Bruce Kramer Opens Bond Street Gallery

- - Photography Agent

Bruce Kramer is the owner of Art Mix in Los Angeles, one of the top photographer agencies in the country. They’ve always been an editorial friendly shop handling several of the biggest names in this industry. When I heard that Bruce was opening a gallery in Brooklyn I had to ask him a few questions to see what was up.

The gallery is called Bond Street Gallery (website here) and the first show is March 27th featuring Harold Feinstein’s Coney Island work.

Tell me about your new venture Bond Street Gallery?

I was visiting with a friend Robert DiScalfani who lives on Smith Street in Carroll Gardens and has lived in the area for over 10 years. We were walking around the neighborhood and came across a derelict yet beautiful building and both of us looked through the window and at the same moment said “this space would make a great gallery.” I had the idea of doing a gallery in the back of my mind so I cleaned out my bank account and stated this journey.

Over the last few years we started to receive emails regarding the images from the talent I represent at Art Mix and I had been making sales with very little effort and noticed a trend of younger people wanted a photo of their favorite celebrity and in general a much wider interest in photography.

I recruited Robert to be my partner, he’s been a working photographer for over 30 years who still does platinum prints in his own darkroom. We had the building restored, keeping it as original as possible. It’s a small 3 floor town house with a backyard–very much a different vibe than the large white boxes in Manhattan. Our vision for the space was to make it seem like you are visiting someone’s home or a photographers space where he might have his and others work hung around for inspiration.

The area in Brooklyn where it’s located is changing rapidly yet still has a sense of the past. Many new residents are restoring townhouses instead of buying new and we feel the area, in time would appreciate a gallery that had roots to the past but with a vision for the future.

I started to research photos of Coney Island and came across the work of Harold Feinstein a noted flower photographer who has published many books on subject. As a youth he would walk on the boardwalk in Coney Island with camera in hand and take pictures of one of the most culturally diverse areas in the country.

I continued to research photographs of Coney Island and came across many others who also had great imagery: Bruce Davidson, Bruce Gilden, Harold Roth and Sid Grossman to name a few. I contacted their galleries and I arranged to exhibit their work in the show.

We have plans to continue to exhibit work by forgotten and undiscovered talent from the New York area and around the world.

What skills can you bring over from running a successful photographer agency to running a gallery?

Having run a successful photography agency with varied talent I have developed a strong sense of what I consider to be good or even great photography and the ability to recognize talent.

Running a photo agency is very competitive as there are many agencies and photographers and less and less jobs available these days. I’m a firm believer in marketing and advertising which has really been the cornerstone of my business and I intend to bring that style to running the gallery. We are not expecting buyers to walk in off the street, we will go to them. While I’m new to the gallery world I’ve been in the photography business a long time and I’m getting a great response from established art photographers and galleries.

Do you think commercial and editorial photographers should sell their commissioned work as art?

For years photographers commissioned work has been selling in galleries. Penn, Avedon, Bailey, Newton, Outerbridge, Bourdin, both William and now Steven Klein. There have always been and there will continue to be commissioned photographers who are hired for their eye, lighting, sense of style and aesthetic. Even though the images were created to sell a product I feel they are no less art than the photographer who creates images on their own. In fact in some ways I feel the commissioned photographer has a harder job as they often have to work with other people’s ideas and parameters yet still be true to themselves.

How do you pick an exhibition for the gallery?

Picking to photographers to exhibit is not as easy as I thought it would be. I want to show work that speaks to me, that has soul and guts and I do feel I’m a good gauge of talent but I’m trying to view the photography from a non-commercial point of view. Photography was a medium many hobbyist got into and some of them were pretty good. The guy who sold me a car recently asked me what I did and when I told him about the gallery and he mentioned he use to take photos of jazz musicians. Well he certainly did: Miles, Dizzy, Lou Rawls, etc. Joe’s work has a raw quality to it that you no longer find.

I’m trying to dig a bit. I’ve contacted photographer clubs and have sent emails to their members. I’m also attracted to commercial photographers. Many do personal work to balance out the what they have to do to earn a living and I’ve come across some great work.

Do photographers need to decide between becoming an editorial, commercial or fine art photographer or can they be all three?

I don’t think a decision can be made concisely. If you are the type of photographer that has a vision and you stick with it, perhaps adapt a bit to the right and left if need be, remain passionate, your work will stand out. I do believe photographers when starting out are not just working towards a pay check, It’s more about expressing themselves. Often somewhere down the road they lose direction and do as told and stop using the judgment that got them there. All photographers no matter how successful should always be challenging themselves, exploring and experimenting to keep there creative juices flowing. More and more I am seeing photographers successfully working in all areas without compromising. My hopes are I can take an art photographer and get them commercial work and get commercial photographers into the art world.

