Let’s talk about money

Posted in Uncategorized by Joachim Schmid on November 13, 2014


We are gathered together here* at a fair, this is the place where money talks. But surprisingly hardly anyone talks about money. The fair is the meeting place of people who make photographs and people who sell photographs and people who buy photographs and all the other people who are involved in the trade in one way or the other although they do neither make nor sell nor buy photographs. We are all in the same boat, they say.

Photography has become a rather popular business during the past few decades. The number of photography exhibitions, the number of photography festivals, the number of photography galleries, the number of photography schools, the number of photography books and magazines and the number of photographers have increased dramatically. Photography is an economic factor (not a big one but it is).

People make money with photography – some people, the ones who sell photographs and the lucky few whose photographs sell well. Many of the people who are in the trade in one way or the other although they do neither make nor sell photographs also make money. The people who run art spaces that show photography exhibitions are paid, the people who run photography festivals are paid, the directors and deputy directors and assistant directors, the curators, the communication people, the secretaries, the staff in the ticket offices, the guards, the janitors and the people who clean the spaces, the teachers, the instructors, the scholars and the researchers, the publishers and editors of books and catalogues, the designers, the printers, the frame makers, the art shippers, the installation crews, all of them are paid; there’s quite a bit of money involved, and there’s nothing wrong with that. One thing is wrong however: most of the people who make photographs are usually not paid.

Being a photographer equals being a lottery ticket. A few win, many don’t. Just as any artist, a photographer is supposed to invest time and money hoping to get a return one day. We all know that for the majority this doesn’t work. Supply and demand are completely out of balance. We cannot rely on the market. If we want to maintain a lively culture of contemporary photography we have to change the rules. Photographers are the people who provide the content – and they need to be paid for their work, just like any other professional. As it is now, art photographers are expected to marry rich or to fabricate commercial lies. We know and we don’t talk about it.

We became used to the idea that an exhibition supports an artist, that a publication in a magazine supports an artist, and that artists should not expect to be paid by people who support them so much by providing these wonderful opportunities. We are so used to all this that we forgot to ask how this is supposed to work, how one supports artists by exploiting them. This concept has yet to be explained. People tell us how much they admire our work – evidently not enough to pay one cent for it. It’s time for photographers to claim their fair share of the money. We don’t work for exposure any longer because we learned that all we get from exposure is hypothermia.

The audience, the crowd that visits all these popular exhibitions, should support this by asking the same questions we learned to ask as critical consumers. We do not only wish to know how the vegetables were produced and how the meat arrived on our plates, how energy is produced and where our shirts come from, whether the workers in India and in China receive the pay they deserve, we also want to know whether the artists whose work we enjoy are being paid for their work. Go and ask.

It’s true, we are all in one boat. Some of us own the boat, some are officers who decide where the boat goes and how it gets there, some are passengers who enjoy the trip in deck chairs, some travel in the cheaper cabins on the lower decks, and some are on the lowest deck rowing. They are rowing without being paid. We know this is wrong, and we don’t even have to argue morally; just keep in mind that the boat would not get anywhere without the rowing crew.

Joachim Schmid
November 2014

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* This is the manuscript for an intervention at Paris Photo on November 13, 2014