What inspired you to start taking photographs, and what is the primary inspiration for you to keep working in this field?
I consider myself an artist who works both in painting and photography, rather than calling myself a photographer. My paintings provide the figures that populate my constructed photographs. I use Photoshop to combine background scenes that I have photographed with these painted figures to create a believable yet curious new reality. The initial inspiration to create these photographs actually happened by accident. However, utilizing and honing the skills that I had, enabled me to turn this accident into an artistic and professional pursuit. As long as photography remains an effective tool to explore my ideas I will continue to work in the field.
Here’s more details of how I started making this work….
I did take a lot of photography when I was studying art at University in addition to painting and graphic design. When I finished university in 1990 and moved to San Francisco my boyfriend (now husband) had a dark room at his parent’s house close by. I would spend hours in there. At the same time I was pursuing a career in graphic design. However, when I started my own design business, it was difficult for me to make time to continue to pursue my interest in photography.
Fast forward to the year 2000 when I gave up my design business to go to graduate school to study painting full time. For most of the two-year program I was only using photography as a tool to get images as reference for my paintings. However, towards the end of my studies I had some questions about scale relationships in a painting I was working on. I was using Photoshop to experiment with resizing the figures (having honed my computer skills in my design career for ten years.) I cut and pasted one of the figures into a “real” environment and was intrigued by the result. At my final MFA presentation, I was presenting my paintings on the wall, and I decided to show a few printouts of the constructed photographs that I had been experimenting with – which received positive reviews.
At the time, digital SLR cameras were still very pricey, so instead I worked with a small point-and-shoot digital camera and printed them on my desktop printer. I was interested in the work but the final output wasn’t meeting my standards so I put it aside for awhile. After my daughter was born, I was looking for something I could work on at home in shorter time segments (since taking her to my painting studio didn’t work out), and the idea of pursuing this work returned. I invested in some new equipment and researched printing processes and was really excited about the results I was producing and was ready to show the work in 2005.
In your opinion and experience, how can emerging photographers evaluate themselves as ready to start promoting their works and seek broader exposure for their photographs? What is one vital action you would recommend photographers undertake to find their audience, be included in exhibitions, and gain professional representation?
I think it is really important for an emerging artist/photographer to have a strong vision and a consistent quality to their work before they begin to market and promote themselves. You might have a few good images, but you need to be able to show that you can consistently produce high quality work. Don’t dilute your great pieces with mediocre work. I think it is much better to show ten really good images rather than twenty images where half are of average quality. Make sure each piece is technically excellent as well as presented professionally. Determine what it is about your work that is unique to you. Don’t show a gallery multiple different directions you’ve taken. Your consistent vision should come across in all of your work. If you truly believe in your work and have paid attention to the previously mentioned suggestions, then be confident. Try not to take rejection personally. Think of it as just trying to find the right fit for your work.
The vital action I would recommend is to make sure you get exposure for your work and really pay attention to the business side of being an artist. A good way to try to get exposure for your work is by entering juried shows. However, with entry fees and framing and shipping costs, weigh the benefits before entering. I usually only enter a show if the juror is a curator/gallerist of note, or if the show is at a location that will look good on a CV. Or sometimes if the entry fee is low, and the cash prizes are quite high and I don’t have to ship anything such as an online competition or a local show. Also, for broader exposure, enter artist competitions where the winners have their work published. Add your work to free online artist registries and networks. Make sure you have your own professional website. Don’t expect someone to stumble across it but it is a great tool if you meet someone who is interested in your work and you can provide a business card with your web address. Plus it makes you look like a serious, professional artist. Send out packets to galleries but expect a lot of rejections. Make sure the gallery represents work that is a good fit with yours. Make sure you follow up on any potential leads. Additionally, be really organized and once you start to get a number of opportunities I think it is great to have a database for all of your inventory and contacts. Especially when you have limited edition photographs it is very helpful to quickly be able to determine exactly what piece is where and what is available. And having a database with all of your contacts is vital. It enables you to easily notify all of your contacts when you have upcoming exhibitions or news. You can keep track of all of your collectors and make notes whenever there are good leads. And the main thing is to be persistent. Don’t expect overnight success -- this happens to very few people.
How did it come about that you achieved the status of successful, professional photographer? What steps were involved in reaching your level of success?
Even though I feel that I have had a moderate amount of success, I still consider myself an emerging artist and continue to vigorously pursue getting exposure for my work.
While opportunities have come my way, I believe the steps I have taken have put me in a position where these opportunities can happen. My suggestions for question number two is really only advice based on my own experiences. These are things I have done to reach the level I am at.
Since I am always curious as to exactly how an artist got where they are -- here’s some specifics of how I got my New York and Germany gallery connections…
The gallery in New York actually saw my work on an artist registry in 2007 (artistsspace.org) and contacted me. They then later took my work to an art fair in New York and a collector bought one of the pieces for his personal collection. This collector happened to be a gallery owner in Germany who loved my work and asked me if I was interested in showing in Germany. This resulted in two simultaneous solo exhibitions in 2008 at their two spaces in Berlin (one for photography, one for painting.) And also a two-person show at their Frankfurt gallery shortly thereafter.
I have always worked really hard, I believe in my work, and really love what I do. I am also very ambitious so I hope to achieve a much higher level of success. Stay tuned…
Deborah Hamon, The Game, Digital C-Print, 2008, 15 x 15 inches and 28.5 x 28.5 inches
Deborah Hamon, Snowbound, Digital C-Print, 2007, 15 x 15 inches and 28.5 x 28.5 inches
Deborah Hamon, American Girl, Digital C-Print, 2007, 15 x 15 inches and 28.5 x 28.5 inches
© all images Deborah Hamon