May 15th 2008 by Andrew S Gibson
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I first came across Sol Lang’s erotic photography on Flickr and was impressed by the quality and depth of his portfolio. His, work, by the way, encompasses much more than just nude women, and is well worth a look.
A visit to his website made clear that Sol is a very active and busy photographer. He exhibits, self-publishes books and calendars and sells prints on Imagekind. This is all in addition to taking photos and running a full time graphic design and communication business.
I thought he’d be a fascinating subject to interview about all of these things. Some of his answers will surprise you.
When did you start taking photos and why? What made you decide to explore photography as a means of artistic expression?
My interest in photography started in my late teens. My friend Eli received a camera for his birthday and I used it a few times. Having always had an artistic leaning it became clear to me that this was a powerful medium of expression. The next thing I knew it became imperative that I have my own camera. I started shooting everything and anything. My aptitude was evident and was rewarded with appreciation from friends and family.
I am presuming that the question refers to my present work of erotic feminine beauty. The vision in essence is one of calm and serenity with intended agitation that would provoke on both a cerebral as well as sexual level. I use soft tones and contrasts in both my colour work as well as the black and white. Rarely harsh lighting with strong shadows. A dream-like atmosphere. Some would say that my models appear to be as if basking in the after glow of ecstasy. So there is a sort of odd tension that is developed between the provocation of desire and the calmness of fulfilment.
Name three photographers you like and why. How did they influence your work?
I don’t really feel that I can select three above all others, as there have been so many. In fact I am still discovering photographers all the time that have great impact on my sensibility. This can’t but influence my own sense of vision and aesthetics.
My work has been described by some to have echoed the visions of greats like Ansel Adams, Helmut Newton, Henri Cartier Bresson, Mary Ellen Mark, so I suppose there are visual influences there, that even I am not necessarily aware of, but can’t deny. I certainly poured hours over their work, so not to have been influenced is unlikely.
However, in the course of time and years of work, I do believe I have developed my own style and distinct voice.
There’s a lot of nudity in your work. What ideas are you trying to explore in your treatment of the female form?
My present area of interest is rather complex and not evident in the images in and of themselves. My images may seem like just an artistic, erotic representation of femininity, but in fact they go much further than that for me. What my viewers don’t see, (or maybe they do,) is the collaborative essence of my images between me and my models. In my work I try to show the empowerment of femininity rather than what has been popularly called the “objectifying” of femininity.
It is true that I depict my models with a deliberate intention of aesthetic and erotic beauty, but my art is also an expression of their inner beauty and their strength of character as individuals with great conviction, independence and power. Sexual power, being one of their most potent, they are anything, but objectified. As a man in middle age, I have, in a way, become a voice for many of my contemporaries, to speak of our sexuality, appreciation and lamentation for lost youth that is experienced by many, both male and female. I poke at the aspect of mid-life that has been labelled as a “crisis” among other things. But all this may not be immediately evident to the viewer without it being expressly explained in an artist statement.
How long have you been selling your work on Imagekind? How successful have you been in building a revenue stream from the site? Can Imagekind be a viable part of a photographer’s business plan?
I don’t think that my Imagekind experience is sufficient to be representative of its potential. I have been on Imagekind for over a year, now and have sold only one photograph that came from a direct purchase from my Imagekind account. I do understand that to get images sold one must really “work it” actively. I have a full time thriving business in graphic design and communication, which needs my fullest attention daily, so needless to say, I have not been working it on Imagekind. Maybe if I were to put the same amount of effort into Imagekind as I do on Flickr, with close to 1.5 million views, I might find Imagekind a lucrative form of revenue.
Having said that, I have used Imagekind to print and frame my last two shows. I had to make some concessions to meet their limitations but I managed and it all worked out.
