Opening a Fine Art Gallery
- Part one -

Essay by Jason Byers with an introduction by Alain Briot
Other essays in this series

I met Jason Byers in Chinle where Jason worked as a Flight Paramedic for the Chinle Hospital. On the Navajo Reservation, where towns such as Chinle, Kayenta, Tuba City and many others are located 100 miles or more from the closest "real city," medical emergencies rely on plane transport to evacuate patients in critical condition to hospitals able to offer specialized treatment.

When I moved to the Sonoran Desert area, and started offering workshops, Jason studied photography and marketing with me. Jason also started selling his work locally in the Chinle area, in gift stores and at local shows, much like I had done myself for years while leaving in Navajoland. In a sense, Jason followed in my footsteps, taking the place I had left vacant when I moved from Chinle. We were never competitors because Jason started selling his work months after I left.

The account that follows describes Jason's photographic journey after he left Chinle. It is a very interesting account because Jason is the first of my students to open his own gallery. On the one hand, this is a logical progression which stems from a serious approach to photography both as art and business. On the other hand it is an endeavor which carries both risks and rewards.

In part one of this two part essay, Jason explains the reasons behind his decision. In part two Jason will talk about what is involved in operating a gallery from day to day. I believe you will find both essays a worthwhile read. I did.

Alain Briot

WideWest Gallery

Opening a Gallery
In July of 2005 I decided to open a gallery to showcase my photography. This has been an exciting, frustrating and downright scary experience, but one which I would gladly repeat. This is how I arrived at that decision.

I began taking serious photographs after moving from the small town of Lexington, NC to the even smaller town of Chinle, AZ. I worked as a Flight Paramedic, on call for two weeks then spending two weeks lost in the desert. I tried to describe the incredible landscape to friends and family but couldn’t. I discovered that photography was a way to say a thousand things without ever speaking. After much trial and error, a lot of reading and a few workshops, I began to produce work which I felt was good enough to give to friends and family as a gift. Soon, people I didn’t know were asking how they could purchase one of my photographs. This is how I began selling my work.

After five years in the desert I decided to return home to NC. I was beginning to enjoy success selling my work in the Southwest however I simply felt the “pull” of home. I had already made the decision to someday pursue photography as more than a part-time endeavor, but thought of someday as somewhere in the distant future. I found out that my future wasn’t so distant after all. I could write another essay on my decision to turn my hobby into a profession, so I’ll move on to the gallery.

Soon after my decision to pursue photography full time, I decided to open my own gallery. I reached this decision based on several points. First, in order for my clients and customers to take me seriously, I would have to take myself seriously. For me, this meant having not only a place to “work” (a studio) but also a place to seriously showcase my work. This meant a place where my images would be displayed properly and consistently. I already had an unremarkable yet adequate studio at home but the idea of bringing people to my home to view my work didn’t make sense. I needed a place that I could market, a “home base”. This would be a place where I could sell my work in an environment that enhanced its appeal. I needed a gallery. Before I go any further, let me say that many of the photographers I admire (and who are very successful) do not own galleries. This is not a prerequisite to success nor does it in any way ensure success. It was a decision that I made based on my individual needs/plan. We are all individuals. What works for one artist/business person may not work for the next and vice versa.

Second, I (like most artists) am a perfectionist. I wanted to be involved in every aspect of my work from image capture to marketing and selling. Owning a gallery would allow me greater control over the presentation of my images. It would also act as a template for other retailers. I’m a people person. I’d enjoy meeting new people and sharing my work with them one on one. Gallery ownership would allow me to better serve my patrons. People could come in and view my work when they wanted. I could post my hours and they could chose when visiting was convenient for them (their opportunity wouldn’t be limited to a weekend). If someone liked my work a great deal, they could drive to my gallery, view virtually all of it and most likely meet me in the process. Some would argue that much of this can be achieved via a website. Some of it can. I have spent a great deal of time on my prints (as many photographers do). I wanted people to see my work first hand, properly framed. This is the culmination of all my hard work. I like to say that the “proof is in the print”. This is my product (at least until we’re all viewing art on plasma screens).

Third, I felt the nature of my work was such that it needed to be displayed in a certain manner. I had just moved two thousand miles with a body of work that was focused on an area very different from my new surroundings. In other words, my work had a specific theme and would benefit from being displayed in a themed gallery. Since there were no Southwestern themed galleries in the area, it was up to me to open one. This also had the added advantage of allowing me to display (and sell) other Southwestern art besides my photographs. The Southwest is well known for textiles, jewelry, and pottery that is unique and very beautiful. The idea that I could bring several of these pieces together in one place in a way that would compliment my photography was exciting. This would also make me more marketable and memorable. This would give me a niche!

Last, a gallery would be a marketing tool in itself. It is a billboard of sorts. It will attract everyone from the curious passer-by to the socialite seeking the latest thing to do in their town. I would be able to send out press releases to local media: “Local Artist Opens New Gallery” thereby utilizing the best and least expensive forms of advertising. I could host social affairs: wine and cheese in the spring, coffee and pumpkin pie in the fall. All of these things could be used to draw attention to my work.

In the end I reached the conclusion that a gallery would be an effective tool and one which I would include in my business. As of this writing I have been open for one week. This is obviously not enough time to decide whether or not this tool will be cost effective. I have enjoyed good reviews and great support from my peers. I am already seeing things which are working well for me and others which I must review/change as soon as possible. My gallery must remain dynamic to survive the ultimate test, that of time.

Jason Byers

Introduction Copyright © Alain Briot 2005
Essay, and photographs Copyright © Jason Byers 2005

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