My post about Betsy Karel (Fertilization, 11/17) spurred a response from her. After a short email exchange (she shoots TX using M4s. The book deal came fortuitously through a friend who showed Steidl her work...) I asked casually if she wanted to swap prints. This is my standard offer to all photographers I like, and this is how I've acquired virtually my entire photo collection.
Karel turned down the offer. Not right now, she said, too busy. Which means basically, not interested.
I don't really understand photographers who don't want to barter, and from my experience this includes most photographers. I guess the most obvious reason for refusal is that other people don't like my work. No doubt true in some cases. Still I would think that of all my photos on various websites someone would be able to find one that they like enough to want a print. I would think this is especially true for a b/w street shooter like Karel.
The more probable reason for refusal is that photographers who've made it to a certain level are beholden to galleries/collectors. Bartering or giving away prints softens the market for their photography. After all why would someone pay $800 for a photo they can get through trading? So the trade doesn't happen.
To me, this is an example of how galleries screw things up. Yes, galleries provide a necessary function curating and offering exhibition space, but for the most part they increase the inaccessibility of artwork. Most people including myself don't have $800 laying around to spend on photos. One or two collectors might, so they buy a photo or two, but most photos wind up unsold and sitting in some photographer's closet, or in a gallery drawer. Multiply this situation by several hundred and you get the state of the nation's photo market: scads of prints sitting unappreciated because of photographers unwilling to barter because the bartering would somehow damage the market. Hello? The market as it exists is damaged! There virtually is no market. Let's subvert the market. Start trading prints.
This was behind my thinking in 2006. The label on every photo that I showed that year said, "Free to the first person who requests it." No one took up my offer. Maybe no one likes my work. More likely is that people equate free with worthless. If it doesn't have a price it can't have value. The same logic that keeps people from bartering.
I am out to crush that thinking. For the record, I am willing to barter any print of mine for a print of my choosing from any other photographer. Make me an offer!