Q&A: Your fine art vs. commercial career?

Q&A: How do you juggle your fine art and your commercial careers?

Lately I’ve seen the lines blurring a little between what is typically considered fine art and commercial photography. Many of the photographers that come to mind as strictly commercial are now having exhibitions and, more prominently, many advertising campaigns have turned towards a fine art aesthetic.

For many photographers, it is almost impossible for a fine art and commercial career to coexist, if only because both require so much time and energy. For this month’s Q&A, I’ve asked four of my favorite people who do this well to share their thoughts and advice on the relationship between the two sides of their work. As always, thank you so much to everyone who contributed!

– Jacqueline Bovaird, Glasshouse Assignment


When I started getting really serious about my photography in Grad School, I had a major debate with myself as to whether I’d do editorial/commercial work at all.  I loved my personal work and I didn’t want to compromise myself by doing what other people wanted. I realized over time I didn’t need to change my aesthetic or point of view just because I was doing assignments. My personal and commercial work now work hand and hand with each other. It’s a really wonderful balance. While subject matter may be different, I always feel like the work is one hundred percent me. I think photographers who have their hands in both spectrums have a greater understanding of how to market themselves in the long run as well.

Ryan Pfluger’s work is currently on view at Dorsky Gallery. 1103 45th Avenue, Long Island City, NY.

His next show will be at the East Gallery. 214 Brick Lane, London E1 6SA, UK Bang Boy Bang will be on view from August 6 to August 18, 2010. Viewing ours are Tuesday through Sunday, 1 pm – 7 pm. Private viewing will be held August 5, 7 pm – 10 pm.


Personally, right now this is a fascinating topic as I try to figure out where I fall. Ultimately, my goal with photography is to straddle the fine art and commercial world (more so editorial than advertising), with the focus on a fine art vision to be applied commercially. Many of the photographers who I greatly admire seem to do this; Nadav Kander and Elinor Carucci are two that come to mind. While not often promoted, I do think that many fine art photographers are working more and more commercially, primarily to pay the bills. I’m always disheartened to learn that many fine art photographers I love actually have other jobs and simply cannot make a living solely on their fine art.

At this point in my career though, my fine art and commercial work are not so seamlessly blended together; I have yet to be hired commercially to shoot something based on my fine art. Fine art work for me is very personal work. With my self-portraits for instance, if others happen to enjoy it, great, but ultimately it is for me. I am, however, currently working on a new portrait project that better bridges the gap towards commercial work.

My efforts in getting commercial work are vastly different than in fine art. While landing commercial jobs tends to work based on networking and self promotion, achievements in my fine art work seem to be more about exposure, be it contests, juried shows or portfolio reviews. Most recently, I’ve had the success with my fine art work (four shows this summer!) and have been a bit behind with my efforts on commercial work. I definitely feel a stronger pull in this direction. As someone who has gone to pretty much every photo event in the past few years, I’m starting to notice I’m less motivated to go to industry events such as Adhesive or Resource parties and more inclined to head over to Chelsea or Dumbo for exhibit openings.

Gabriela’s work is currently on exhibition at Kris Graves Projects, in their current group show, Sultry II. You can view the show July 9 to August 14.

Kris Graves Projects, 111 Front St, #224, Brooklyn, NY 11201


I try my hardest to maintain the same approach to my commercial work that I use in my fine art. It is easy to get wrapped up in trying to guess what the client wants but I think it’s important to remember that they hired you for what you do. Of course, I want to accommodate the client’s needs into the assignment, so the balance is always an interesting challenge.

Besides working with a client, I have also collaborated with other photographers, art directors, painters, stylists, filmmakers and designers on fine art projects and it has always proven to be a positive experience. The process can be similar to working with a creative team on a commercial assignment and only becomes a struggle if you allow it. Otherwise, the same give and take exists; it is just a matter of being able to simultaneously stick to your natural instinct while taking into consideration the common goal that everyone is working towards.

Ryan Schude’s fine art work is currently represented by Galerie 64Bis, Avenue de New York, 75016 Paris. For more information, contact Aurelie Didier at aurelie.didier@64bis.com. For commercial inquiries, contact Jacqueline Bovaird at Glasshouse Assignment at jacqueline@glasshouseassignment.com.


The relationship between your commercial work and your fine art is a marriage. I was promoting separate bodies of work for years and thinking of what needed to be done commercially. Helena Buzzeo, who was the senior VP of art buying at McCann, looked at my book and told me that she couldn’t show it to Exxon without a guy holding a wrench in their hand. I resisted shooting people with the industrial landscapes for about a year for a couple of different reasons, and then realized that I needed to do what she said.

My commercial and fine art work have been feeding each other well lately. My recycling project paved the way to the commission of flight 1549, which became an exhibition to be shown in four different states over two years. American Reclamation, a fine art project about the recycling industry in the fifty states, caught the attention of creative director Ed Han, who then hired me for a project for Maytag. I need to do both to stay in balance; photography has always been a passion for me so to keep it from becoming a job I need to keep personal projects and shoots going. Galleries and collectors used to have a problem with a working artist but I think that stigma is dying. Just take a look at the roster of photographers at Clamp art!

The presentation is a bit different when showing work to a gallery versus a commercial client because you are selling specific images and projects to be exhibited. With clients while you are showing your previous work to show them that you can do what they want/ need. When you go to a gallery you should show them a show, not so tightly edited that they don’t have control, but tight enough to see what the project is. My advice is to bring edited bodies of work (15-20 images) in collections that are consistent. I am a New York artist so galleries and photographers outside of New York might disagree with this, but here people are very easily confused and want to know what you do. For both commercial and fine art, when they can put a post it on your head stated “he’s good with junk,” it’s easier for them to know what to do with you.

You can see Stephen’s show, Next Stop Atlantic, at the Front Room Gallery this fall. The show will run from September 10 to October 3. Opening reception will be Friday, September 10, 7 pm – 9 pm. Front Room Gallery viewing hours are Friday through Sunday, 1-6 and by appointment.

Front Room Gallery, 147 Roebling Street, Brooklyn NY 11211

1 Comment

  1. Commercial art or fine art- either way Ryan Schude is a true artist! His images are just so unique and dynamic. I saw a couple on eyebuyart.com and fell in love. I’ve been following his work ever since!


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