Fine Art Photography


How a Fine-Art Photographer Builds Relationships with Collectors and Curators

August 10, 2018

By Holly Stuart Hughes

© Lynn Saville/Yancey Richardson Gallery

Lynn Saville's "Taxi in Times Square."

In our recent interviews with photo collectors for our story “What (and How) Photography Collectors Buy Now,” one long-time collector noted that being able to meet and talk with fine-art photographers often inspires him to buy their work. He met photographer Lynn Saville after he bought one of her prints at the annual benefit auction for The Photo Review because Saville thanked him and invited him to an upcoming show. Saville recalls that after the auction, she got a letter from Photo Review editor Stephen Perloff, “thanking me for donating a print to his auction,” and providing the name and address of the person who bought her print. Saville happened to be sending out postcards announcing a new two-person show she was in. She mailed a postcard to the buyer of her print. “I put a note on it saying: Thank you for your interest in my photo,” and including her contact info, she says. The buyer emailed her immediately, they corresponded, and ended up meeting during the AIPAD art fair. 

Though she is represented by Yancey Richardson Gallery in New York City, where Saville lives, and other galleries around the country, she makes an effort to market her work herself. “I have a great gallery,” she says, and when a collector asks to see her work, she appreciates the way the gallery staff shows and describes her prints.  “It’s just that I can’t assume that everyone would think of going there and asking to see my work,” she says, “especially if I’m not having a show.”

In explaining her promotional efforts, she says, “I try to go against my reserved nature and reach out when I can.” 

She has attended portfolio reviews at Houston Fotofest and other industry events, and has found it helpful to follow up with everyone who takes the time to look at her work. After meeting a collector at Fotofest, for example, she sent a thank you; he then wanted to buy several of her prints. She refers all sales to the gallery nearest the collector, she says, which “helps my relationship with the gallery.”  (Editor’s note: Read a curator’s advice on following up after portfolio reviews here.)

Because she shoots commissions, makes art and also teaches, Saville keeps three separate lists of relevant contacts, including collectors and curators who might be interested in acquiring or exhibiting her work. She has tried using automated emailing systems that send batches of emails, but these days, she says, “I tend to send them one at a time,” adding that collectors and curators are more likely to open a personalized email.

Saville recently began inviting curators to studio visits to meet her and learn about her new work. “I had to get over my initial shyness. I don’t have a fancy studio in a trendy neighborhood,” she says, explaining she lives in an apartment in upper Manhattan. “I have a nice living room, and that’s what I use as my studio. I just decided to start inviting people to come over.” When she travels, she likes to set up an appointment with a curator. The National Portrait Gallery in London bought her portrait of an English poet after she contacted a curator there while she was on vacation. “I just made a point to say, I’m coming to visit, may I come by?” 

Saville also works to place existing shows of her work in exhibition spaces. A decade ago, the Pensacola Art Museum in Pensacola, Florida, wanted to mount an exhibition of her work, but the deadline was tight and the staff at Yancey Richardson Gallery couldn’t organize it, so Saville decided to select the images and write supporting statements herself. Her gallery “promoted [the show] on social media, but it’s me doing the work,” she explains. The museum in Pensacola ended up acquiring some of her prints. Then, through a friend’s connection, Saville was able to contact a curator at a university gallery in Ohio which agreed to host the show. Saville says she has since arranged for several other institutions to show her work, and keeps contacting other curators she hopes will be interested. Institutions typically pay to ship the show, fly Saville in to give talks or hold workshops for the local community, and acquire some of her prints for their collection, she explains.   

Saville says that when she has an opening, or an article about her work to share, she sends it to people she thinks might be interested, but “tries not to bombard people,” she says. And she keeps the communication professional. In extending an invitation to an opening or a studio visit to an opening, for example, “I don’t assume we’re going to have lunch or long conversations,” she says. “I want their main thoughts of me to be my pictures.” 

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