At the latest photo auction at "Westlicht" in Vienna one could find quite a lot of interresting photographs to collect (and actually for quite reasonable prices). Some of the photographs sold there are real "Icons", well know, often published pictures of famous events or made by (now) famous photographers. I highly recommend to bookmark the Westlicht auction house, they are hosting photo auctions and camera auctions twice a year and from the cataloges you can learn a lot about trends in collecting (e.g. it is quite interesting that some photographs by Henri Cartier-Bresson didn't find a buyer).

Here are some "Icons" from the November 2016 auction:

         JOE ROSENTHAL (1911–2006) Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima, 1945
      Vintage silver print, printed in the 1950s. 
              20,5 x 17,4 cm; Signed (the signature was added later) by the photographer in ink in the margin
Hammer price (Incl. buyer's premium): € 24.000

JEWGENI CHALDEJ (1917–1997) Soviet Flag over Reichstag, Berlin 1945
Gelatin silver prints, printed in the 1990s, 20,5 x 29 cm
Signed by the photographer in pencil on the reverse
Hammer price (Incl. buyer's premium) € 1.920

ALFRED EISENSTAEDT (1898–1995) ‘V-J Day Kiss in Times Square’, New York 1945
Gelatin silver print, printed in the 1970s, 31,8 x 22,8 cm
Signed by the photographer in ink in the margin, his “PHOTO BY ALFRED EISENSTAEDT” stamp on the reverse. PROVENANCE: Eisenstaedt Family Estate; the print was gifted by the photographer to a family friend, who later returned it to the family . 
Hammer price (Incl. buyer's premium) € 48.000

ELLIOTT ERWITT (* 1928) ‘The Kitchen Debate’ (Nikita Khrushchev, Richard Nixon), Moscow July 24th, 1959
Vintage silver print, 23,6 x 35,4 cm
Hammer price (Incl. buyer's premium) € 6.000

DENNIS STOCK (1928–2010) James Dean on Times Square, New York 1955
Gelatin silver print, printed in the 1960s, 35 x 23,5 cm
Photographer's agency stamp and handwritten neg. no. in ink and pencil on the reverse
Hammer price (Incl. buyer's premium) € 38.400

ROBERT CAPA (1913–1954) Leon Trotsky lecturing, Copenhagen 1932
Gelatin silver print, printed in 1964, 22,2 x 34 cm
Photographer’s agency stamp, “IMAGES OF WAR - 1964” publication stamp and handwritten neg. no. in pencil on the reverse. 
Hammer price (Incl. buyer's premium) € 2.280
Capa's first ever publishe photograph...



Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former. 
[Albert Einstein]

What we have: A photograph of a potato, titled Potato #345. Made by "celebrity photographer" Kevin Abosch. In my opinion quite a bad photograph, technical and in a creative manner. This photograph was sold recently for $1.08 million. Is a photograph of a potato worth a million dollars? That’s not for you or me to decide, ultimately. It’s for the buyer. But it is a prime example how crazy the art market can go from time to time (not to talk about collectors) - the art market has been operating at borderline insanity levels, price-wise, for decades. Or, as one commentator stated: "It's what happens when the inmates are in charge of the asylum".

The One-Million-Dollar-Potato

Kevin Abosch is not the first photographer making pictures of vegetables. Actually every student of photography has to do such exercises in his first term at art college. Great photographers like Edward Weston made a lot of them (though not of potatoes). You can get one of his famous Pepper #30 vintage prints for around $15,000 at the moment. But ok, it only took Weston 30 tries to get his famous photo. Potato #345 is the result of an order of magnitude more effort. But just imagine the collection of really good photographs you could put together for $1.08 Million...

Pepper #30 by Edward Weston
Maybe the buyer of Potato #345 was convinced by the profound philosophical thoughts of the „artist“: "[...] potato as a proxy for the ontological study of the human experience. I see commonalities between humans and potatoes that speak to our relationship as individuals within a collective species ... Generally, the life of the harvested potato is violent and taken for granted." If so that would at least proof that Einstein was right...

Potatoes #1 by Chris deMatté

The whole story is, for me as an artist, not very funny. Others found at least some comical aspects in this story: In a comment somebody noted: "I'm just disappointed the potato photo wasn't an autochrome*. And just wondering: can one distill vodka from autochrome prints?"

* Autochromes, an early color process developed by the Lumière brothers in France, were made using potato starch.



So you have found some old photo books on the attic or a bought one cheap at a flea market? Take a closer look and do some research. You may have hit a gold pot...

These days, photo books are seen as collector items in the art world, whether hardback or a zine, no book is completely overlooked by the market. Photo books are a special, unique way of curating a body of work and owning a physical object (not too distant from a physical print – which in many ways is superior to an image rendered on a computer screen).

