Sunday, December 6, 2009

Show & Tell, Version 1.01

"Life is a long lesson in humility." (James M. Barrie)

Some days I have to wonder about my sanity. Especially those days when I find myself in my booth, acting like an artist, selling photographs at arts and crafts shows. Thousand of people funnel through every show. Perfect strangers walk into my 10' by 10' world and take turns tossing compliments and insults at me. A lot of the comments are both amusing and confusing at the same time.

On balance, it's amazing what an artist endures at these shows. But we do this for a living. Some days, we also do this for fun. And having experience with both species, I'm here to tell you that people are way less predictable than grizzly bears. Some people in my booth speak of the sublime, which I don't deserve, while others seem oblivious to their rudeness, which I also don't deserve. Trapped in a 10-foot square, my mood gets batted around between mountain tops and sewer drains.

Below is a small collection of quotes that were said or overheard in our booth in just one month, November, 2009. Try a little taste of what people feed us at art shows. If you find yourself alternately laughing and scratching your head in bewilderment, then welcome to "mi vida loco."


"I'm one of those obnoxious people who likes to come look at things I can't afford."

"This is probably egotistical, but your talent is just amazing."

"Boy, you have a lot of luck with your camera." (Boy, just imagine if I had any skill, too.)

"I'm sorry my money's a mess. My mom says that's why my life's a mess."


'Elk Mist'"It's an elk," says the wife, exasperated with her apparently unrefined husband. "You want to hang it next to the Kramer picture? Maybe I should beat you more."

'Boys in the Choir'"So whud'ya do, smear your lens with worms to get all those fish to come up?" (You know, for some reason I never thought of that.)

'Leap of Faith'"It gives you hope that all things are possible."

"I'm glad I'm not a duck. I wouldn't be able to jump."

"I love it. I put it right by my bed. It makes me so happy to look at it."

"Look at the the ducks in the fence!" (Um, actually it's three images of the same tree, side-by-side. Sorta' thought that might be obvious.)

"What kind of crazy duck is that, a stupid duck?" I tell her, it's a Bufflehead. She replies, "A knucklehead?"


"Very nice" she says. "I'm impressed, and I don't say that very often." Her husband agrees, "No, she doesn't."

"Now, are these paintings or photographs?" They're all photographs, I say. "And then you paint them?" (Must. Not. Pull. Hair. Out. Must. Not. Pull...)

"I don't know what it is about your pictures, but they sure speak to me. We must march to the beat of the same nutty drummer." (And I thought I was the only one hearing those voices.)

"I rated your's the best work in the whole fair." (Blush slightly.)

"Did you see the guy over in aisle one? He's got some nice photos. You should go see." (Turn red slightly.)


'Moose Mom'"My dad tried to catch a baby moose, then the momma moose came out. My dad's an idiot."

'Avalanche Gorge'"Oh, so that's a real place?" (Yes. I don't show my photos of imaginary places to just anyone, ya' know.)

"That's so beautiful, it almost brings tears to my eyes," she says while staring at canvas print of Avalanche Gorge. Her friend chimes in, "When I build a house, I'm gonna' have walls." (Excellent idea, very practical.)

'Lake McDonald Pearls'

(I often have to explain how I stay awake all night, taking photographs at five-minute intervals to create moonbow photographs. After hearing my explanation,)

"Do you do anything else with your life?"

"Okay, there's smoke coming out of my ears."


"Now I feel either very inspired or very envious. I'm not sure which way to go."

"Your work is very literate. You say what you mean very clearly."

"These paintings look so real!" (Yep. I'm very literate, you know.)

"You've got an eye, you've really got an eye." (I've really got two, but that's just between you and I.)

"I took a picture of a photograph once that caught my eye." (He pulls out his cell phone to show me his copy of someone's copyrighted photo. Thanks for stealing, I think to myself.)


'Harrier Stare'
(Looking at my photo of a Northern Harrier -- a hawk.) "That's probably the owl that got my cat." (She leaves, and the next customer says,) "Probably a Great-horned Owl got her cat. Good for the owl."

'Wild Goose Moon & Stars'"Make that island a boat and you'd have so many men dreaming they were there," she says of one of my Wild Goose Island photos. "We have vivid imaginations."
'Eagle Talons'

"Up where we go fishin' we see two, three eagles at a time, but I've never seen five together before."


"There's a little bit of humor in your things." (Life's a funny thing.)

"You know how many boxes of unframed art I have?" (as she paws through unframed art).

"All the 'ews.' That's all we can say, 'Ew, ah, ew, ah.' Hahaha!"

"Talk to John," mother says to her 8-year-old son as she walks away.

"Do you have any room on your walls?" she asks her girlfriend, but then answers for her. "No, of course not."


'Raven'"You don't see too many crows," he says as a compliment, while admiring my Raven photograph. I just smile and say, thank you.

"He is just so handsome!" (I overhear her say. I rush out from behind the booth, much to my disappointment. Oh, you mean the Raven.)
'First Light'

I go into a long explanation of the technique of light painting, and how I used it to create my First Light image. He ponders for a bit, and then speaks his eureka! moment, "I've got a headlamp. I should try that sometime."

'Peaceful Lamb'"It captures a soul." (But I'll be happy to release it for a small ransom.)

"I love the peacefullness of the lamb because I need the peace in my life." (She walks away without the peace.)

"There's a sheep and lamb like we used to have. Can you smell them?" (Sorry. I probably shouldn't have eaten that burrito for lunch.)

"I'm sorry, but that photo is just precious." (I'm sorry, but I wish it was just irresistable instead.)


"Your last name is 'Fine'?" (No, but our business name is John Ashley Fine Art Photography.)

"I'm a, well, looking at these photos I wouldn't call myself a photographer."

"You take all these yourself?" Yes mam. "You just sit there forever?" Yes mam.

"You're from Montana? Oh, of course. Where else could you do this?" My thoughts exactly...



  1. Hilarious and frustrating. I'm so glad I quit doing craft and art shows years ago. I never got the quanitity of silly comments you did, but plenty of people with walls full of garage sale art that simply couldn't be replaced. My suggestion of such a henious act was met with a frown and prompt continuation of their show tour.

    Beautiful work, John!

  2. Gorgeous work John, simply gorgeous.

  3. Once, while I was selling prints at local fair, I got these two comments from different people: "if they are digital, they aren't real photographs" and "this flower print will look good in bathroom". Bathroom or living room is okay with me. No comment about the real photos.
    Art B

  4. The "do you do anything else with your life?" comment is really funny. It's good to know you can laugh about these. You have a big heart.

  5. Yup, heard most of these myself. Especially the painting questions, and the five eagles in a row.

  6. "Boy, you have a lot of luck with your camera." (Boy, just imagine if I had any skill, too.)

    This is the exact comment that I receive that drives me the most crazy. Um, yes, it's ALL about the camera. How bout I change the settings to "not-auto" and allow you to figure out the settings and then see if you thinks it's Just the camera that's awesome.

    Your photos are beautiful. And thanks for sharing these quotes.

  7. For all of you fellow photographers who have heard similar comments from customers, have a look at Aaron Johnston's "What the Duck?" photography comic strips at

    Cheers, John

  8. "Thanks for stealing, I think to myself." For a cell phone snap? I guess maybe you weren't being serious, but that sounds a bit harsh.

  9. Having just been up at Glacier for just a few days last this summer, it's been lovely seeing what else there is in store at the park. We definitely want to go back again; Maybe I'll look you up next time to see if you'd be willing to do a 1-on-1 thing.

    And of course, thanks for the humorous and even-tempered commentary on people...