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August 14th, 2009

AFTER STAFF Expert of the Day – Marita Holdaway, Benham Gallery founder and artist consultant

Posted by Marita Holdaway

The art market may be the most illusive of the industries that former staff photographers are exploring, but I don’t know a single photographer who would mind seeing their prints up on a nice white wall in some gallery. Marita has a great take since she not only founded a gallery that does a lot with photojournalists, but she’s also consulted extensive with photographers for the exact topics that I’m sure you’re dying to ask her about. Leave a question in the comments section, along with your website if you have one, and she’ll respond asap, also in the comments, so others can benefit from the good advice. NOTE: Marita has graciously agreed to continue to answer questions through next week, although her answers might not be as prompt as usual since she’ll be away from the office.

Marita Holdaway

I founded Benham Gallery in Seattle in 1987. Dedicated to emerging and mid-career fine art photographers, I have been consulting since 1998, and reviewing over 1,000 portfolios annually. I have presented workshops for artists nationally and internationally, helping them further their careers by developing their professional tools for finding and successfully approaching appropriate venues. As an invited reviewer and speaker, I have attended over a dozen photo festivals in the USA, Latin America and Europe.

My hope is that photographers will learn to follow their hearts and not the almighty dollar. There are so many other ways to become wealthy without selling your soul and time to corporate America. Perhaps the photo community can find a way to tell the important stories, instead of the sound bites the media puts out.

Click here for a list of all other “After Staff” posts.


  1. August 14th, 2009 at 7:22 am

    Steve Coleman

    Hi Marita…. I hope i’m not too greedy asking 5 questions…. happy for you to answer any one oor all five.

    What are the key Do’s and Dont’s you would advise photographers wanting to submit fine art photography to galleries.

    What is the market looking for in fine art photography right now and do trends change over time.

    Does traditional film & hand printing V’s digital capture & digital printing influence success in the fine art market

    Is a photographers own personal effort in marketing him / her self an important issue in your consideration to take on a new photographer in your gallery.

    B&W or Color… does it make a diference.

    Many thanks for your thoughts….. cheers Steve

  2. August 14th, 2009 at 8:11 am

    Paul Hardy Carter

    Hi Marita,

    You mention that you have experience of the European market. I live and work in Europe and I’m curious to know how the market here differs from the market in the States. I’ve always had the impression that there’s more of an art market for photography in the US, but is this true? Since the market here is absolutely flat now, I’m wondering if I should turn my attention the other side of the pond.

    What do you think? If I jumped on a plane with my portfolio, where should I start?

    Cheers, Paul

  3. August 14th, 2009 at 11:21 am


    Hi Steve,
    Never too greedy when asking good yet difficult questions. I’ll answer them in the order you asked and post each one after I answer as they are involved questions.
    1) Do’s and Dont’s:

    The key to approaching a gallery is to treat it like an interview for a job you have always wanted.

    Research and participate; visit the gallery if you can, if not do a google research. Almost every gallery has submission guidelines on their site to keep the phone calls to a minimum. I get two to ten requests every day from photographers and it takes time to explain the process to them so check for guidelines on their sites and follow them.

    Go beyond their web site and look at other postings that are out there about them. If they are members or support particular organizations that could give you clues to interests of the curator. Most artists get refused because they had no idea what the gallery’s focus was.

    After your research if you can make a case why you should be a part of their gallery then be sure to state that in a cover letter with your submission. For example; I make landscapes like Ansel Adams but my prices are affordable and you do not represent any other artists in this genre therefore I think I could fill an area you do not currently represent.

    Never “cold-call” a gallery with portfolio in hand. You wouldn’t go to an interview without an appointment it would be ridiculous. Show respect and make sure you know what you are getting into as far as the personalities you will be dealing with. Make sure the dealer is someone you trust with the same values as you have and is enthusiastic about you images.

    Getting representation is creating a long term relationship, don’t overlook the courtship. Get to know the gallery before you “get in bed” with them.

  4. August 14th, 2009 at 11:58 am


    2)Market Trends:
    Although there are trends the market will always support an original voice and a pristine print. If you can bring a new perspective or provoke an emotional response that is consistent in your photographs then you will find a market.