What does it take to succeed on Imagekind? I’ve interviewed several Imagekind photographers and it seems to me that having good work is simply not enough, as there is so much choice on there for art buyers. It seems to me that the most successful photographers are able to drive traffic to Imagekind via their websites or blogs, but most importantly have a reputation that creates a desire for people to buy their work. They then direct their customers to Imagekind, who they use as a printing service or partner. What’s your take on this?
I certainly had high hopes to do just that when I first joined Imagekind. The problem with art photography is that you want to maintain a certain value to the work, so A. The editions need to be small and B. The work should be signed. With Imagekind you have the work shipped directly to the purchaser and therefore it doesn’t get signed, so then one would need to send a certificate of authenticity separately. It becomes a bit complicated. There is also the credibility issue that you will limit the edition to the prescribed number of prints and lastly, the pricing. I was considering at one point to make my galleries all private on Imagekind and to sell after making direct contact with the buyer, never allowing people to purchase directly from Imagekind.
I frankly haven’t yet figured it all out yet. I should try to put some time aside to do just that.
How long have you been producing calendars?
To say “producing” as if it is an ongoing thing would be misleading. I have tried a few calendars with LULU.com. It would also be misleading to say that it was a great success. Part of the problem, both for my printing with Imagekind and my calendars with LULU is that I can’t advertise them on Flickr where I have my largest fan base.
How much work is involved in creating a calendar, from developing the initial concept to taking the photos then creating and marketing the final product?
Are you asking this of me as a graphic designer and marketing consultant? If Pirelli were to hire my company, Crayon Design & Communication, to produce their calendar, I would hire myself as the photographer and have an incredible budget to work with. I would want to work with a carefully selected team of artistic directors, cast of models and crew, and do the shoots at the most exotic locations. Of course “we” would develop a theme and a strategy to complement an already existing, Pirelli, legacy of a marketing success. But alas, this is quite outside my realm of reality, at the moment, since Pirelli is not a client of ours. But one can dream.
I wish there was the need for my calendars’ production to be as sophisticated as that. The calendars I have produced were with images that I had created as art and not expressly to produce calendars and as I have already stated previously, not to diminish their value, they have not been what you would call a marketing success. But that is the nature of self-publishing.
You’ve also produced several books. ‘Majestic and Mundane’ is one. Tell us a little about the book and the photographic content (which is remarkably different from the nudes that are predominant on your website).
Thank you for mentioning it. ‘Majestic and Mundane’, actually my first book, was the result of a life-long dream. At least my “photographic life” dream. It is a retrospective of work that spans some twenty years. Many of the images had been publicly exhibited, while many others had never been seen before. The work I had been doing at that time was photographs of intimate, decaying, mostly rural landscapes.
My latest book is called “Gentle Vulnerability, a series of erotic photographs.” This one is more representative of the kind of work I am doing presently. It is also self-published and available through Blurb.com
Do you create your books and calendars for pleasure or profit, or both? Is it possible to make enough money from self-publishing to make it financially worthwhile, or is it more a case of personal and artistic fulfilment?
I believe that there is money to be made with these books and calendars, but the trick is to have someone else produce the content and have many people sell it through a website that you own. It’s all in the numbers. Unfortunately as a content producer, I only have few products and therefore would need to sell many of each to make it financially worthwhile. So I have to say that, for now, that I do it for the love of it and certainly for my own artistic fulfilment.
What advice would you give a photographer interested in self-publishing? Where do you start and what are the keys to financial and artistic success?
It is a good way to get your work out and visible to a mass market. However, becoming a “mega-star” requires first being discovered by a well established, conventional, publisher that has a good distributorship and is willing to take a chance on you by printing a mass-quantity for the purpose of sales, both on on-line stores like Amazon, as well as brick and mortar book stores. Self-publishing, in my opinion, is not a key to instant success, but then what is.
You have an impressive list of gallery exhibitions. What advice can you give a photographer who wants to break into exhibiting?
