Today’s Ask an Art Buyer question comes from Melissa Hennessy of Hennessy Reps.
Whenever I call an AB for an appointment, I always make sure I have either new artists to present, or new work to show so as not to waste his/her time. Usually the new work is within the same genre- i.e. landscape or fashion, etc.
Recently I had a show & heard this comment, “I’d really like to see new work from him” The particular book the creative was looking at was over 50% new work, but it was in the same genre.
So my question is, do creatives want to see artists branch out into other genres outside of the work they are most know for?
I feel like an artist can continually create new work in the same genre, but maybe I’m wrong?
This is a very tricky question and a hard one to answer definitively. What one AD likes in a book will be drastically different from his CD, and his AB will have another take on the book too. One thing I can say for sure is that I really dislike seeing old work in a book. If it’s more than a year old, it’s probably already been seen by the viewer. And if I’ve already seen the work, this meeting is indeed a waste of time. Also, older work can communicate the message: “I haven’t shot anything better in the last 2 years (or however dated those images are)”.
But this Art Director’s comment could mean a bunch of things, and, being privy to the conversation, Melissa might know which one is closer to the truth.
Possible readings of this statement according to Heather, who was not present:
1. I really like this shooter and I wish he had a broader application.
2. I think this shooter needs to spread his wings- this genre is tired and he’s not doing anything new with it. Even though he’s got new work in his book, there’s nothing *new* here.
Without question, there are lots of people in the industry who will want to pigeon-hole you. “Oh, he’s a good environmental portraiture guy.” It’s just easier to file you away under one heading. And, I agree with you Melissa, in theory at least a photographer CAN create new work in the same genre. Furthermore, it can be smart to focus and *own* a particular niche.
On the other hand, it can be super exciting to see a shooter apply herself to something new, to show me how their particular world view can resonate in another area. The problem is, it can be really hard to position yourself as a multiple genre shooter (and this is different from a generalist).
This discussion reminds me of my recent and contentious post on how important it is to shoot and then to shoot some more. Although I was criticized for lowering the quality of my discourse by giving advice like this (“crap” and surely only aimed at junior, and likely non-professional shooters) I stand by my argument.
Believe me when I say that I can tell if a photographer loves shooting by looking at their book. The work is fresh, it’s interesting, it’s well-crafted. And there’s always lots of new work to see. This goes a long way to assure me that the shooter will dive into my project and find the excitement in doing it. This might give me a clue that if I throw her a little curve ball, she’ll figure it out because she is so deeply interested in photography and has explored it in many ways. Curiosity about the world is just something I value. This could also be the outlook of the Art Director that Melissa references.
But back to the question, let’s look at some shooters who are engaged in this type of multi-genre exploration commercially.
I produced for years for Tom Feiler and he lived by the axiom that you must reinvent your photography every few years. He tested film to find new looks and played with point and shoot cameras for his commercial book. Then he moved into serious storytelling and created dreamy but odd little beautiful vignettes. Looking at his site today, there is a huge shift between his commercial and personal work. Two from Tom:
Derek Shapton, has recently launched a fantastic food book. Why? Cause he found out he likes shooting that too. Two from Derek:
Paul Weeks, still life shooter, is now showing a landscape book. Two from Paul:
Raina Kirn is one half of commercial power duo Raina & Wilson. But on her blog, she shows one new piece per post and it’s very different from her commercial work. This is the type of shooting I was talking about in the original “shoot shoot shoot” post. Raina may not be putting this work out commercially but all the AB’s I know love visiting her blog. One from R&W and one from Raina:
Whether this kind of cross-genre approach is a good idea really depends on the shooter- your best bet is to make sure that the work you’re showing is fresh. Changing genre’s might be a little drastic, it isn’t for everyone and it’s not necessary if the work shows that your photographer is expressing himself and exploring his world in new ways.
I think your best advice is to look at the photographer who earned the comment and be really clear on whether the book (or the shooter!) needs to freshen up- how drastic the change needs to be is a big question that only you and he can figure out. Best of luck.