Telling Stories to Sell Work
“After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.” Philip Pullman (Briot, 2014)
This first piece of advice caught my eye not least because of the quotation from Philip Pullman above which served as an introduction to the chapter. According to Briot telling potential customers the story behind an image can make the difference between a sale and a walk away. He argues that stories bring the image to life and also provide a story for the buyer to tell their friends and family. You should provide customers with answers about the location, date and time of capture and everything you remember about the day. So tell them how you got to the location, what camera you used and your intentions and motivation for taking the shot. It is about explaining how you felt that day and what feelings you were trying to convey them to your viewer. Briot tells the story of a couple that listened to his story intently and then decided to buy the most expensive print in his exhibition and the one they had talked about. It turned out that the man had proposed to the woman in that spot on the day the photographer had captured the shot. That is a lesson to us all and it is certainly the case that I often buy art because it reminds me of a holiday, a place or a time in my life and I often recall those memories when I look at the image on my wall.
For example, this photograph by Sebastiao Salgado we bought a number of years ago after returning from Antarctica and going to the Salgado Exhibition Genesis in London. Every time I look at the image I remember the times we have spent in the Falkland Islands, South Georgia and Antarctica, the wildlife and in particular the Chinstrap Penguins featured in this picture, and the many stories of adventure and endurance from the far south including Ernest Shackleton.
Another story about one of my wildlife images never fails to captivate my audience:
This image was taken in Borneo and I spent over two hours watching the orang-utan mother and her baby. The mother was clearly enjoying motherhood and played, fed and fondled the tiny form. I was captivated by the whole interaction not least because of the comparison with how human mothers respond to their offspring. I have a series of image culminating in this image The Kiss. Sadly the baby did not survive and the mother was left bereft.
This advice from Briot is not going to be difficult for me as I love telling people about how I got a particular shot. In wildlife photographer this can be very exciting and compelling but I am very good at recalling every detail of how I capture my images whatever the genre.
Emotion Sells Fine Art
Again, this is not new to me, but worthy of a reminder. When I take wildlife shots I try not to press the shutter unless I have an emotional connection with the subject or the animal or the main players in the image are connecting in some way with each other. Briot recommends that rather than talking about the technical challenges of making the image you should talk about the aesthetic choices you made. Tell them about why you chose the location, why you framed the image in the way you did and how you returned many times and waited many hours to get that light. In doing this you engage your potential purchaser in the conversation about the image and this often converts into a sale as people buy art for emotional reasons rather than because of an understanding about the technical aspects of the work. Explain your artistic vision and the passion you have for your subject.
Artist Statement Stories Sell
Finally, I have previously discussed and shared my draft Artist Statement. Having a statement is important but what it says is even more so. Visitors come to talk on the basis of the Artist Statement. You have a chance to give a sense of yourself in what you say and what is important to you as an artist. Your story can create a bond with your viewer and provide an icebreaker to a conversation at an exhibition. Asking visitors to view the work and then return to give feedback on their favourite image is a good way of engaging people in the exhibition and each other. I did exactly this at my local exhibition The Road to Elgol and encouraged a great deal of discussion and a sense of competition in terms of potential sales. Apart from providing useful feedback it also allows you to provide more aesthetic and contextual information when they return to declare their favourite.
Sharing stories creates trust, it creates a bond and provides a story for them to tell others about the event when they bought the piece of art.
There is lots more for me to learn from How Photographs are Sold and I shall continue to pick up expert tips as I move closer to my Final Major Project and starting my photographic business.
Briot, A (2014), How Photographs are Sold, Rocky Nook, California