Working With Fine Art Reps; Keys To Getting The Most Out Of Your Relationship

As a way of building their business, photographers often ask me about working with a rep. As an art/photo rep, I deal with the commercial clients for the "talent" I represent. Being this rep means handling the selling, pricing, negotiating, and scheduling while the photographer concentrates on the creative aspects of the assignment. Most photographers are asking me about the fine art market, which is a little more complicated and has many levels of representation.

Art reps, galleries, and art consultants own their own businesses and are the most common "go between" for photographers and corporations as well as public and private collectors. They also may have the expertise to work with architects, interior designers, real estate developers, galleries, corporate buyers, and even book publishers. Usually, each has a specialty they work within, allowing them to work nationally and even internationally. They work with collectors and corporate clients to help the client navigate through the sometimes complex work of building a fine art collection. They have relationships that can offer access to photographers that the photographer could not find alone. They often have a broad and international network of contacts to bring appropriate material to the client's attention. They not only help clients buy, but can also help clients sell works when the time comes to upgrade or change the direction of a collection.

The Reps, Agents, Etc. And Their Business
Here's a list of some of the different ways to be represented, and specialists in each area, to build your fine art business:
· Art rep--can carry the work of the fine art photographer and will represent their work to many different markets--galleries, private collectors, corporate clients, interior designers.
· Art agent--another term for art rep, but the term "agent" is used more in the entertainment industry market.
· Art consultant--consults and sells to clients, private and corporate. They find fine art for clients from galleries or directly from the photographers.
· Art adviser--a newer name for art consultant and they typically provide more services for their clients.
· Art dealer--sells and buys fine art pieces and deals mostly with private collectors or interior designers.
All of these reps customarily work on a commission percentage of the sale price and usually work with contracts that specify a geographic territory. You don't pay money up front--that is usually a red flag on the relationship--be very suspicious if asked for upfront money to sell your work to clients.

Finding A Gallery
Then, of course, there is the gallery to represent your work. An art gallery is a building or location with exhibition space for visual art, primarily paintings, illustrations, photography, and sculpture. It is customary to consider them the prime location for the sale of art, though many galleries now have websites and post their catalogs on their websites to draw attention to the work.
What do reps and galleries look for in the photographers they represent? Due to the broader nature of fine art it will vary, but here is a good check list before you consider approaching a gallery or an art rep:
· You will need three or four portfolios--ranging from 12-20 images in each body of work.
· You will need a chronology on each portfolio--it gives an idea of where your work came from and where it is going.
· Specify edition size within each series. Edition sizes could range from 8-12, unless the prints are very large, and then they may range from 3-6.
· Specify individual print sizes within each series--especially multiple sizes of the same image.
· Indicate when and where the work has been sold.
· List when and where the work has been exhibited.
· Include any press clippings or reviews of the work.
You need to do your research before you approach an art rep or gallery. It is best to already know the work they carry. You may use this information as a way of approaching them because you have a similar sensibility. This homework always includes finding galleries that specifically carry fine art photography! One of the best resources for research is Art in America: Annual Guide to Galleries, Museums, Artists.

Presenting Your Work
To find representation you will need a range of work and not just one portfolio. A body of work represents different subjects or themes that are all done in your specific style. Because fine art reps and galleries have the largest talent "pools" it will be very important to have a style that will stand out. You may even get commissions (assignments) based on working with specific ideas they bring to you from the clients.

Your marketing presentation is very important. It says that your commitment is there, and a good sense of design is there. It is essential to come across as very professional. You need to show them that you take your work seriously and you intend to stick around in the fine art world. The easiest way to do this is through a very professional portfolio containing the projects you are interested in showing as well as completed past projects and prints from future projects. This demonstrates that you see projects through to the end and already have ideas for upcoming exhibits.

Guidelines & Contracts
Before submitting or bringing a portfolio, check the submission guidelines (often posted on the gallery or consultant's website) to make sure you are showing "like to like." If you can bring original prints to show in person that's great but usually you don't send original prints, as they are too large and cannot be easily protected. Many people are now accepting CDs, but ask first! One of the best methods is to make duplicate sets of inkjet prints if you are sending portfolios out to travel to the reps and galleries. You could also use the traditional box with prints that are matted and mounted in a uniform size presentation. The images can be any size within a standardized matte board size. You could also have one of the newer bound books designed, produced, and printed as your portfolio.

Plan to work with contracts or consignment agreements. Have your own if you are not offered one. They will define terms of payment, commission taken, and are the legal instrument to consign your work to another party for distribution or sale.

Reps and galleries can take the stress out of contacting new markets and doing the groundwork to find the right clients for your work. They can also be sending your work out to get the feedback for bigger sales and even the licensing of your images. An art rep can contact the licensing agents for novelty items, posters, greeting cards, and all related gift market sales.

Probably the most important thing to remember before you seek out an art rep or gallery is to come up with a theme that represents you. This theme will never stand still; you need to plan your themes to grow and evolve as you do to build a business. Photographers wanting to establish a fine art photography business need to think in the long term. Short-term planning may bring you jobs but it is the long-term planning that brings you a career.