Thursday, January 22, 2015

Photo LA - one photographer's weeklong experience.

I've been going to Photo LA for decades - my first one was at an auction house on Sunset. It was so fun to scout around in the cramped low rooms. I was working as a commercial photographer at the time and really felt like I'd discovered this gold mine. Lisa Sette Gallery was probably my favorite of those early years because they had such a non-traditional approach to photography. But this is the first year I participated as an artist. I did the whole gig: Gala on Thursday and then Friday through Sunday until closing. So, here's what I experienced.

Wednesday morning: You get an assigned time to deliver work so it's up early.  Loading up the car, then coordinating with the other artists, hitting the loading dock (amazing helpers!) only to be faced with loading my black portfolio cases onto carts covered in plaster...note to self: always have paper and bubble wrap. Then you're faced with figuring out how much work will really fit on the walls, which turn out to be full of supporting pillars. Then it's hanging out, trying not to bug the gallerist as she selects and arranges. Did a few walk throughs exploring the other exhibitors. There's a terrific guy from Chicago - Paul Berlanga or Berlanga Fine Art who spoke so passionately about his artists. Hanging out with the folks from Verge - a terrific group of local artists.  One of the strongest exhibitors is always The Queensland Center for Photography - and they're terrific people as well. Then it's getting all the last minute emergency stuff - picking up lettering, getting a better card made...and realizing what you still needed to do. We had a great location - apparently, you want to be to the right side - some kind of crowd tendency thing.

Thursday evening - the Gala bash: Well, this was a fairly crazy, but finally, fun event. The place was jammed and this year (unlike last) they didn't seem to have any planned activities. Mostly, it was a good chance to see everyone's booth and to speak with the folks who were walking by. This is the night that most of the curators who will be doing "curatorial tours" come by and preview the work to see which booths they want to feature. It's not really a great night for showing portfolios, more about talking with people, grabbing cards and generally socializing. Saw a few celebs...all in all, a nice evening, even for a committed crowd-o-phobe!

Friday: Ok, this is the first day of the event in terms of the general public coming and seeing the work. It was a bit slow, but there was a good steady stream of people until the late afternoon. Then, let's face it, it became drinks and M&M's time. I saw a lot of familiar faces, got a chance to talk about my work to a lot of people and connect with a few more on a deeper level. By 6:30...we were dragging. Came home, passed out on the couch.

Pano courtesy of Martin Cox

Saturday: I must say, this was a good day although I think that the "crowds" are much less than last year. Evesdropping on several gallery directors talking - the thought is that people just aren't collecting at this time. The sales I did see were rare...and I'm sorry to say we didn't have any either (except for a book). But, on the plus side, I spent the day talking about my work to a very wide range of people - and I met a few that I'd really like to keep in touch with (mostly photogs).  I was able to introduce my new direction (of constructed imagery) to people who were unaware of what I'd been doing - and got a lot of positive maybe, who knows? I also got to have the gallery experience from the other side - so now I was the individual keeping an eye on people - trying to find a balance between ignoring and stalking them. Note to photographers looking for a gallery representation: just a quick "hi, I'm a photographer, what's the best way to contact "X" about reviewing my work? is a good approach.  What I really loved was spending the entire day talking about photography - well, maybe we lapsed into a few "lowbrow" areas, but mostly I really enjoy the company of other artists. Felt energized by the end of the day.

Sunday: Ok, we're now into the part of the journey that isn't for the fainthearted. On the plus side, it was as busy as Saturday, or maybe a bit busier. On the negative side, the marathon aspects are starting to really hit. By 3:30...I gotta admit, I was toast. Walking around,  I found it hard to really take in the images - thought I'd spend more time looking at work, and I just couldn't take it in.  The last rush of people seemed to happen around 4:30-5:00 and then we settled into pure exhaustion. At 6:00 it was time to break down the booth, making several trips to the car for the wrapping materials stored since Wednesday. Having a system for packing your artwork really helps (I have a bubble wrap pouch for each) so that part went relatively fast. Even so, it was 7:30 before we hit the road.

Monday: technically not a Photo LA day...I'm considering it a "snow day" as in, no work gets done.

Tuesday: feeling parched for input after all that outflow, so I'm heading out to shoot.

So, what do I think of the experience as a whole? I've heard it proclaimed that Photo LA was crap and all the good galleries were elsewhere...while others acknowledge it's not Art Basil, but still plays an important role.  Art, like every other field, is in freefall distruption - and the current system is falling apart. In the early years I found PhotoLA much more stimulating. It felt like galleries were taking chances - now, I just don't have that feeling anymore, but that's probably a factor of the $$ involved. My overall viewpoint is that I think that it's all an aggregate - an art business is one that is built in layers over a long period of time. People want to watch the artist develop and see what they have to say - to build a relationship - and so, I see this as another layer. Spending a concentrated time in our photo community was a very good experience for me - many thanks to all who came by.

My thanks to Sarah Lee for curating me into this project. To my fellow artists - many thanks for the wild ride: Aline SmithsonMartin Cox and Sara Jane Boyers

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