How do I sell analog photography in a digital age?
June 9, 2008 1:52 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for a way to sell darkroom prints of my travel/street photography online.

I shoot black and white 35mm film and make prints myself in the darkroom. I don't want to use an automated printing selling/printing service, so what is my best bet? An Etsy store? Any advice on how to go about this? Dos and don'ts? I'm sort of hoping that people will like the idea of buying something unique, something that was made manually without computers, but my printing is rarely perfect. Some of my best pictures have scratches on the negatives. Should I sell those for less, or just offer it as part of the picture. Is there still a market for prints that haven't been doctored up with photoshop? Are there any tricks or gimmicks that work when selling darkroom photography, such as including test sheets or work prints along with the final? Am I an asshole for trying to make money instead of just putting my pictures up for everyone to enjoy on Flickr or something?
posted by Hollow to Work & Money (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I see lots of photographer's selling their stuff at local street festivals and whatnot. At least by me (Phila area), it's pretty cheap to get a booth at a street festival, and sell framed or matted prints. Try to bring some pictures that go along with the theme of the festival, as well as some of your best shots. This is something I've been meaning to do, but haven't had the time to get into the darkroom recently...

Don't sell work prints or test sheets, save them for when you're famous, or something.

I see you're in NY, why not go down to Battery Park with a card table and some of your prints, and set up shop?
posted by Geckwoistmeinauto at 5:05 AM on June 9, 2008

An Etsy store?

I see a lot of people selling lots of photos on etsy, so yeah....why not try it? Do a search for photographs and then check to see who the big sellers are, and see how they market their photos. At etsy, presentation counts for a lot. Give it a try even if you also decide to sell somewhere else. Like the saying goes - "It's like chicken couldn't hurt".

(unless you're a chicken)
posted by iconomy at 5:15 AM on June 9, 2008

Try selling them in person rather than online to begin with as per Geckwoistmeinauto's suggestion. If your prints are less than perfect and the online buyer expects perfection you may get a poor reputation. At least selling them in person, the buyer can see what they are getting. Also I think from your standpoint you are better off selling the whole package; matted, mounted, and framed.

There should be photography groups in your area which you can join. Usually they have group shows which helps to sell your work. Depending on your vision, you could make good money which isn't anything to be embarrassed about. Work on a style that is pure yet different enough to set you apart from everyone else.
posted by JJ86 at 5:47 AM on June 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

I would definitely try etsy. Make a point in your listing about how you make the prints yourself. I've been happy with the artwork that I've purchased from etsy but a lot of it comes off nice inkjet printers. I think if the scratches are obvious in the picture then you should be okay -- it's part of the charm.

You're not an asshole for trying to make money off your artwork, jeez.
posted by sugarfish at 6:30 AM on June 9, 2008

I think if the scratches are obvious in the picture then you should be okay -- it's part of the charm.

I totally agree, and also second explaining that you're developing these and making the prints yourself. The imperfections are definitely part of the charm. You're not a machine, and handcrafted is handcrafted.
posted by iconomy at 6:45 AM on June 9, 2008

I totally agree, and also second explaining that you're developing these and making the prints yourself. The imperfections are definitely part of the charm. You're not a machine, and handcrafted is handcrafted.

Um, except before there was Photoshop, darkroom prints were still flawless with the use of spotting inks (not so tough to master), the nose grease trick for scratches on the negative, etc. Any of these techniques are taught (and required) in a basic darkroom class.

It's like saying, well, my table I made for you is wobbly....but that's because it was handcrafted instead of mass produced for Ethan Allen in China! Nope, it means you're not at an intermediate level of woodworking yet.

I bring this up not to hate (I love that you're still doing "wet work"), but to illustrate exactly why full disclosure is necessary if you're selling this online. One buyer's "homespun charm" is another's "sloppy, amateurish print," and you need to sort out which is which by either selling in person or describing (and perhaps including a detail scan) of print quality.

Best of luck to you! MeMail me if you ever want to talk shop.
posted by availablelight at 6:54 AM on June 9, 2008

P.S. ...and that's also why "real" silver gelatin prints from the darkroom have always sold for more $$...not because of relative scarcity, but because of the level of care and skill involved: cleaning the neg, keeping your equipment dust-free, care and selection of the enlarger lens, toning, spotting, and even selective bleach work post-printing, etc. There is a spectrum of perfection and fussiness (cue the folks mentioning Diane Arbus' poorly fixed prints thumbtacked to gallery walls), but for some buyers the presence of basic issues like scratches and dust blots will be off-putting.
posted by availablelight at 7:00 AM on June 9, 2008

I agree with availablelight... I have done a lot of darkroom work and scratches or dust marks in a print just looks extremely lazy to me. Analog isn't an excuse for bad or sloppy prints, get a spotting brush and some ink and go to town.
posted by bradbane at 8:23 AM on June 9, 2008

also second available light. If you really want to stay with wet prints, you need to learn to print really well. That's why I'd buy a gelatin print, because there is a look that you don't get from digital. Scratches and dust are not cool and are not going to win you customers.

You could learn to print digitally (equally as hard as wet if not harder) and scan those negatives, if you wanted to. But probably you need to learn better darkroom habits.
posted by sully75 at 12:37 PM on June 9, 2008

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