Think of a photo book as a concentrated mini portfolio or exhibition which is able to capture and convey a story, era, location and which can coin artistic trends in a single object. It can arguably be said that some photo books represent some photographers’ finest works. And collecting photo books can be a profitable endeavor too. Even if you just buy new books, you can build a valuable collection in a relatively short amount of time if you choose wisely — photography books don't take a hundred years to become rare and valuable. Some can become so in as little as five or ten years; in twenty or thirty years, most good photography monographs will have satisfied the definition of a collectable book: "worth more used than it sold for new."

Some leads for starting a photo book collection:
  • Try to buy first editions and look for books that are signed.

It is crucial to look for the nicest possible copies. Books in inferior condition (unless exceedingly rare), don't hold value. 
And if you buy books you genuinely like (I wouldn't counsel doing anything but!), it doesn't matter if they increase in value or not...

There are some varying ways to look for collectibles. If you have a lot of money to spent you best start at the big auction houses. Most of them have photo book auctions twice a year or so. But don‘t forget that there is real money to spent. Lately a signed early edition of Henri Cartier-Bresson's The Decisive Moment sold for $19,800, a signed early edition of Robert Frank's influential photo book The Americans for $62,300. At the moment there are a few copies of this same book offered by rare book sellers in a price range of $12,750 to $75,000 (plus $10 for shipping). So if you want to collect photo books just for profit this might be your choice...

A  photo book worth up to $75,000...

But there are other (more reasonable) ways to start a collection:

Look for small edition like the  

One Picture Books by Nazraeli Publishing 

Made in editions of five hundred, each book is sixteen pages, the last of which has an original signed and numbered print. Nazraeli publishes four One Picture books each spring and fall, keeping a thoughtful balance between established photographers and unpublished, lesser-known artists. Nazraeli uses a structured pricing system for the series. Upon release, each One Picture book is offered for forty dollars to subscribers; as the edition progresses, the price steadily increases, usually capping at a hundred and fifty dollars. Even so, One Picture books remain one of the most affordable ways to collect books and original prints of this caliber: after an edition sells out on the Nazraeli site, it can be often be found on bookseller and auction sites for upwards of $1,000.

A spread of Michael Kenna's One Picture Book

Until now they have published 92 volumes - if you had subscribed you would have paid $3,680. If you didn‘t subscribe you still can get the set of 92 books at some rare book galleries and seller - for the price of $9,950...

The One Picture Book series will end at its 100th title in 2016, and will begin anew (in a slightly revised format) shortly thereafter. Maybe an opportunity for starting a collection?

Buy self-published books from emerging photographers

Self-publishing is a growing market. As it gets more and more easier (and cheaper) to produce a book in a limited edition the potential of self-publishing is widely used by photographers nowadays. And it offers a great opportunity to own unique examples of really good art...

One of earliest example of a self-published photo book is Edward Ruscha‘s Twenty-Six Gasoline Stations published by National Excelsior Press (Ruscha’s own imprint) in a run of 400 copies in 1963 originally sold for $3.50. Now the cheapest available copy on is $17,500...

In 2012 Cristina De Middel self-published her book „The Afronauts“ with a print-run of only 1000 copies and a a price of $50. That copies are now so sought after  that they will exchange hands for $1,500...

I highly recommend starting a photo book collection if the idea appeals to you. It can deepen your knowledge of, and your enjoyment of, photography; it can express your personal taste; and it can be fun. Even if you buy no more than a dozen well-chosen books a year, in a decade or two you will have gathered a respectable, and probably valuable, collection.



"...there should be some discrimination and selection based on quality rather than novelty".

Landscape, Untitled #3



Something special...
(Fenway Park, Boston, MA, 2012)

   One of my projects for 2016 is an exclusive offer for the readers of my blog(s). At first I was planning to do a "Print of the Month" offering but then I decided to offer you an exclusive portfolio instead. A portfolio with twelve fine art photographs, exclusively done for this portfolio in a very limited edition of twelve portfolios (plus three artist's copies). Every month throughout the year I will choose on of my photographs to be included into the portfolio - and it will be not a photograph done for one of my other projects but one solely made for this portfolio. I don't yet know in which direction my work will drift but I can assure you that I will keep the highest standards (you can see some of my work at my website and on my photoblog). And at the end collecting fine art photographs has a lot to do with trusting too...

So this is my offer to you: 

Limited Portfolio Edition (in an edition of twelve plus three artist's copies) consisting of:

        • Twelve Fine Art Giclée Prints exclusively done for this portfolio
        • picture size (appr.) 21 x 27 cm, matted to 40 x 50 cm
        • numbered, dated and signed in recto
        • Certificate of Authenticity in verso
        • in a clamshell portfolio box, numbered and signed

The portfolio will be finished in December 2016 and delivered end of 2016. The price for one portfolio is € 1,200,- (including shipping) with a downpayment when ordering of € 300,-.

If you want more informations about this project or want to purchase on of this exclusive artwork please contact me at info[at]innerlightgallery.org.

A Happy New Year to all of you. Hope to hear from you soon ;-)
Chris DeMatté