This year’s Paris Photo show drew 184 galleries and publishers from 31 countries, to show the work of 1,613 artists at the four-day event. An estimated 61,000 visitors attended the show held at the Grand Palais Ephemere in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower.
To say it was well attended would be a gross understatement. It was a mob scene. The venue is quite large but filling it with so many exhibitors left little breathing room for the nearly 20,000 ticket holders per day. Visitors could hardly move; the few food and beverage stands had queues of 20-30 people at a time; and, people were sitting on the floor to eat and drink or just to rest. It was way oversold. I ran into a couple at lunch the following day who came over from London and left after an hour because of the crowds.
Representing Street Photography Magazine, my intention was to see if and how contemporary street photography was represented, and to get a sense of the market, if any.
Make no mistake, this event is about the business of fine art photography. The street photography exhibited by the galleries was pretty much confined to prints of the old masters (Eugene Atget, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Brassai, and the like) and more contemporary giants such as Vivian Maier, Diane Arbus, Robert Frank, Elliott Erwitt, Lee Friedlander, Garry Winogrand. The legends.
I tried to get the gallery people to comment on the state of street photography today, but most were reluctant to even admit that street photography was fine art photography, with some notable exceptions of course.
The exhibition of photo books was perhaps more representative of street photography but mostly in the context of documentary work and the “must have” theme project, preferably with a socially relevant message. Straight street photography not so much.
I tried to get some feeling for what it takes for a street photographer to graduate into the rarefied world of salable fine art, but few would take the time to comment on this.
Based on the interviews I was able to secure, here is a summary of advice about how to get the attention of galleries and publishers:
- Keep in mind that galleries are in business and need to devote their time to artists they believe will sell.
- Be on the lookout for open calls at some galleries and respond with your best work.
- Most major galleries do not respond to unsolicited submittals.
- Most legitimate book publishers have more than enough artist material to choose from. Some books do get published from unsolicited drafts but to get in the door you must know someone.
- Entering contests is a good way to get noticed, even if you’re not a winner.
Overall, my takeaway is that if a person has talent, it will find the right audience. It just takes a lot of work. Talking, going to see dealers, applying to calls — it’s a very long and ongoing process. Even some established artists enter contests.
I asked Sebastian Alderete, Director of The Music Photo Gallery, who specializes in Fine Art Vintage Music Photography, how an artist gets to exhibit at a fair like Paris Photo.
“In the fine art world, there are established institutions and norms, paths to follow, steps to take,” he said. “My advice is to stay active throughout the whole process. Contact each gallery and send them a portfolio; follow up on each shipment; insist and insist until you find a strategic partner who is interested in the work and sees an opportunity to develop it.”
Attending Paris Photo put front and center that fine art photography is big business. Collectors and institutions shell out big bucks for prints by established artists. The market for photo books is a huge part of the publishing business and growing every year. It’s all about quality work, scarcity and what’s hot now.
If you enjoy street photography as a hobby, you should continue to study, practice, seek feedback and try your luck by entering contests. But make it fun! If you’re seeking to make your mark and fortune as a fine art street photographer, you need to do your homework and understand that even with lots of talent and hard work odds are you will never be shown at Paris Photo. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t follow your passion.