“You’re kidding, right?” Reflections on photo booths at Saturday Market

I enjoy the Anchorage Downtown Market, also known as Saturday Market.  Sure, it’s a little crowded on a gorgeous, sunny day, but then again, the same can be said for most public places in Anchorage.  We really love our sun, especially if we haven’t seen it in a few weeks.  The last time I had a booth there was in 2009, when I was promoting my “Icons of Alaska” series for the 50th Anniversary of Alaska statehood.  But I keep going back to check the produce, have some fine Alaskan eats, and, most especially, check out what the competition is up to.

A key to any successful business is to do good market research.  One of the important components of that research is to know what is available from other businesses in the market, and what the price point is of their products.  For any photographer who wants to know what the Anchorage market is offering, Saturday Market is a prime location to do some solid market research. 

On any given weekend, you can see at least six photographers with booths set up at the market.  When I was there on Saturday, there were at least eight.  I only took the time to visit six of them, but what I saw led to some surprises. 

Two of the photographers with booths there were selling some pretty old inventory with no new images.  One had a range from 1995-2001, with one 2005 print and one 2011 print.  Another, a wildlife photographer, had an inventory that was shot entirely with film.  (If you have a trained eye, you can spot a film original from a digital original.)  No serious wildlife photographer has been shooting film since about 2004.  Unless you are selling particular prints that have generated tens of thousands of dollars each in sales, I cannot imagine why you would keep such an old inventory on hand without incorporating some new images. 

Many of the photographers also stuck to the same subjects, over and over again.  Bears, bears, bears, with some moose and the occasional wolf.  The wildlife photos were mostly closeup portaits with little or no indication of habitat or interaction with other wildlife.  The locations were the standards: Denali, Denali, and Denali.

The most shocking experience was with one particular photographer who had a print of a brown bear sow with four cubs.  Although a sow with four cubs is rare according to Wild Mammals of North America, even measured as a likelihood of 0.9 percent by research in The Candian Field-Naturalist, the fact that he had captured the image was not shocking.  What surprised me was his assertion that he was “the only photographer in Alaska” with an image of a sow with quadruplets.  I thought that was a rather bold statement to make, unless he had checked around and confirmed that.  Given the proliferation of “wildlife photographers” in the digital age, I thought that would be hard to do. 

In all reality, all he needed to do was a little market research of his own using the other photographer booths that were set up at the Saturday Market.  When I stopped by the Siciliano Photography booth, the husband and wife team of Robert and Candice Siciliano, I was perusing the many new images that Robert had in stock, including a striking image of a brown bear sow with her four cubs that he had recently captured at Katmai.  The image can be found in the Siciliano’s Newest Releases gallery.  (I have since seen that same image decorating the side of one of Anchorage’s hotel shuttle buses.)  I told him of my encounter with the other photographer, and he chuckled. 

There are a few standouts at the market who, along with the Sicilianos, are worth mentioning.  Todd Salat, one of Alaska’s premiere aurora borealis photographers, was there with his usually stunning and attractively-displayed selection of aurora images going back over the last decade and more.  Unlike the other photographers with the aging inventory, Todd’s work included both new images from the March 2012 aurora storms but stunning, vibrant and dramatic images going back for years.  John Schweider is perhaps one of the more versatile photographers, offering a landscape and wildlife inventory that ranges from the Arctic National Widlife Refuge to the Anchorage area and on down to Lake Clark National Park.

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