in my home or office. Is there a way to get a better price because I am buying more than one or two artworks?
Yes. A small number of mid-career artists once in a while make up a limited edition portfolio of eight or ten prints of the same size and put them into a specially designed album. Usually there are accompanying descriptive materials added to the album, and the prints are easily removed if you decide to frame them and hang them up, rather than keeping them as an album on your coffee table. I have several portfolios that I’ve made and sold over my career, and more are planned. My Urban Inversions series has some portfolios left. I charge 30 - 59% less for the portfolio than the cost would be for each of the prints purchased individually.
You can also contact the artist with a list of what you want, and ask to negotiate a price for a multi-image purchase. Some will negotiate with you even if you are looking for a variety of work in different sizes and portfolios. Using my own work as an example, hypothetically someone could ask me to create a portfolio of five images from The Soul of Vietnam portfolio, because they already have my book and want to see some of the images on their walls. I happen to like that idea, so you would find a willing negotiator in me, and I bet you can contact other artists, and some will have a similar reaction. And it’s fun to collect this way too! At a minimum, it’s a good way to start getting to know that artist personally.