A Dealer's Perspective

The Untalented Photographer

One of the most difficult aspects of running an art gallery is having to view portfolios of people who want me to carry their work. One may think this shouldn't be a problem, but keep in mind that only the "tip of the iceberg" makes it into galleries to begin with. Thus, the chances are good that I'll have to break it to the person that their work just doesn't meet my standards. This job is so onerous that many dealers won't even look at work by unknowns or they'll assign the task to someone else. I tried that with my assistant, and he quickly gave the task back to me.

Turning down photography that is technically inferior or unsalable is relatively easy. It's the people who have been laboring at photography for years and just don't "have it" that are most difficult. For example, I remember one man who had been working for many years, and he presented beautiful 11 x 14 contact prints. But the photographs simply had no impact; he just wasn't seeing in a unique way. The work was technically excellent but evidenced no real talent.

I have always found it very interesting that people who are turned down very seldom look at what is on the walls here in the first place, and after the meeting, they quickly leave, eyes straight ahead. It's as if they don't want to face what other photographers are doing, and they certainly don't really want to hear whatever critique I may have for them.

I try to handle untalented photographers gently and positively. Most any of them can improve with more years of work, but they still might not be at a gallery level. I try to be truthful, but it's not easy. Frequently I hear myself saying (chickening out), "We just don't have a market for your kind of work." I usually don't have the heart to pronounce, "Your work just isn't of gallery quality, and it may never be."

Below I offer a few tips in approaching us dealers: