Interview with Troy Paiva: Night Photography Show at 111 Minna Gallery

Troy Paiva - Planet Claire (2014)

Troy Paiva - Planet Claire (2014)

Troy Paiva has been photographing abandoned places under the light of the full moon since 1989. The colorful light painting style featured on his website Lost America has been highly influential. Troy and I have been friends since 2005. He’s having a big art show next month at 111 Minna Gallery in San Francisco. Twenty-nine of Troy's night photos will be on display in sizes up to 6 feet wide. If you're in the Bay Area, don't miss it!

The opening party is on Friday, March 4th from 5pm-11pm. The photos will be up through March 26th. The show will feature work from Troy’s 25-year night photography career, as well as work by photographer Peter Samuels. In the following interview, Troy and I discuss the details of preparing for the show at 111 Minna Gallery.

Getting a Gallery Show

Joe: How did you get the show at 111 Minna Gallery? Did you have a connection introduce you, or was it just old-fashioned self-promotion? Did you show them a print portfolio in person, or just send them work online?

Troy: 100% self promotion. I contacted them in late ’14. This was coming off my successful appearance in a summer group show at Heist Gallery in Kensington, London, where they sold everything I gave them: four 14"x22" archival inkjets I had left over from that show we did at the University of Kentucky. They sold for $1100 each, unframed. They told me “Hit of the show, coulda sold more, we want to give you a big show” etc. So I was also in the throes of preparing a big solo show at Heist.

I was feeling pretty confident when I sent 111 Minna curator Micah LeBrun that e-mail. He gave me a show on the spot, based solely on my work online. Unfortunately, the next open slot was 14 months away! But when he said “I never give anyone a show on the day they first contact me!” I knew he believed in the work.

I dreaded the day in the spring of ’15 when I had to tell Micah that the Heist solo show had vaporized, but he’s been relentlessly upbeat and positive that this show is going to be something totally unique. 

Photography Portfolio

Joe: Do you have a print portfolio to show curators? What size are the prints, and how is the portfolio put together? What do you use for leave-behinds?

Troy: Ha, no I don’t have any of that stuff. I use the online profiles and websites to break the ice.  Prints come later.

Up to this point, I’ve never really done any self promotion to galleries.  Selling prints is not something I’ve ever really pursued directly. Until I accidentally fell into the Heist show, I had no idea that I could sell prints for prices like that.  

If this show does well, I’ll parlay that success into something else and grow it that way. But I doubt I’ll ever really promote myself in a traditional manner, do cattle call reviews and all that.

Troy Paiva - Second Floor Landing (2007)

Troy Paiva - Second Floor Landing (2007)

Editing for a Photography Show

Joe: How on earth do you whittle down 25 years worth of photographing abandoned places at night into 29 prints? Are there particular themes or locations, or is it a sampling of everything? What was the editing process like? Did you make any test prints or just look at images on the computer? How much input did the gallery have into the selections?

Troy: Yeah, it was a long, difficult process. It took months. As curator, Micah wanted a lot of input. I had to resist of some of his choices on technical grounds, but was careful to choose my battles: one of the reasons for my fail with the Heist show was that I flat refused to agree to some of their selections. So I was much more diplomatic and willing to compromise this time.

We both agreed that doing an overview of my career was the right approach to introduce my work to his customers. The earliest image is from 1992, the most recent was shot last fall and inserted into the show as a last minute change when one image wasn’t printing well.

Micah really wanted to feature super bright and colorfully lit work. There are no straight moonlight shots in this show. I know there are images in this show that are going to make long-time followers say “Really? That one?” but there are plenty of others that are known favorites, and things I’ve successfully shown before. The two 6 foot prints are images shot in early 2015 that I’ve never shown publicly before.

Micah started by combing my Flickr stream, which is the one place where you can see every single night image I’ve put online since 2005. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, it’s all there. I also sent him a stack of about fifty 4"x6" test prints, done on the metallic paper I planned to use.

He compiled a list of about 50, some from the 4x6s, some from Flickr and my website. After still more test prints, lots of lobbying and compromise on both sides we culled to this show near the end of 2015.

Troy Paiva - Bobby Peru's Room (2013)

Troy Paiva - Bobby Peru's Room (2013)

Printing Night Photography

Joe: What kind of paper/process are you using for printing? What lab? How many different sizes are you printing? Are you doing smaller test prints before ordering the larger prints? Did you experiment with other labs or types of paper? Are you happy with how well the color and tone matches your monitor?

Troy: Printing my work has always been really hard. I use colors that don’t exist in the CMYK universe and I’ve seen some horrible reproductions of my work over the decades. I used to love the pearly Cibachromes back in the film era, but that costly and toxic process disappeared 15, 20 years ago. I didn’t print much until around 2009, when I found a maker of archival fine art giclee editions of paintings who made beautiful rag-paper prints of some of my work. But the color gamut, especially in the purples, just wasn’t there.

