Joni Karanka on low-budget photography exhibitions
Photographer Joni Karanka co-founded Third Floor Gallery in 2010. Following his Magnum Professional Practice talk, Joni shares advice on selling prints and showing your work without over-spending…
What’s the biggest challenge in running an artist-led space?
We have support from the community, from volunteers and photographers who help us out without wanting anything in exchange – they just want us to keep showing photography. The biggest challenge is funding – always has been, always will be. We rely heavily on donations, as we don’t have public funding. That has its positives – we’re very independent. Nobody can say, “This isn’t what you said you’d do in the application…”
What should emerging photographers keep in mind when exhibiting?
You can rarely exhibit too much. Often when young people exhibit, they don’t set themselves objectives. You should be clear that this is work that’s important for yourself and you want to exhibit it in a certain way, or that you want this exhibition to be out there so people know who you are, or if you want to sell prints you need to set up the entire exhibition so that it’s about selling prints. If you have the expectation that you’re going to do all three at the same time, you’re going to be disappointed.
What do people get wrong when trying to sell prints?
There’s a low chance of selling prints when you’re just starting out. It doesn’t help when recent graduates or people who only started photography in the last four or five years try to sell prints at commercial prices, like £500 or £400. [At that stage in your career] people who buy your photographs buy them because they like them, not because they have any collection value. Here people are more likely to buy a book or small prints at reasonable prices. I don’t think we’ve ever sold anything for more than £90.
Degree shows are one time in your career where you’re in a position to sell a few. I have friends who go to degree shows and buy prints – but they never spend more than £100. My advice is: don’t make anything so expensive you overprice yourself. If you’re making a 20 x 30 inch platinum print, it’s going to cost you £500 to make, you’ll have to sell it at the same price and few people are likely to buy it. But if you’re making good quality darkroom prints, costing you £5 each, and you’re selling them at £50 you’ll make a profit and people are going to want to buy them.
What other advice do you have for photographers just starting out?
Keep your money for shooting. Don’t spend two months photographing a project, something that only happens in China, say, and come back because you think you won’t have money to promote [and show] it. You never know when you can carry on shooting a project but with printing you can always get by. It’s the sheer strength of the project that wins in the end.
In Focus: Prints
Be realistic about your budget. Having good quality prints, framed, hanging on the wall with the correct lights at the correct angles is a hassle in the long term: if you exhibit the work abroad you have to transport [it] and it’s going to cost a fortune.
An exhibition doesn’t have to be expensive to have a big impact. Here at the gallery we often make very big prints on good quality inkjets or LightJets and pin them to the wall. It sounds fragile but prints that are well kept, even if they have pinholes in them, are easy to move from one venue to another.
Always keep your exhibition prints separate from your selling prints. Exhibition prints will be bashed about – they’ll be hung, taken down, rolled, flattened again until at some point they fall to pieces – but that doesn’t mean you can’t have good quality prints to sell.
When you make cheaper prints, you’re less precious about them. Poster paper prints only cost £20 or £30 and it’s easy to find a spot in a festival to put them up. You might have much more impact than if you exhibited the same prints in a white walled gallery somewhere.