If a photographer is looking for an artistic career, showing in galleries and museums is by far the best venue to establish themselves as artists. To sell their work, a compatible gallery is important for representation and exhibition. It is also good to submit proposals to “not for profit” galleries as well as calls for submissions that often can be found in magazines and online. The more one can exhibit the more exposure they will have and thereby, eventually establish a certain notoriety. Eventually one gets invited to exhibit and to be part of art projects.
Exhibitions: pleasure or profit? What’s your motivation? How fulfilling is it to see your work exhibited in a gallery, especially for the first time?
The motivation is a little bit of both, pleasure and profit. As I have not as yet made a substantial amount of money with my artistic photography, pleasure is the fulfilment I get.
The first time was of course the ultimate pleasure. One tends to get a bit jaded in time, but it still has its thrills, especially when one gets a show at an important venue with a great review.
How important are your website, blog, and flickr stream in your self-promotion? From a business point of view do you generate more revenue from your online presence or real world marketing, or is it an even split?
To date, real world marketing contributed to revenues that by far outperform on-line marketing. This is mainly due to gallery exposure. But I believe that this will eventually change as the world is warming up to the idea of purchasing art on line. I have not even touched the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the power of Flickr. I even have a fan club that my wife created on Flickr, with close to 1500 members. It is at the moment the largest membership of a fan club dedicated to a human.
What obstacles and difficulties did you face when you started to sell your photos? How did you overcome them? How did you market your business and build your reputation?
Probably establishing a price was always an issue. Deciding on how many to an edition was also a challenge. Selling, in itself, is the easy part as long as there is a collector interested in purchasing your work. Finding a good gallery, too, is a challenge. I live in Montreal where there are just a handful of photography galleries. Other cities like Toronto and New York have many more for a photographer to choose from. My photography can hardly be called a business. As stated before, I will keep my day job. I would say that my reputation is somehow far greater than the reality it portrays. Flickr has been enormously responsible for that. I am blogged daily and my images are viewed several thousands per day.
Where is your photography and your business going? What future photographic project or projects are you excited about?
Up to now I have prided myself on the ability to produce high quality images that would normally be achieved with an entourage of a large crew of assistants, make-up and hair artists, all by myself with my models. I would like to be assigned a project like shooting someone like Queen Elizabeth as was Annie Leibowitz, with a huge production team and of course the publicity that goes along with it.
I am also quite interested in film. I love working on video. It is a medium of extreme communicative and persuasive power.
My website: http://sollang.com/
My publications: http://heutekunst.com/
Some of my videos: http://heutekunst.com/blog/
My Imagekind Gallery
My design firm Crayon Design & Communication: http://crayondesign.net
Google me: “Sol Lang” or “sollang”
“Un-shrouded” by Sol Lang
It would be hard to list all the influences I’ve had in my life that can be held responsible for the artistic expression I state today. Having been raised in a matriarchal home environment is not the least of these influences. But it would be unreasonable not to place much of this responsibility on the Internet as well, with all of its converging media and its democratisation of everything, including art.
As a member of Flickr, an international, multi-cultural on-line community, much of which is made up of artists, my work is being virtually exhibited daily.
With over a million views in the span of one year, my photographic expression has been commented upon, censored, liked and disliked, stolen, copyright infringed upon, revered and insulted. My right of expression has been revoked more than once and I have been politically attacked. Reactions abound.
The work as it stands today is a commentary on ongoing concerns of womankind in her ceaseless struggle to shed her stereotypical, objectified image of femininity as it has been depicted by the media-culture and western society.
I present my images with the skills and craft of a fashion photographer, but without the entourage of a large production crew. Working alone with the models, these are intimate sessions without the help of assistants, stylists or hair and make-up artists. They are collaborations whereby I create visual, thought-provoking statements of beauty, irony, sadness, erotica and humour. Always achieving powerful images of very high production value.
All the photos in this article are Copyright Sol Lang. Please contact the author for permission to use in any way.