There Are 15 Comments On This Article.

  1. “The guy who sold me a car recently asked me what I did and when I told him about the gallery and he mentioned he use to take photos of jazz musicians. Well he certainly did: Miles, Dizzy, Lou Rawls, etc. Joe’s work has a raw quality to it that you no longer find.”

    This, I like !

  2. scott Rex Ely

    I’d like to explore your last question and a couple of assumptions it presents.
    “Do photographers need to decide between becoming an editorial, commercial or fine art photographer or can they be all three?”
    Do you think that there is really any difference between Editorial and Commercial? Mr. Kramer doesn’t seem to clarify any distinctions in his response to you. I’ve been told that the only reason editorial is editorial is the placement. I contend it has to do with the minimal amount of art direction restricting influences that normally wouldn’t be there on a commercial, let’s call it ad or corporate placement, shoot. Do you agree with this?
    Next, Mr. Kramer gives examples of commercial shooters selling images thru galleries, all but one of them I would consider to be vintage in age, but have fine artist really become that adapted to commercial. Let’s assume for this argument that the fine “artists” I mention started out being recognized and their acclaim established for a specific delivery of their vision,in the fine art circles first. I’d like to see a list of some established gallery folks that have parlayed their vision into commercial either ad or magazine venues and evaluate their teransitions. I know David Lachapelle was in SoHo in the late 80’s and I believe i’ve seen work by Tina Barney and Cindy Sherman, but I would be interested to look carefully at some samples you might suggest. Personally I know a friend who went the MFA route, School of the Art Institute education, college professor, gallery exhibits,constantly continuing his very specific vision and then became a commercial photographer with minimally effective utilization of his direction. The most successful of his paid work closely resembled commissioned pieces where he was giving the barest of input, namely just a specific subject matter. My personal opinion is that fine art relinquishes no control over any aspect of the creation of the images and speaks to it’s own set of participants viewing it and commercial work set’s out to influence people’s attention while the message is more universal and mass appealing in nature. I think what I’ve seen lately, recently produced, let’s say in the last 3-5 years that has been considered fine art, at least with gallery showing credentials to support the definition, seems to be produced with more of an inherit cross over ability to commercial applications. So which comes first the commercial chicken or the fine art egg?
    Any thoughts would be appreciated. thanks.

  3. A commercial photography agency opening a gallery seems like a commercial endeavor, plain and simple.

    Why try and get complicated with it’s meaning?

  4. I love this quote: “If you are the type of photographer that has a vision and you stick with it, perhaps adapt a bit to the right and left if need be, remain passionate, your work will stand out.”

    Lately I have been practicing the art of saying “no” to jobs that don’t fit my vision for self-expression. I have decided not to compromise my ideas about what sort of photographs I want to make in order to get one more paycheck. I’m lucky enough though that I have buyers waiting to license whatever photos I crank out. Many photographers are not in that position, so maybe it’s harder for them to say “no” to paying work.

    On the other hand, after virtually pioneering the market for paying nightlife photography in Salt Lake City (I don’t know of anybody before me who has made a living here taking photos at raves and EDM nightlife events, but I know of many who tried and gave up), I am of the firm opinion that there are buyers out there for every niche.

    I think the message for photographers is, do what you love, and then do what it takes to sell it, whether that means fine art prints, commercial work, stock sales… whatever allows you to follow your muse.

  5. scott Rex Ely raises some interesting questions. Maybe that could be an idea for a future post. What photographers have been able to cross over between fine art, commercial, and editorial genre lines? What attributes of their photography allowed them to do so? I’d really love to read about a few case stories… that could be some very interesting food for thought!

  6. Not Bitter Photog.

    Whether you are an editorial, commercail or fine art photographer really only seems to matter to the Fine Art scene. Commercial and editorial guys and gals just shoot, somtimes for money, sometimes for love. Paid work to the editorial and commercial photog is a “job”. The fine art photog talks about “accepting commissions” as if they are Rembrandt stooping to paint the Burgomeister’s family for a few Florin. Those “commissions” take so much time away from their fine art, which mainly consists of immitating Jurgen Teller and brown nosing their way through gallery openings of equally uninspiring work.

    What follows is a generalization and of course does not apply to all gallerists or fine artists. My experience with the fine art scene, photo or otherwise, is that it is as commercial as the ad world but lacks the honesty and predictability of sound business practice.

