There are multiple sources of photographic art, falling into one of two general categories although there will be some cross over from time to time. You have to keep in mind that for the artist there is a very big different between this two markets: Only when his work is sold at the primary market he/she actually earns money. If the work is sold at the secondary market he/she may not even learn about it...

Primary Market _ Term for the sources of art works initially sold to collectors, usually through galleries, dealers, and at artist's shows, the 'first sale' of a work of art. 
Secondary Market Term for sources of art works that have been sold before and are available again for sale in the market place.

The Primary Market

Primary markets are by definition the point of the first acquisition of a work of art. This is also the time when the price for the artwork is established for the first time. Primary market players are galleries, private dealers (Generally an individual without a display space regularly open to the public. They work by telephone, appointment, and most often with established clients.) and at times the artist themselves. In primary markets, prices are established by the artist as a condition of representation. All galleries who work with a contemporary photographer should be selling at the same price. 

There are some distinguishing marks which define a “good“ art dealer:

  • The reputable Art Dealer is 100% behind the work he/she is selling
  • Most reputable dealers have extensive libraries -many are art historians or collectors turned dealers.
  • Most reputable dealers are happy to educate, explain, and teach. They have a passion for the art they sell, and they want to communicate it. 
  • Reputable dealers will also give full condition reports, and will document fading, foxing or other condition problems

The Secondary Market

Secondary markets are by definition involved in the acquisition and sale of work that has been owned previously. Key players in secondary markets are auction houses, private dealers, and some galleries. 

The secondary market often establishes the market value of works of art at a point in time.

Prices on the secondary market can be pretty confusing: the internet is bringing more visibility, but because there are a lot of different factors that aren’t readily captured or noted, the internet is not bringing greater clarity. The key to remember is that while not all prints are the same, there are common factors that sellers use to establish the price. Those are: general market and economic conditions, image desirability and demand, image scarcity and supply, size, condition, period of printing, provenance, and image quality. 

For the works of deceased photographers,  the secondary market is not only critical in establishing prices, but sometimes the only source of original photographs. 

Auctions are public events, can be entertaining and exciting for bidders, and present a great opportunity to view and bid on multiple works of art at the same time. It is sometimes possible to get a good deal. Sometimes prices get pretty outrageous, so you have to exercise caution when bidding. One thing that some people are not aware of in bidding is that the hammer price is not the final price. At most auction houses, there is a buyer premium for 20-25%, which means if you bid $20,000 for a photograph, you aren’t picking it up until you pay the house $25,000.

Online Auctions are a relatively new phenomenon which one has to take with a pinch of salt. Buyers are taking a chance buying original prints from an online or independent seller. If the buyer recognizes that and is willing to take that chance, then it might be worth it. There are some points to consider when you are buying at an online auction:

  • Is the seller accurately representing the item? 
  • Is the seller accurately disclosing the condition? Damage can take the value all the way down to zero, if significant enough.
  • Is there an opportunity to return the item if not as described?
  • Is there a satisfactory recourse if it becomes necessary?

The Contemporary Art Market

There are typically four different areas in the contemporary art market and most dealers will sell art from one or more of these areas. They are:
  • The Reputable Print Market which covers both "emerging artists" and established artists.
  • The Avant-Garde - otherwise known as "emerging artists". 
  • The Established artist - This term covers artists whose work is well-known by the art-going public, and represented in both private and museum collections. 
  • The Contemporary Masters - This covers artists who are generally acknowledged to be important figures in the history of contemporary art.


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