This show is printed on Kodak Endura Metallic. The color gamut of this paper is the largest I’ve ever seen, cleanly reproducing super the intense reds and purples in my light painting. The metallic finish gives the prints a pearlescent quality reminiscent of the old Cibas. Under direct light the color screams off the walls.

This is one of the reasons why now is the time for this big show: I’ve finally found a printing process that can actually reproduce what my work looks like on an LCD screen.

I’m using WHCC for printing. I’ve used them off and on for years.  But I wanted to do this right, so I ran some tests last summer, sending the same images to about 6 different labs and seeing what I got back. The best looking 2 were WHCC and another lab, but the other lab fell down on customer service. If there’s a problem, WHCC fixes it immediately.

Troy Paiva - Mac's Red Nose (2011)

Troy Paiva - Mac's Red Nose (2011)

Framing Your Photos

Joe: How are you presenting each size of print -- are you framing the prints or mounting them? Is the lab doing this work, or a custom frame shop? Are you working with a standard size so this work can be re-used in a future show?

Troy: They are framed. Black wood, about an inch. No mattes. The images are all dry-mounted to gatorboard for rigidity.

I’m using a custom framer in San Francisco, Dave Fallis, who was recommended by Micah at 111 Minna. Dave’s work is super clean and very reasonably priced.

Yes, all the work in this show is printed to standard paper sizes, mostly various extrapolations of the 4x6 aspect ratio. There will be a salon-wall cluster of 8"x12" prints, mostly of ancient film work, and groups of 16"x24" and 24"x36" prints. There are a couple of 36" wide prints in panorama format, as well at the two 4x6 footers.

Print Pricing and Editions

Joe: How did you arrive at the pricing for the prints. Has your previous success moving into a higher price bracket affected your online print sales? What kind of editions are you using for each size of work. 

Troy: I followed Micah’s lead on pricing and editions, factoring in the production costs: 

8" x 12" - edition of 10 @ $300
16" x 24" - edition of 10 @ $800
24" x 36" - edition of 8 @ $1,250
48" x 72"- edition of 6 @ $5,000

Each image will be available in multiple sizes. My online sales have always been flat. But again, I haven't really pursued these type of sales - I usually just print when people ask me to. This show is for the collectors market, not casual online viewers.

Troy Paiva - Postmarked By The Moon (2012)

Troy Paiva - Postmarked By The Moon (2012)

Marketing an Art Show

Joe: Besides the web and social media, are you doing anything special to promote the show? 

Troy: I’ve called in all my favors, tried to throw water on all those burning bridges, etc.  I think pretty much everyone I’ve ever met has heard about this by now. The press releases have gone out. It’s really up to the gallery to bring the buyers, and I know they have a strong, large database and solid media connections. 

Atmosphere

Joe: I’m getting my cumberbund pressed so I look sharp for the show. Anything special we should know about the atmosphere. Will there be a DJ playing jazz-rock fusion? There’s going to be lots of beer, right?

Troy: I just picked up a stack of promo postcards yesterday and the music is listed as “DJ Bald Elvis”, so maybe we’ll get some Dread Zeppelin, I dunno. The place is a bar, expect to buy drinks, don’t bring the kids, it’s gonna be a party!

What's Next

Joe: What’s next for you in 2016. Any special travel plans or shoots coming up?

Troy: I’ve basically taken the winter off from shooting. Virtually every nickel I have, all my focus, is going into this show. Again, the future’s all kinda hinged on this show. How, what and where I shoot in the future is TBD.

Joe: Thanks for taking the time to talk about the show. I hope everything goes well and I'll see you there!


Troy Paiva & Peter Samuels
Opening Reception on Friday, March 4th, from 5 p.m. - 11 p.m.
On display through March 26, 2016

111 Minna Gallery
111 Minna Street, San Francisco, CA 94105
Monday - Friday 7:30 a.m. - 5 p.m. | 21+
Happy Hour from 5 p.m. - 9 p.m.
Facebook Event Page

 
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Joe Reifer interviewed by BFA candidate Holli Brunkala, April 2011

1. Did you receive any formal training in photography? How has that helped or hurt your business?

I learned traditional black and white developing and printing from a college friend, and worked in a black and white lab for a short time. I was primarily focused on playing music during my 20's, and didn't get serious about photography until about 10 years ago.

I used to think the photography business was 80% business and 20% photography. Now I think a conservative estimate is more like 90%/10%. Marketing and negotiating are more important than f/stops and shutter speeds. John Harrington's Best Business Practices for Photographers book is really the best 20 bucks you could spend on your photography education.

