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Behind the Scenes of a Photo Gallery  –  Interview with Richard Kalman

Marianne Stenger
15th January 2018

Although we often interview photographers to provide a glimpse at how their art is created, one aspect we haven’t explored yet is the behind the scenes of how photographers go about getting their work on display in galleries.

With this in mind, we talked to gallery owner Richard Kalman about his photography gallery in Brighton. Kalman’s gallery Crane Kalman Brighton specialises in contemporary work and sells photography works by both leading photographers and up-and-coming local artists.

Here, he shares his thoughts and insights on everything from how he started his own gallery to the future of photography as an art form in this age of smartphones and Instagram.

How did you become involved with photography and get started with your gallery?

My father came to the UK from Hungary in the late 1930s, opened up a gallery in Manchester after the Second World War, and then moved to London and opened up the original Crane Kalman Gallery in the mid-1950s. It is still there and has just celebrated its 60th anniversary, so the gallery business is in the blood.

I had always liked and been interested in photography, not taking pictures, but looking at pictures. I used to enjoy looking through old copies of LIFE magazine when I was a child, and looking at the photo stories in The Sunday Times and Observer magazines during the 70s and 80s.

It was only when I got fed up with a career in Public Relations and wanted to embark on a new career with something that I enjoyed, that it suddenly clicked that I should open up my own gallery. I felt I had absorbed enough from the family business that I knew what was required, and photography was the medium I wanted to show.

I felt it was massively under-appreciated here in the UK, but there was a growing interest that was only going to evolve further. Photography was more accessible and easily approachable for an audience that might not consider themselves as 'art collectors', but who like me, had had enough of mass-produced prints and wanted something more interesting on their walls. That was the market I was aiming at, and in 2005, following a move down to Brighton, I opened up the gallery.

Can you tell us a bit about the types of photography you deal with and how you find photographers to work with?

I think due to my own early photographic interest, I’m drawn to social and political documentary subjects, particularly with an American subject, but unfortunately this is not the most commercial of material and as a commercial gallery, we have to sell work to keep the doors open.

We mostly work with younger, more up-and-coming British and some international photographers. We have exhibited older works by George Tice and Ernst Haas and some well-known names like Terry Richardson and Terry O'Neill, but the majority are contemporary photographers whose subjects range from landscapes to portraits to urban life.

Discovering interesting artists is one of the great joys of the job. You never quite know where they might be found, some through graduation shows from the photography courses at Universities, some through flicking through a magazine, some who approach the gallery, but there is always something that stands out about the work, something that grabs you for a second look and makes you want to see more.

With everyone able to take near perfect pictures on a camera phone these days, there has to be something unique and different about a photographer's work to merit a place on the gallery walls.

What would you say is the best part about your job?

Apart from the enjoyment of sourcing and finding new and interesting artists as previously mentioned, it’s working with artists who you develop good, long-lasting relationships with.

Most of the photographers we show, we have worked with for over ten years, many since the gallery first opened. It’s very rewarding to watch the development of an artist and the evolution of their work, particularly if we are able to help them realise their ambition to be a full-time fine art photographer, as most will begin having to work in advertising or commercial photographic work.

It's also very satisfying developing relationships with buyers too. Many have never bought photographic work before so it's great to be able to explain about the photographic process and how photographers work and try to share the passion I have for their work with new clients.

Many, once they have bought their first photographic print, develop into regular buyers and even develop their own photographic collections.

How have you used the Bob Books products in your line of work?

One of our leading photographers, Ellie Davies, self-published a book entitled 'Into The Woods' at Bob Books. It has been a fantastically useful tool, both as a way to introduce and market Ellie's work to prospective clients and collectors, and to be able to send as a follow-up gift or thank you to clients who have purchased prints of Ellie's.

Buyers love to have books that can be displayed on their coffee tables which feature artworks that they own. It’s a great way to show off!

The model that Bob Books uses is a really useful and practical one. Younger photographers who are not at a point to receive a book deal from a major publisher can still produce very high quality publications to promote and advertise their work in a strategic and cost-effective way.

Are there any upcoming exhibitions that you’re excited about?

We are shortly to exhibit at the 30th Anniversary of the London Art Fair at the Islington Business Design Centre in London (17th-21st January 2018). It’s a fantastic fair that we have been showing at for the last 6 years and demonstrates the growth in the photography market with more and more galleries over that time exhibiting work by photographic artists. We will be showing work by Ellie Davis at the gallery stand and will have a copy of her book on display too!

Do you have any thoughts on the future of photography as an art form?

With pretty much everyone having a smartphone and being able to take high quality images these days, photographers will need to create unique, one-off pieces and work that’s played with and added to with personal and artistic touches such as paint, embroidery and collage. It will need to be distinct rather than something that could be produced by a good amateur photographer.

There will also be a greater move back to historic photographic practices using analogue film, including B&W work, photograms, cyanotypes, wet plate collodion prints - and hand-printing and processing images. Again, this shows the hand of the artist in the creative printing process, something that no longer applies with the digital modern photograph.

It will be all about originality, distinction and the concept and process of the work. The days of the documentary subject as artwork may be coming to an end, but photography has always been about evolution and change, so this feels right.

 

All photos are taken by photographer Ellie Davies who will also be having her work on display in Richard's gallery. You can see more of Ellie's work on her website.