    Creative Directors and Art Directors know what they are looking for in a photographer when they call in books and then hire a photog. They have a certain taste, and if your work matches it, they let you shoot the pack shots of Huggies or the “woman using the ATM” shot for a BofA ad. In the best of circumstances, you work as a team and produce something stunning. The hallmark of the ad shoot is its intense honesty: the photo, while stylized, beautiful and impecable, is designed to sell clothes/Huggies or financial services.

    Gallerists, on the otherhand, are stumped. They don’t trust their own taste but they need to fill those white walls so they can move product. There are too few great critics left that have the influence to guide photographers in their carreers and gallerists in their selections. Jen Bekman is so stumped she has a competition judged by ex dot com types and Jorg Colberg to choose for her. Alec Soth would still be in Minnasota listening to Purple Rain were it not for an influential critic, same with Shore, Eggelston et al. Now there are no great critics, no real centers of gravity in this poverty that is the Web 2.0 world. In other words, there are no upper echelon gate keepers, but meerly the individual gallerists trying to make a buck. Thus they let in what they think can sell, and as business people they look at comparable sales (comps). What sold last year? What images sell? This is why so much of the fine art photography in galleries seems so bloodless and familier, and why they look to sexy/slick editorial work to pay their rent. For example, I see the same stuff over and over again: The PoMo objective portrait is nice, but Katherine Opie was doing this in the 80’s, followed by Dykstra and hundreds of others (I’m sorry Jorg C., The PoMo objective portrait IS boring and the Cat Cahnning Avedon portrait IS a better portrait). The giant urban landscape/industrial digi print of modernist repitition and ruin? The Beckers were doing these things for way too long, and just because the shots are of Chinese cities and in color doesn’t really make them different. And Crewdson’s versions of Twin Peaks are laughable in their “psychoanalytical” shallowness, sort of the white suburban arty high school kid’s Phillip Lorca diCorcia. Its all nice work, but I’ve seen it all before.

    All this is to say that commercial and editorial work in a gallery is just fine if not better than most of the crap coming out of SVA. I hope the gallery does well!

  7. Great article. Art Mix has some amazing talent. I still do from time to time, but when I was starting out, I was always looking at Art Mix photographers to try to study the lighting that they were using.
    I think it would be so fun and satisfying to sell my photography in a gallery. I am in Seattle, and it seems like a lot of the galleries here favor painting over photography. Hopefully that will change.

  8. In response to scott Rex Ely.Thanks for your comments.

    Editorial also has restrictions. If you are shooting for an established magazine there are storylines that need to be followed, layouts to follow a, publicists to negotiate with before, during and after the shoot(if you are shooting a celebrity),formulas to follow. When shooting cover for Marie Claire for example one of our photographers was told what color background to use as the boys upstairs have a chart that shows the covers with red backgrounds sell the most. “Red pops off the stand” and “big smiles with lots of teeth”. If you are shooting for Flaunt, POP, 10, etc. you are paying to be published and often your submission will be rejected.

    Michael Kenna is a perfect example of an art photographer who’s has been hired to recreate his work for the commercial world Michael was a very successful art photographer before he ever did a commercial assignment.

    Others that come to mind are Jill Greenberg . Jill, whom we had the pleasure of representing, has a successful commercial career and well as a blossoming art career. Jill first shot a monkey for a Target ad and became obsesed with them. On her own dime and time she photographed monkeys, apes and primates. The result was a book that has sold well and many print sales. We were able to capitalize from the publicity as she was awarded jobs by ad agencies to shoot all sorts of animals.

    Martin Schoeller, Larry Fink , Bruce Gilden, Rodney Smith , Howard Schatz are a few other whom have done well in both markets.

    In response to sinuhe

    It would be nice to be able to open a gallery and display work and not be concerned about making sales. Of course this is a commercial endeavor. What business isn’t? I hope to be able to showcase work of young talent and artists whom have not exhibited. Nothing would please me more than an artists we represent at bond street gallery getting a commercial project to shoot in his or her style or to have one of my commercial artists get inspired to pick up their camera without out getting paid to do so.



  9. Bruce,

    Your response is inspiring. Thank you for pointing out these examples. I’m about to do my first gallery exhibit — nightlife photos that I shot mostly under contract from the promoters and artists involved in the shows. It will be my first time dipping my toes into the art market. I’m glad to hear stories of other photographers who have paved the way.

  10. Hi Bruce, Aaaaargh Finally refound you. Good to see you & Bob are still in contact. Need some advice. I’ve got Norman Kent with me who specialises in aerial film & photography but diversifying in broader photography. He has filmed aerial scenes in films like Get Smart & Dropzone. Got an amazing portfolio. I have been suggesting he gets a good agent. He is considered as the world’s best in his aerial field. Was in LA a few months ago. Must catch up next time I’m there. Possibly later in the year.

    PS. He’s great