Neighborhoods (LA, 2015) copyright 2015 Douglas Stockdale
Recently there has been a spat of articles recently published about the necessity of artists to “brand” themselves to improve their presence in the art world, which of course includes photography. This of course means that the galleries can increase the price of the artists works, which should benefit the artists as well. As to the collectors, this might benefit them too if they are into art as an investment.
So what does this all mean and is it good or bad for an artist? In the broadest sense, it means that you might instantly recognize an artist’s work at first glance. Jeff Koon’s bubble sculptures come to mind. The modern works of Ansel Adams are almost a trademark, e.g. Moonrise over Hernandez, thus an effective brand. I think the contemporary black & white dreamy photographs of Keith Carter and Susan Burnstine or the wide angle photographs of Lee Freidlander or the gritty black & white photographs of Roger Ballan as recognizable “brands”. It means that a photographer/artist has a particular way of translating what they feel or see into a visual record. It usually means that they do this somewhat consistently.
Yes and if another photographer thinks that this “look” is urber cool, they might try in some way to emulate this look, thus for photographers, a brand can be borrowed. I think of the number of long exposure black and white photographs of water that other photographers published after Michael Keena’s raise to fame. Nevertheless, they all found themselves being compared to Keena, much like my early black and white landscape photographs were compared to Adams. At first I took this as a compliment as to the quality of my photographic work, but then after a while, this became a detriment, as it implied that I did not have an original vision, but just copying some else, thus living in some else’s dead shadow.
The pro’s of a brand have been stated above, an artist becomes “recognizable”, thus a greater intrinsic value is given to their work and many good things can come from that. As to the cons, one that comes to mind is that like having a nice pair of well broken in hiking boots, you might find your self limited in what you can do. Can’t do much long distance swimming wearing hiking boots. Thus if your recognized style (brand) is black and white documentary photographs using very wide angle lens (my hypothetical), a color portfolio of non-documentary photographs might not be as well received. Thus the reason why some artists abhor being “branded” as a potential limit on their creative options.
If one really, really enjoys making photographs in a particular way and you like how the resulting photographs turn out with a unique set of processes, e.g. large format tintype portraits, then you might find your self creating a style or brand.
So to understand that the buzz about why an artist should have a brand (a particular visual appearance) can become a double edged sword if you are not careful.
For me, (yes, I have a MBA, thus graduate level classes on this subject), I am not sure that I have a particular look per se (I do enjoy looking at and creating both black and white photographs as well as color photographs), I would rather think that my brand is my conceptual investigation of memory and identity. Hopefully that will allow me a lot of latitude on how I choose to investigate this subject.