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Thursday, 4 March 2010

A Short Interview with Gemma Barnett of The Photographers Gallery Print Sales

A Short Interview with Gemma Barnett of The Photographers Gallery Print Sales

We represent 47 photographers. When I arrived in 2008 we had 77 so it’s slowly reducing. They are split down the middle with half doing black and white work – people like Lartique, Bravo, Bert Hardy and Wolf Suschitsky – and the other half doing contemporary work. Simon Roberts is our best seller. People are buying equally in both traditions but we have a stronger contemporary stock and seem to sell a lot of landscapes.

Before I arrived we were still accepting submissions and it was crazy – we still have a bag behind the door filled with CDs that have been sent in. Now all the curators go to art fairs, graduation shows, we look at our own graduate show, and we go to the MA shows at places like the RCA and LCC - it's very London-centric. I do go to portfolio reviews but it’s difficult to take people on that basis because there is no history of work and I want to know that before I can look after photographers.

Pricing and editioning is done on instinct but the photographers have a lot of say. Jacob Holdt insisted on selling his prints uneditioned. I have to test the market so we start low. Putting prices up too high can put people off. We have sold a lot of Nicholas Huges prints which start at around £300 and he wants to put the price up, but I don’t think they would sell any higher. Edgar Martins recently raised the prices of his prints to £5,000, which is fine except that I haven’t sold a print since doing so. If work is from the art world (as opposed to the photography world), there is a sense that it can command higher prices. So for Indre Serpytyte who has exhibited at Yossi Milo in New York and produces more conceptual work, the prices can be higher.

I am under the impression that the smaller the edition the better – if the edition is 30, it’s too big. I’m trying to encourage people to limit the number in an edition. Steven Vaughan sells well at the gallery and he does five images in 3 sizes – which is not too many.

We have a unique audience here. We have ½ million visitors a year but only 15-20% come to print sales. Often our clients are first time buyers, often couples who have their first home and want some decorative art for the walls and are buying a photograph for the first time. We also have established buyers and I focus most of my attention on corporate sales – where people like Sebastiao Salgado and Guy Tillim have sold very well recently.

If could start again, I would be tempted to sell on personality alone. There are some big egos out there, and it can be a thankless task - no matter how many pictures you sell for somebody, you don’t get a word of thanks. But then you get people like Wolfgang Suschitzky. He’s 95 years old, he never complains, he comes to every opening and he always has a smile on his face. He’s wonderful!

1 comment:

Shane Godfrey said...

I always love to hear people talk about pricing prints. It makes me really uncomfortable when I walk into a gallery and I look at the price list and its something insane like 450,000 dollars each. I remember last year I walked into a Sugimoto show and they were having a "sale" to sell each print for 360,000 down from 450,000. I tried to talk to the owner behind the desk but since I was obviously not buying anything they didn't seem to interested in me. But yeah, pricing prints and print selling is a very strange business.