Exhibiting, together with teaching and conducting private photo tours and workshops, writing, and stock photography, comprise the “financial pie” that is the commercial enterprise side of Sojourns In Nature. Believe me, I’d be just as happy, indeed, happier, if Sojourns In Nature didn’t have a commercial, i.e., capitalistic component but then this work isn’t my hobby, it’s my vocation. It’s what I’ve been “getting away with” for three decades.
Honestly, when I walked out into the meadow behind my uncle’s barn in Montgomery Center, Vermont thirty years ago to photograph spider webs and insects, I could only dream of making a living as a nature photographer, let alone building a home and a life for myself here in Vermont (not a cheap place to live, by the way) and ultimately going on to earn assignments in Yellowstone, publishing books, and photographing landscapes and wildlife from Kenya to the Galapagos Islands and Alaska. Back then, my dad asked if I had a plan “B”. I didn’t. I was a poker player with a fair hand – determination, a willingness to live on the edge of survival, a good education, some nascent skills, and great friends – betting the entire pot – my life, that I could parlay those assets into a wonderful lifestyle. Admittedly, it ain’t over; life could still throw me a curve ball. Still, two months shy of sixty, I feel like I’ve gotten away with it. But once again, I digress.
Years ago, another uncle of mine owned a travel agency in New Hope, PA. Adjacent to the agency was a small retail space not much bigger than a large hallway which, when it became available, he rented and set up as a small gallery to exhibit and sell tasteful artifacts that he had picked up in his travels. African carvings and masks, Persian rugs, handwoven baskets from Central America, sarapes from Mexico, biersteins from Munich, didgeridoos from Australia, fossilized nautiloids and geodes…were elegantly displayed on the floor and on the walls of the narrow gallery. I’d often thought of that gallery and wished I had such a space to exhibit a select collection of prints I believed would attract discriminating buyers.
Selling prints is a tough gig. Many nature photographers I’ve spoken with have attempted to sell framed prints of their work but failed to realize sufficient financial success to reward or sustain the endeavor. Indeed, I’ve seen many galleries come and go, some even in ideal locations, for example, the Mountain Road in Stowe. Which is why, until a few years ago, I kept the idea of seriously exhibiting my prints on the back burner.
Then I discovered farmers’ markets. Originally intended to promote local agriculture, so-called farmers’ markets now feature much more than heirloom tomatoes, sweet corn, and Vermont maple syrup. Everything from pottery to expensive, high-end furniture and origami can be found in the motley of vendors at your typical farmers’ market. What’s more, it seems that every town and village, no matter how tiny, has its own farmers’ market, from as few as three vendors to over thirty. No need to purchase or rent a retail space, pay property taxes, or even commit myself to a location. All I needed was an EZ Up canopy and some easels and I could easily test the waters of the fine art photographic nature print market. First market I attended was the Jay Peak Fall Foliage Fair. I sold 36 8″ x 10″ prints for $65.00 each.
Over the next several seasons, I tried out over a dozen markets and finally settled on the Waitsfield, Stowe, and Spruce Peak markets. These venues attract a high volume of folks shopping for that exceptional item that can’t be found anywhere else, that is to say, that gives the buyer a sense of discovery when they find that distinguishing gift or delicacy or home decor and enjoy the privilege of purchasing the product directly from its creator.
Last winter, inspired by my uncle’s tiny, but fruitful, gallery space, I purchased and customized a 13′ x 9′ Wells Cargo Trailer (from Garneau’s Garage in Twin Mountain, NH) with a translucent ceiling and tricked it out with burlap walls, carpeting, and the Walker Display Picture Hanging System. It holds 38 18″ x 24″ framed prints which is probably about as many prints as the walls of my uncle’s gallery might have accommodated.
Every year since those seminal forays into the meadow behind the barn has featured a totally different host of adventures, from once-in-a-lifetime assignments to unforgettable photo safaris, invitations for presentations at conferences, and feature articles and covers in and on leading national and international magazines. This year was no exception. Yet, what set this year apart was not nearly so exotic as an African safari or the prestige of a speakership or a publication. It was, quite simply, the supportive comments and patronage of the people who stepped into my humble gallery and confirmed, once and for all, that I had beat the odds and that I truly have a wonderful life.
Please, also check out my blog on the Bold Coast of Maine at the New England Photography Guild website here:
May the light be with you,