Valuing Your Work...

Discussion in 'Photographic Discussions' started by elsapo, Jun 14, 2005.

  1. elsapo

    elsapo TPF Noob!

    Apr 29, 2005
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    Washington, D.C.

    Two thoughts I had this week, on making art and valuing it:

    Recently, I was faced with two tasks — paint a couple of canvases for a friend decorating his apartment; and frame and donate three prints to a charity auction coming up this weekend. Which all sounds simple, except that suddenly this meant I was painting something I hoped someone else would like, and asking other people to place a value on my photographs.

    All of this made me really uncomfortable.

    Painting, really, is just a hobby — not that photography isn't — but I count painting in "hobby" terms because most of what I paint is really, really bad. I mean, on my good days I'm shooting for "childlike" as an adjective I'd consider a successful description. But none of that matters, because by and large after I'm done the paintings just sit around in my apartment and cover holes in the walls, or I prop them in front of spots where the baseboard is messed up.

    So, suddenly faced with a friend saying "please paint for me," I found myself placing a premium on what I thought he would like. I had an idea of what he wanted — some general colors and shapes — but I quickly found myself plagued by wanting him to like it. The entire thing degenerated into using my hands to fling paint onto the canvases at one point, and going back to make changes multiple times.

    The end result is something I'm hoping he won't hate — however, the experience taught me that to be comfortable with what I'm doing, I need to be doing it for the right reasons. And while I was flattered to have been asked — and wanted to take on the project, and would do it again in a heartbeat — the real reason for me to paint anything is because it's what I want to paint.

    Photography is a bit different — I have more control over the medium, and I don't tend to act like a monkey discovering finger paints for the first time. However, the general principle remains the same: the photographs I shoot, the things I post online, I do because it has meaning to me. Donating three pieces to a charity auction suddenly means that someone else will be valuing the work as well, and that in all probability that person and I will come up with different amounts for that "value."

    What happens if, at the end of this auction, the three works go unpurchased? Or sell for a price lower than I think they should? Whose opinion really counts then — mine as the photographer or theirs as the buyers'?

    Putting a price tag on something is a great exercise in self-deception. In my bathroom, I have a painting that I facetiously labeled with a $1,200 price tag. No one will ever pay that much for the painting, believe me. But, if only in jest, that's the price I put on it. I can place any price tag on any work I do — $600 for this, $75 for this, $130 for that. And so on, and so on.

    But whether or not any of it sells — whether or not a potential buyer agrees with my assessment of the value — that's something different. And if I say "this photo is worth $200," and a customer says "no, it's not," then we simply part ways. He believes I've overpriced my work, and maybe I tell myself "he doesn't appreciate it enough." Everyone gets by and their egos remain intact.

    Saturday, however, is going to work a little different. I donated the prints, and so what they sell for effectively is what they're worth. So when someone says "I'll give $50 for that print," and no one makes a better offer… Well, there's no ego saving or talking around it.

    All of this, really, should not bother me. I do my work because I enjoy it, and because it means something to me. But it will be an interesting night — the real key, I suppose, will be in working out just how much value to place on someone else's opinion. Hypothetically, as always, that should be none. Realistically, we'll see.

    The group holding the auction, by the way, is the Ulman Cancer Fund for Young Adults. They can be found at ( …

    — Robert
    Robert Walton
  2. Hertz van Rental

    Hertz van Rental TPF Noob!

    Nov 8, 2004
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    Where am I now?
    Something is only worth what someone is willing to pay for it - but a gift from a friend is priceless.
  3. ksmattfish

    ksmattfish Now 100% DC - not as cool as I once was, but still

    Aug 25, 2003
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    Lawrence, KS
    Can others edit my Photos:
    Photos NOT OK to edit
    I donate matted and framed prints and portrait session gift certificates to local charity auctions every year. Everything has sold, but I don't think anything has ever sold for the price I would put normally on it. Half the gift certificates are never even redeemed. I don't take it personally. At the very worst, the buyer thought my work sucked just a little less than the rest of all the other sucky stuff at the auction. ;) The folks that did use the gift certificates have always been happy.

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