Night Shades – My Commercial Art Debut

On August 5th of this past summer, During the First Friday Art Walk, I made my debut as a commercial artist. It was mildly ironic to me, considering up until that point I had touted myself as “not an artist”, in an attempt to distance my work from what I had felt at the time as a growing lack of desire to value technical skill and craftsmanship in photography in name of quick-fix “artistic” ventures. Well, as is usually the case, I was wrong. I was an artist, I just didn’t know it until this show. 

 When the project first began, my first thought was money. I quickly realized it was going to cost me about 350 dollars for the materials needed to mount and frame my work. The format of the show was a 12x12x12 gallery, meaning 12 images at a rough size of 12x12in each (my images would be 12×12 and then matted and framed) and my only goal was to make enough money to cover that cost.

Meredith Alex, the gallery’s curator and my personal mentor during this process, was an huge asset in terms of teaching me the basics on doing a gallery show, and deciding on price. Once these things were set, it was up to me to deliver.

I study the social media-fueled concept of the true fan, and I was fairly sure I could sell the 4 pieces (out of 12) I needed to break even based on this, knowing there were family members and certain friends who were going to buy no matter what. That, however, did not make me any more comfortable, as any good feelings brought on by the assurance that I would cover my costs were quickly overshadowed by the pressure to deliver a quality product that I was proud of .

While I fully acknowledge photography as an art, I still have a complex relationship with the concept. I feel that many times, it is simply the act of framing a photograph and selling it in a boutique or gallery that makes it “art”, not the photograph itself. I remember once, years ago, seeing an 11×14 matted image of an unremarkable ripple in the water selling for 600 dollars in an Old Port gallery. This is what I wanted to avoid. I wanted to produce something visually interesting that I was proud of, and that people would like enough to pay to display in their homes.

My Three Criteria for Photography as Art:

1. Visually Stimulating / Unique – Nothing overdone or mundane

2. Something I am proud to put out to the world – I’m not settling for “good enough” with a piece

3. Commercially viable – has to be accessible enough for average art buyers to be interested in (no super weird modern or abstract pieces)

What I settled on was black and white long exposures (2-4 minutes) of many familiar Portland landmarks and places. And so, Night Shades was born.

 Collecting the images took place over about five nights during late June and July. I was almost always accompanied by friends, and those nights wandering the warm summer streets of Portland, ducking into pubs, chatting away as my camera sat exposing for three and four minutes at a time, ended up being some of my favorite memories from the season.

 As with many creations, as time passes, the creator tends to look upon it differently. “I could do it so much better now!” I say to myself. But in truth, the images’ imperfections are part of what make them unique- “art”, if you will. ;-) Ultimately, I am happy with these pieces for what they are – my first successful gallery.

 The first 12 images are what appeared in the gallery – 8 of the pieces sold over the month of August.

 The last 4 images are ones that I heavily considered but did not make the final cut – The last 3 were taken in a summer thunderstorm with a ziplock bag over my camera.

Please feel free to share your critiques of these pieces, or send me links to your own long exposure work, because I LOVE this type of stuff! Thanks again to Meredith Alex and to everyone that came to support, view, and purchase my art. And without further ado-

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About Peter Jensen Bissell

Commercial Photographer and aspiring brewer. Documenting interesting clients, Observations on Portland life, and marketing/biz ideas for photographers,
This entry was posted in Art, General Photography, Personal Life, Portland Photo Spots, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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