Six years ago… #photostorydlb
All venues have their problems. The energy of the last years has mainly gone into making a living. Here was my stand outside the Met. It was made from kitchen wire gadgets, and very light and easy to put together.
I live near the Museum, so it seemed like a good opportunity. Spots were first come, first reserved so you had to be there around 6 a.m. to get a good spot. And then you stayed until it got dark.
I mostly enjoyed the other "actual artists" I met along the way. It was a small community that was divided into the people who actually made what they sold, and the others who received their goods from a truck that came through in the morning and gave them cheap stock, cheap frames, and mostly copied art to sell. This latter group always did the best with the tourists as price was the main object and not originality.
Besides – original art though it may stop the passerby for a moment – cannot compete with big images of the Brooklyn Bridge that sell for 1/3rd the price of your own endeavors.
I learned the ropes from the actual artists who filled me in on various tricks, what sold, what wouldn't sell… how to arrange your images… how to talk to potential customers. It was a long grueling day.
Sometimes I could stand outside the entire day without a single sale.
Sometimes I would make a hundred dollars. But it was hard to compete with people who were selling trinkets.
For example, the most successful seller wrote your name in Chinese looking characters on a ribbon of paper. Cost for this was $5. He always had a line of tourists waiting to have their names spelled out.
And there was the group of people who worked for the same organization – who were spread out at perfect spots each morning selling images that had been scanned from art books of New York. At the time, they were Chinese and one or two guys from Tibet. Later something happened and the Chinese disappeared and were replaced by Russians.
I was there long enough to see the Russians leave and be replaced by the Chinese again.
I made many mistakes. All the materials I used were archival. The paper was expensive. I matted the prints with archival double weight mats and signed each one.
Another mistake I made was to speak with photographers. Oh, the photographers were the bane of sales. They would hang around and just want to talk about what equipment you used which distracted you from catching the eye of someone that was showing interest. That was the biggest lesson.
It was important to give the photographers the brush off as quickly as you could if you wanted to make sales.
And the other thing was – don't even talk to the men. They were there to escort their wives or girlfriends – but had no eye for actual art. Women were 90% of your patrons – and this was acknowledged by women sellers as well.
It was a tough time – but sort of enjoyable as well if the weather was good.
A favorite and ancient ploy was to have another seller come by and just stand in front of your stand picking up and looking at images. The shill. Sometimes we'd pretend to make a sale and publicly exchange money which would be returned later. This almost always drew a crowd. If one person was buying your work, it would draw a crowd. But you couldn't do it all the time with the same person – and sellers had to leave their own stands unattended to do the trick.
I guess that idea of the shill, which you see all the time with street hustlers, has got to go back into ancient history. I can picture 2000 years ago, maybe in a Greek Agora – a shill pretending to buy a clay pot.