Curator Katy Barron's dos and don'ts for emerging fine art photographers

A close-up shot of a wall of framed photos, with a viewer taking a photograph of a picture in the distance.
There are some simple dos and don'ts if you want to get your photography represented and sold by galleries. © Paul Hackett

Getting represented by an established agency or gallery is what many professional photographers equate with success. And in some respects they're right, but the path to achieving that sought-after endorsement isn't always clear.

Established in 1992 in the heart of London's Chelsea, Michael Hoppen Gallery is one of the city's foremost galleries, exhibiting work by photography masters and contemporary artists. With decades of experience discovering new talent and selling their work, Senior Director Katy Barron has some essential tips for photographers who are seeking gallery representation.

DO familiarise yourself with the gallery's remit

"We represent a wide range of both contemporary photographers and also artists' estates – we specialise in Japanese photography: vintage, post-war and some contemporary. Beyond that we only represent a stable of artists we consider wonderful. We're very interested in the processes behind our artists' work. For example, we represent a young Chilean artist called Juana Gómez, who embroiders canvases printed with self-portraits. We also represent French artist Thomas Mailaender, who prints found photos onto a variety of surfaces – including human skin. They're working at the edges of what you might consider conventional photography. But, at the same time, we show classic images by Bill Brandt and contemporary fashion photography from Tim Walker and Harley Weir."

DO make sure your work is up to scratch

"It's not about a type of photography, it's about photography that we love and find inspiring. We're not interested in anything derivative, badly made or ill-conceived."

Katy Barron, Senior Director at the Michael Hoppen Gallery, poses in the gallery.
Katy Barron, Senior Director at the Michael Hoppen Gallery, has more than 20 years' experience as a curator and consultant working in fine art photography.

DO get on a curator's radar with a healthy portfolio

"We discover new work in a variety of ways. We go to degree shows, we hear about work through word of mouth, we go to photography and art festivals, we look at magazines, we look on the Internet. We almost never, ever take photographers who just walk in through our door. If you approach us, it will help if we already know of you."

DON'T approach the gallery cold

"You're unlikely to get a response if you approach us cold, particularly at art fairs – it's not a clever thing to do. An art fair is our opportunity to sell, so we're not looking at other people's work. If you do want to show us your work, it's much better to start coming to the gallery, attending our private views and getting to know us."

DO be professional and articulate to make a good impression

"If we're interested in a photographer, we normally get in touch and invite them in to show us their work. We start a conversation, maybe take a couple of prints, show them to clients and see if they respond the way we do. Then we'll start working with that artist to help them get exposure and, ultimately, we'll give them an exhibition. The best artists to work with are those who can talk intelligently about their work and are open-minded to our suggestions."

Installation shot from a 2016 exhibition of Simon Norfolk’s series taken in the Bamiyan Valley in Afghanistan.
Installation shot of Simon Norfolk's exhibition, Time Taken, in the ground floor gallery of the Michael Hoppen Gallery, in 2016. © Michael Hoppen

DO be prepared to take advice

"Photographers often want to produce their work in too many sizes and in large editions. Increasingly, we find that smaller editions in one or two sizes are much more attractive to collectors, so it's a good idea to listen to us when it comes to pricing and editioning your work."

DO have something to say

"I think it's important that there is a story attached to your work. It doesn't necessarily need to have a complex narrative, but something that makes it distinctive. You can't build a career on one or two stand-out images."

For more career-boosting advice from industry experts, check out our stories section.

Autor Rachel Segal Hamilton

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