    That being said, the latest “trend” has been the big print. Partially because the technology has made it possible and partly due to the tremendous amount of disposable wealth in the last decade creating enormous living spaces with hugh walls.

    I’ve also noticed, in the twenty plus years I’ve been in business, that in the USA our prevailing governmental control, republican or democrat, effects the publics response to art. When republicans are in office imagery that depicts consumerism like opulent lifestyle or consumer waste is more popular and with democrats it’s causes and “getting back to the basics” like endangered environments or nudes.

    Currently I see no real trend unless buying less is one. My feeling is that the focus will come back to the smaller precious print because those have been overlooked during the big print phenomena.

  5. August 14th, 2009 at 12:24 pm


    3) Film vs digital:
    In the last several years the digital technology has visually equaled that of the analog print. The digital color reproduction, I think, has surpassed the c-print because you have much more control of the color balance and the print is more stable.

    That being said, I believe that there is a kinetic energy an artist adds to an analog print that is handled so frequently that doesn’t exist in a digital print. Why else would people flock to museum’s when iconic pieces are being displayed? We all know what they look like and have seen quality reproductions yet the original pulls us in to not only see it but to experience the “masters” touch.

    Another factor is the availability of the analog print especially the silver/gelatin print. As that medium becomes less available it will make all existing prints more valuable. As the “snap shot” image disappears, due to people erasing them in their digital cameras, those too will become sought after not only for the object of an analog print but for the “common” history that those images represent. It’s an interesting phenomenon, no longer will our grandchildren discover the history of their family through found photographs in their grandparents attic.

    I think the key to presenting digital prints is to be sure to identify the ink and paper used. I believe this will become a standard due to the fact that not all paper/ink combinations are archival. In the end though if a photographer has a consistent “voice” and makes archival prints they will have a market.

  6. August 14th, 2009 at 12:59 pm


    4)Self marketing when represented:

    Absolutely, you should make every effort to promote and support the galleries promotion of your art. Be sure to coordinate your efforts with the gallery.

    When you begin your fine art career it will take about ten years of consistently getting your art exhibited in commercial and public spaces before your will start to have a following. Most galleries will only take established artists because those artists draw customers to their gallery due to name recognition and publicity comes easy because everyone wants to know what famous people are doing.

    Representing unknown artists I fight for every column inch I can get. If the artist is also promoting themselves then the media will get the information from two resources.

    Often news papers rotate who they cover on a monthly bases. If my gallery was highlighted the month before you had an exhibition the media may not even read my press release because they covered my gallery the previous month. If they get the information from an unknown source then the chance of them paying attention is greater and the possibility of getting reviewed about better.

    You also want to make sure everyone you know is invited to your show especially your collectors. This will keep your art in front of them showing them you are active in your career and further validating their purchase of your prints.

  7. August 14th, 2009 at 1:04 pm


    5) B/W vs color

    The key to this is achievability. As long as your images are achievable it doesn’t matter. The important factor is using the medium that is authentic to your vision and best represents your art.

    Thank you for those great questions. I hope I have answered them to your satisfaction!

  8. August 14th, 2009 at 3:20 pm


    The art market in the USA vs Europe:

    Due to the flat economy worldwide stay where you are. Few galleries take on new artists in slow economies unless you have a big collector base here. If you do then be sure to let any perspective gallery know that you’d be bringing them to their gallery.

    The key difference I see between the markets is the way we experience art. Europe has a long history of supporting artists through the church and nobility. The commoner purchasing art is a recent trend gaining momentum in the late 1700’s early 1800’s. The USA began it’s artistic market during this time. Since there was no nobility or religious dominance to support artists a more commercial market was needed that was visible to a varied market source. Store front commercial galleries that attracted people who walked by became the norm where as in Europe it was still “word of mouth” marketing.

    When I first starting visiting European galleries in 1995 I was surprised at how they operated. Finding a gallery to attend an opening was like a James Bond plot. With map in hand and directions that seemed to be in code one would wander through buildings looking for the secret door to knock upon. I think we had to have a password to get in and when the door was opened there was an large gallery and party happening. Everyone who was anyone was there yet no public notice had gone out.

