Sunday, October 2, 2011

Learning to Expect the Unexpected

Recently, as I was preparing images for exhibition in the fall Hill Country Invitational show, I had some surprising, but not totally unexpected experiences.  In my previous post, I mentioned the serendipitous nature of the particular photographic arts that I have been pursuing.  I have seen enough of this that I have come to expect the unexpected.

It frequently happens that I stumble upon images that I have composed and recorded months, even years, ago that I never suspected, at the time, had any particular merit.  Probably my most popular photograph— CROWNED WITH THE CROSS— came to light this way.  I had taken a vertical panoramic photograph sequence of the highly sculptured limestone entrance to Mission San Jose, compiled the frames into a single image, and then stored it away; not at all impressed with the composition or any other qualities.  For two years it lay hidden away from any eyes— collecting digital dust on my hard-drive.

© Bill Brockmeier
As it happened, the Boerne Professional Artists had seen some of my work and invited me to my first Hill Country Invitational show.  As part of the events leading up to the show, a large two-page advertisement spread was purchased in the prestigious Southwest Art magazine, with each artist having the opportunity to place one of their images in the spread.  I chose a vertical pano (UNSEEN ETERNAL) I had taken of the Convento at Mission San Jose, and which had already won a first-place award (and also sold!) at a juried show curated by the New Braunfels Art League.

Very soon after the publication of the magazine I received a phone call from a woman who had seen my image in the ad.  She said that she very much wanted to come see the image in person at my studio, and wanted to purchase it.  We made the arrangements and she dropped by to see it the following Saturday.  As soon as she saw it she was ready to write a check, but I mentioned off-hand that she might like to see something else first before she made a commitment.  At the time I was just beginning to print some of my work on canvas, and I was liking what I saw, so I showed her a larger photograph I had printed of the Grand Canyon, just to give her an idea of what UNSEEN ETERNAL might look like printed larger and on canvas.  She agreed that this was the way to go, and she'd like the photograph produced with that process.

After getting out her check book she said— "There's just one problem.  I want to put this in the entryway into my home, and it is flanked by two very high and narrow walls.  This photograph will look wonderful on one side, but what will I do with the other side?  The structure of the entry is so symmetric that it is crying out for two photographs, not just one.  Do you possibly have anything else that might complement this photograph on the opposing wall?"

© Bill Brockmeier
I pulled out my reference notebook of images that I used to print out in miniature, so I would have a simple record of every photograph that I produced.  They were very small (only about 1 1/4 inches by 6 inches) but at least gave some clue as to what the image was about.  As we were paging through my photos of the Missions, we came to the photo of the entrance of San Jose and she exclaimed "That's it...that's what I want!"

I almost tried to talk her out of this photograph, but she'd have none of that.  I said that I couldn't really guarantee what kind of an image this might make because I had never yet printed one out of any substantial size.  I finally tried to make a deal with her by saying that I would go ahead and print it out, but if she didn't really like it when she saw the final product she wouldn't have to pay me.  She said "NO...THAT'S THE ONE I WANT!"  In hindsight, what in the world was I thinking in trying to talk a paying customer out of buying my work?

Well, with check in hand, I went to work producing both photographs, large and on canvas.  I really liked the way that UNSEEN ETERNAL  came out in large size, and I knew she would like it.  Then came the real test— I had to print out the other photo that I had not previously "cared spit" for.  When the photograph was about halfway out of the printer I found myself saying out loud— "Why in the world didn't I print this thing out two years ago?!  This looks incredible!"

Although the photograph had already been sold, I talked her into allowing me to exhibit it at the show just a couple of days later.  It was definitely the "hit" of my display in the show.  People couldn't stop talking to me about how they loved it.  The same photograph was also instrumental in garnering me the New Braunfels Artist of the Year award just three months later.  Clearly, I have made more money selling this photograph than any other I have ever offered for sale.  And to think that I might never have printed it out, except for the determination of a collector that saw a tiny image of a different photograph of mine...

In starting this post I mentioned that I had some surprising experiences during my most recent preparations for the upcoming (October 14-16) Hill Country Invitational.  They were in a similar vein to what I related above.  I will explore these surprises in detail in a following post.  Stay tuned...

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