New Ideas In Photography – Rob Hann

Julie Grahame:
I’ve known Rob Hann for about 20 years – my agency licensed his music and celebrity photographs here and in the UK. He relocated to the States about ten years after I did, and I’ve been impressed as I watched him reinvent himself.

Rob Hann:
I started working as a photographer in 1993, shooting portraits for magazines and record companies. I was living in London and shot over 900 commissions. I have seven portraits in the permanent collection of The National Portrait Gallery.

In October 2001 I took my first photographic road trip in the US, shooting landscapes and portraits for my own pleasure. I moved to New York in 2003, continued to shoot editorial portraits, and took road trips whenever I could.

By the end of the decade work was very thin on the ground. I was still shooting but not enough. My credit card debt was getting out of control, I was struggling to pay the rent, and I couldn’t afford to go on the road with my camera. A Chelsea gallery was selling my road trip photographs but not enough for that income to be significant.

In August 2010, out of desperation, I decided to see if I could sell my road trip pictures on the street. I bought a small table and set up in SoHo. I had a selection of prints in 11×14” and 8×10” mats.

I thought I was saying goodbye to any aspirations I had in the art world. I was just hoping I might be able to make the rent.

I quickly found that I enjoyed being on the street, meeting people, and my prints were selling well. To my surprise I found that people did not disregard the work because I was selling on the street. Instead I found that if people saw work they thought was good it didn’t matter where that work was.

I hadn’t been on the street many weeks when the owner of nearby Clic Gallery stopped at my table and suggested selling larger, limited edition prints. Clic Gallery is actually more of a store than a classic art gallery and sells books and photography as well as a variety of cool and eclectic objects. Clic has been selling my prints sized from 20×24” to 50×60” in editions of 25 for the smaller prints, to editions of 6 for the largest. Some of the editions have sold out. The gallery is only a few blocks from my table in SoHo and I often send them clients looking for larger prints.

In the spring of 2013 I met the owner of a Stockholm gallery in SoHo. After initially buying a small print at my table he got in touch to buy a number of my large prints. In November the gallery gave me my first solo show and I travelled to Sweden for the opening. The Stockholm gallery is similar to a classic Chelsea gallery and is a little shy about me selling on the street so I haven’t mentioned the name here.

Other good things have come about from connections I’ve made on the street. My pictures will be in a book of landscape photography, being published by Thames and Hudson in September, alongside the work of Edward Burtynsky, David Maisel, and other great photographers.

I’m still on the street four days a week and on a really good day sell more than 30 prints.

I still get the occasional call to shoot a magazine portrait but now I turn them down. I enjoy being my own boss and shooting whatever I like.

What I’m doing won’t suit everyone’s temperament. I work long hours in very cold and very hot weather and I find it tiring. I’m lucky that my photographs appeal to a broad spectrum of people.

I rent a studio apartment in Manhattan but don’t have a mortgage, a car, or even a television, and I don’t have kids I have to put through college. I have cleared my credit card debt, can pay my rent, and am funding my ongoing road trips… and I’m still a photographer.

Rob Hann by Dan Cruz

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Julie Grahame

There Are 23 Comments On This Article.

  1. Trevor s

    Fantastic story. While I am just embarking on my photographic career, which your story scares me to some degree, I am strengthened by your ability to adapt. And, as you have shown, good work sells no matter the venue. Continued success to you. Cheers

  2. This has inspired me to re look at landscapes and selling my pictures. I taught myself photography through landscape and have moved into wedding and portait photography. Maybe I’ll get some of my landscapes printed and see how I do.

    Thanks

  3. I have been photographing for almost 30 years as a “serious” hobby… I have a stressful job that eats away at my nerves. Last year I went on a family road trip that included California, Nevada, Arizona, and Hawaii; the most remarkable part was a 4 day leg in Yosemite … During this trip I couldn’t dedicate as much time and concentration to taking photos as I wished I could, but Yosemite made me understand why Ansil Adams escaped the Great Depression to spend a few blissful years there… I highly recommend it if you still haven’t been.

    When I retire, I’ll set a table up a table right next to yours, my kids would be grown up, and I can give more time to photography… Maybe even have a daily challenge as to who sells more prints.

    Good luck… You’re an inspiration

  4. Very Interesting read, I see that you can adapt as a photographer to fit around the high and low points of your career (hobbie)

    Thanks for sharing your story.

  5. For nearly 21 years I have seen NYC street vendor photography for sale; always with a hired hand selling typical tourist candy images. all over the city they sell the same stuff. How can a real photographer get permits to set up a table? I thought the city had clamped down big time this.

    thanks and keep at it!
    jim
    http://www.differentwavelengths.com

    • BumbleBee

      What you are describing are the ‘picture mafias’, and the city SHOULD clamp down on them.

      • Really? That’s pretty incredible. Loved, loved reading your story. You’re living my dream. If I could, I would road trip all the time taking photos. If I see you on the street, I’ll say hi!

  6. I met Rob on the street last year and had a terrific talk with him. Still have his photo postcard on my inspiration wall!

  7. BumbleBee

    I sold my photographs on the street in NYC for about 12 years, off and on, in various locations, and it isn’t that simple – especially if you are a woman. You can get threatened and harassed by others who want your spot, or just don’t want you there at all. Picture mafia guys (ie; non-artist vendors selling often copyright infringed pictures) can come along and say you’re in their spot and demand you move, and if you don’t they will pick you up and move you. It is different for men. It doesn’t happen as much though I have heard a few stories. It was much better, years ago, when there was a permit program. That kept some of the misanthropes and picture mafias out of certain spots and made it easy for women to set up and sell their work without issues. But then some jerk sued the city claiming it infringed on his First Amendment Rights to get a permit and the judge didn’t know the game being played, and did away with permits (which had only cost $25 a month). That allowed the picture mafias to take over, pushing many artist out.

  8. Hi Rob,
    I would like to thank you for your story and for having ended with “… and I’m still a photographer.” :)
    You’ve all my respect!
    Have a nice stay Rob.

  9. Was pleasantly surprised to pass by Rob’s table a mere month ago and noticed that his work was different (good). Nice to know the story behind the lens. He was talking to some other people but was kind enough to pose for a quick shot. Good luck out there!

  10. Simon Gabbatiss

    A great story Robbie. Glad you are keeping your head above water! Kathy’s sister artist in Vancouver (Beaver Pond). Be good to see you some time
    Simon

  11. Very happy to hear how you managed to take your situation and turn it into something good. I would feel naked and scared out on the street like that. Fear of rejection I suppose. I like your work and hope I can meet you someday as I’ve decided to start collecting as well as shooting.