    Other private galleries I visited operated more like non-profit galleries from the USA and produced books and hosted lectures. A friend of mine who’s a curator of photography worked at a private gallery for ten years. When I asked her what her job entailed she told me producing catalogs, lectures, arranging for installation and PR material. I asked her about sales and she told me she had never sold an image. I asked her how they made money and her answer was corporate and government sponsorship. When that disappeared a new paradigm was needed for the gallery market.

    Since about 1999 I’ve seen the European art market trend make a big shift due to waning support of corporations and the government. They are looking to the USA for ways to support their galleries trying to get more public visibility and putting out more public notice.

    It’ll be interesting to see how it all shakes out in the next decade as the internet begins to play a bigger role in art representation.

    Let me know if this answers your question.

  9. August 14th, 2009 at 3:51 pm

    Steve Coleman

    Many thanks Marita that was most helpful….. Steve Coleman

  10. August 14th, 2009 at 4:19 pm


    Great, I’m glad I could be of help!

  11. August 15th, 2009 at 3:35 am

    Paul Hardy Carter

    Thanks for you reply Marita.

    I was more concerned about the differences in the photography market between Europe and the US. Collecting photography here is seen as a frivilous sub-set of the art market, something that no commercial gallery that deals with other art forms would consider, whereas I get the impression that, in the States, you don’t need to convince your audience that photography is worth collecting. Is this the case?

    You’re dead right about most galleries here, they tend to be owned by people who have enough money not to need to sell anything, and are more interested in having their friends in for a party every few weeks, and as a result pictures don’t sell.

    In short: I need to find an outlet for my prints, and I’m wondering if this is going to be easier in the States.

    Thanks for all your help!

    Cheers, Paul.

  12. August 16th, 2009 at 11:10 am

    AFTER STAFF Expert of the Day - Marita Holdaway, Benham Gallery founder and artist consultant @ Photo News Today

    […] Source and Read More: […]

  13. August 19th, 2009 at 6:15 pm


    Hi Paul,
    There is a change in the air. I have several dealer friends that work out of Ireland and Italy. Enrica Vigano from Admira has had great success and events like Photo Espana in Madrid are educating people about the value.

    England of course has some wonderful places as does Paris due to Photo Paris in Nov at the Louve.

    Look around. Photography is getting notices in most fine art galleries.

    Try attending one of the photo festivals like RhubarbRhubard in Birmingham England. Look around to do some internet research. After the economy turns around I think if you can position yourself in a few European galleries you’ll find the market has opened up.

    I hope that helps,

  14. September 15th, 2009 at 4:53 pm

    Darryl Baird

    Hello Marita,

    My current question concerns a photographer’s style. I have a tendency to explore what interests me at any given point in my life, yet I usually create a substantial body of work on a single topics and ideas… albeit in a style that is often disconnected to anything else I’ve done before.

    I’ve always assumed this is a problem for an art dealer or gallery since they must also build up a rapport with their clients and “sell” an artists by their work and reputation.

    I’ve gone back to shooting film for a very “Modernist” project which I absolutely love, but have previously been heavily involved in digital manipulation… you’ve saw my work at Photo Americas (now Photo Lucida). I was a little “ahead of my time”… or something like that.. ;-)

    Should I try to market the new work to galleries who are exhibiting a full range of styles, or perhaps a more narrow target than is primarily showing vintage and current work by those who are disciples of the Modernist masters like Weston, A. Adams, Bullock, etc.?

    btw, the prints are inkjet, from scans made from negatives

    thanks for your valuable time, it’s great to read the thread here

  15. September 16th, 2009 at 1:46 am


    I’d need to see images. Can you send me a URL with examples of the images your are writing about. I’d like to see 10 or so images for each body of work.


  16. September 16th, 2009 at 5:28 am

    Darryl Baird

    Thanks Marita,

    3 distinct bodies of work: Transcending Loss (oldest),

    Aqueous Humor,

    and the most current work in Post-Mortem.

    All on my website (which is NOT a work of art).

    I recently created a Facebook fan page with images spanning about twenty years of work @

    Honestly, I would be happy to explore the latest work until they quit making ALL film, and will probably move to 8×10 close-ups after my Polaroid film is exhausted.

  17. August 26th, 2012 at 2:01 pm


    Thanks Ryan for taking our faimly photos. They turned out great! I have the frames already to put them in once I get them. Can’t wait!

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