The price of branding and exposure.

Valya - 092612

I am in a conundrum.  To become a better artist and to try to make a living from it I have to promote myself more. I appreciate and understand that, but where is the balance?  How much of this exposure is about my product or about my own personal brand?  What is the price of branding and exposure?

A friend gave us an beautiful original platinum print a few years ago of a young Mexican woman standing by a fountain in a plaza.  That is a definite description of the product and could mean the print is worth a few dollars or a few thousand.  With just this description though, I would only pay the lower end of the spectrum.

A friend gave us a beautiful original Edward Weston platinum print of Frida Kahlo.  Just that sentence alone increased the photo's value substantially.  It has two very powerful names with Edward Weston as the photographer and Frida Kahlo as the subject.  It bears both their brands.

When building a personal brand, the creator's personality, accomplishments, failures, challenges, likes and dislikes, and creations are built into the brand.   Think about Edward Weston's brand - black and white modern photographer and pioneer of the art, fine-art nude photographer pioneer, lived in the US and Mexico, often took photos of his lovers or had intimate relationships with his models, part of the California photography movement, co-founder of the Group f/64, and so on.  He was temperamental, had estranged children, and other personal challenges.  All of this has become part of his legend and his brand and helps ensure his art continues to hold or gain value.

Out of all the prints I've sold, I've never heard anyone say, "I own a Sutphin photo."  I would probably hear, "I have a great photo of horses and windmills that I bought from this guy in California."  Only people that know me personally and know my work have a chance of looking at a photo of mine and being able to identify it by style, content, etc., that it is one of mine.  Most others just see the content.   My branding is weak in two ways, no one recognizes my name to my art and no one can look at my art and identify it as mine. 

Rocky Mountain Front near Heart Butte, Blackfoot Indian Reservation, Montana - 092612
The answer appears very simple - get my work and name out there.  Promote, promote, promote.  The cost of it though is what do I associate with my name?   I see I can have at least two very different categories of clients, starting with portraits and erotic fine-art photography.  I doubt my clients for either group really care of or for the other type of work I do.  Do I hide one (probably the nudes) to grow my other brand and business?  Am I ready for my personal history, warts and all, to become part of my brand?  Is my history exciting enough to add to my brand?  I think about this because as someone's notoriety grows, so does his/her exposure and discovery of personal history.  Both my friends/clients and my competition are going to want to know about me if my art star rises.  How will this information of my work and life affect those around me?

It is sad that we can't embrace sexuality, sensuality, and eroticism as an open art form without worrying about fall out from it.  I greatly lament this, but it is the reality and I must figure out my niche and how I can exploit it.  It's easy for me to think I wont worry about what others think of me, but if I want to grow my brand, I need to be concerned about it's value and appearance as well.  As much as I am growing into accepting who I am and trying not to worry what others think, that nagging worry will always be there. 


  1. Karl, Ansel Adams photographed some nudes, but they are very difficult to find. Helmut Newton, on the other hand, showed all his work, including his work for Playboy. The difference I suppose is between nature photography and fashion photography.

    As an artist, you have to be yourself and create according to your passion and vision. Your "brand" will emerge from this, not be imposed upon it.

    1. Carla - "As an artist, you have to be yourself and create according to your passion and vision. Your "brand" will emerge from this, not be imposed upon it."


  2. I wonder if Edward Weston thought about branding. Somehow I doubt it. During my tenure as a corporate photographer I heard a lot about branding and creating a corporate identity for the company I worked for but something about the concept always bothered me. I realize that in this modern world branding is important. There is a lot of competition out there and we have to do something to set ourselves apart from everyone else. Now that my career is behind me and I'm just doing whatever I feel like doing, I question the branding concept even more. It seems that ideally one should follow their heart. "To thine own self be true." Over time a style will develop. I don't think one can do that sort of thing overnight. It takes time. If you're interested in creating a brand for your commercial work you might want to check out the asmp web site.There is a lot of information there.

    1. Joe - It is always great to hear from you. I agree with you about doubting if Weston considered branding as concern. I think part of his ultimate brand though came out of his focus and diligence in his work, craftsmanship, and other aspects of his art and lifestyle.

      In ways, I think Andy Warhol was one of the first artists to consider branding. I think it was part of his larger meta statement about popularity, celebrity and fame that he was making. I know Madonna is the queen of it as well as Oprah. They know their branding and work hard on it. I think their personality and heart are in it, but they make sure their brand is true and helps them.

      In the end, a brand has to be true to itself. Harley Davidson got into trouble when it licensed out its name for too many extraneous things (e.g., cake decoration kits) and other non-related items. Their core brand and truth is motorcycles and the lifestyles related to it.

      Thanks again.

  3. You'll probably hate me for saying it, but quite worrying about it. This is one of those things like finding love. The more you search for it, the more it eludes you. On the other hand, most people will find it when they least expect it. You mentioned several pioneers. That attribute alone makes them recognizable. More people are doing what we do today...more photography in general as well as more photographic nudes. I'd challenge you ask yourself how many photogs you can identify by just by viewing it. I might be able to do that with Peter Lik, Mosa, and Michael Helms. I could probably add Dave Rudin to that just because I know him personally.

    Remember as well, recognition isn't the same as money. From the business side of things, its just a matter of how strategically you can compete. Several notable and respected photogs still have day jobs. Earning money from your work is just like anything else you do. Find your market, create your niche, and compete. Creative marketing will definitely be necessary. This won't be the same as selling widgets, but if photo sales are important to you, find your position in your market. Nudes is probably the toughest there is, unless you're doing porn, but it's not impossible.


So,what are you thinking about?