2. It seems you do not have a rep. How are you marketing yourself? Due to the current economic status, have your strategies changed from when you were first starting out?

I am an artist with a day job. For the last 4 years I've made most of my income working 25-30 hours per week at a photography website company, teaching photography workshops, and teaching Photoshop at an art college. I've done occasional event and editorial work over the last 7 years, but I'm not actively seeking this type of work. My primary marketing activities are related to teaching workshops – blogging, social media, and email are the primary tools.

My job as an Account and Project Manager has given me the opportunity to meet and network with a wide variety of photographers. Beyond a handful of people who are doing weddings and corporate work, very few people I know are making a living as a full-time photographer without teaching or another source of income.

3. I could not find any books that you have published. Do you have another means of promoting your work?

Eventually I'm hoping to publish a book. Having a physical end product that's paper instead of pixels seems immensely satisfying. I'm encouraged by the quality improvements in the print-on-demand world. But I want to take my time. Going on road trips to out-of-the-way places and absorbing the atmosphere under a full moon is my favorite thing to do. I'm more interested in making work that pleases me and having adventures than I am in packaging and selling my photos.

4. The work on your website is geared toward the fine art genre of photography. Have you been able to make a living from selling these images on your website, in galleries, etc. or do you have supplemental income?

This is mostly addressed above, but here's the lowdown. Almost nobody makes a living solely as a fine art photographer. Beyond a very small roster of art world stars, even most well known successful fine art photographers have to teach or do commercial and editorial work.

Being a fine art photographer is a lot like being in a garage band. You might make enough money for a new guitar or camera, but you still need a job to pay your bills. Whether that job is shooting weddings or designing websites or working a regular job is up to you. My strategy has been to maintain a day job that leaves me the time and energy to shoot what I want.

5. What are the essential steps for an up-incoming photographer to make a successful living as a fine art photographer?

The best photography career advice I ever got was from Joe McNally at a workshop 6 years ago. He said “be an octopus.” You need to have an arm in everything, because it's unlikely that one thing will pay your bills. Fine art photography is the least likely thing to pay your bills actually. For most photographers, there isn't enough editorial work to pay your bills. So do both. Do headshots of lawyers. Pursue an in-demand specialty.

Once you have some experience, consider teaching. Love Photoshop? Lots of teaching opportunities there. Maybe you're really good at masking and compositing – look for work as a retoucher. Talk to people who are doing the kind of work that you're considering. Find out what it pays and how hard it is to get jobs. Do some assisting. Get to know some working professionals that will share their industry knowledge. Get a job at a lab or a high-end gallery. Don't get discouraged. If you really want to make a living in photography, you can do it – HOW you do it may be much different than you suspect.

6. You and Troy Paiva have images from the same places. Are you ever worried about preserving your identity and whether or not your images will look too much alike?

Troy and I have very different styles – part of our compatibility is because there isn't a threat that our images will look the same. In John Szarkowski's construct of Mirrors and Windows, he's a mirror and I'm a window.

7. How has it been beneficial to work with another photographer on night shoots?

The best part about night shooting with other photographers is networking about locations, camaraderie during the drive, and safety at remote locations. Seeing how other people shoot a location is also really interesting.

8. I am interested in photographing and/or documenting abandoned buildings, much like the images in your portfolio. How would a photographer go about gaining legal access to these types of places?

Make prints and be nice to people. That's the secret. Getting permission is all about social engineering. Many property owners are concerned about liability, so having insurance can be really helpful, too. Troy Paiva's chapter on location access in Lance Keimig's night photography book has extensive advice on this topic.

9. What makes Southern California, as opposed to other desert-scapes, the ideal place for night photography?

The Southern California desert has a wide variety of junkyards, mining ruins, and military and industrial sites to photograph. It's also about proximity for me – 6-7 hours in the car, and there's always something interesting to shoot. Western Nevada is also pretty nearby. With more time and budget, I'd do some shooting in Arizona, and New Mexico. The reality of working means if I'm driving more, I'm shooting less. Why drive further when the quintessential desert is only 300 miles away.

10. I noticed you update your blog fairly frequently. Why is it important for a fine art photographer to have and continually post to a blog?

Blogging is one of the best ways to get people to your website. Over 1/3 of my web traffic comes from people who are searching Google. There are a lot of ways to share your images online. I prefer using the blog format because I'm in control of the of the container, and it's integrated into my website. Once images and articles are posted on my blog, it's easy to share them on other websites.

Thanks again for the interview. Let me know if you have any follow up questions!

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Neighborhood Demolition, Fangbang Lu, 2006 -- by Greg Girard
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#356 Palm, 1997 -- by Tokihiro Sato
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