Art Photography must not be boring...

   Photographs have been collected since its innovation. As early as the 1850s photographs were sold by art galleries. In 1854  the first auction of photographs took place in London (although the first auction in the USA was only a century later). By the early 20th century photography was established as collectible (but the debate about „photography as art“ is still going on even today) and from the 1970th on we can find the market as we know it today.

  Seeing an investment potential can be a reason for collecting photographs but an increase in value is never guaranteed and is very much depending on what is called „art market“, which is following more or less the up and downs of the economy, reflecting every crisis (reflected e.g. in the downfall of auction prices in the 1990s or 2008).

   In my opinion aesthetic considerations are far more important. As already said before: Collect what you love. For a beginning concentrate on one specific theme, period, style or artist. Later on your collecting decisions may evolve and change when your knowledge increases. And with everything in life it very much depends on how much money you want (or can) spend...

   First of all I would suggest some reading. There are a lot of books about the „theory of photography“ (also imho most of them are more confusing than helpful). There are some „musts“ you should read: Susan Sontag‘s On Photography, Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography by Roland Barthes or Walter Benjamin‘s On Photography and The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. All these book my help you to get some background on the philosophical base of photography...

[This of course is not a complete list. There are quite a number of other aspects that have to be taken into account (such as storage, presentation, etc), with which I will deal in another post.]

• Artist
So you found a photography you like. Or you have heard about an „upcoming“ photographer who‘s work you like. Try to learn as much as possible about her/him. Many (established) photographers have written books about their work. 

Some examples of book by or about photographers. I personally can recommend each of it...
  Try to learn how they are thinking, what they have to tell you about their work, the ideas behind it. Look at their bios: do they exhibit regularly, is their work critically acclaimed? What is their place in the present market, the history of photography (although this are points to take into consideration when you are collecting as an investment only).

• Image
Most important thing: Do you love it? Or as the collector Arnold Crane stated: „I look for nothing [in a photograph]. It looks for me! It hits me first in the gut and then in the eye!“

All photographic materials are affected by physical, chemical and biological deteriorations. Photograph stability refers the ability of prints to remain visibly unchanged over periods of time. Different photographic processes yield varying degrees of stability. Most contemporary photographs are expected to be in a pristine condition. 19th century prints are often faded. Generally speaking on can say that, under optimal conditions, the durability of a (classic) barite paper is  about 100 years, of PE (polyethylene) papers about 30 years and color papers between 15 years and 30 years. A contemporary ink jet print could last, depending on the used paper and ink, between 60 to more than 200 years. 

The condition of a print has a big influence on the price. Ansel Adams famous picture Moonrise, Hernandez can vary between $0.00 and $600,000, depending on the condition. The latter price was achieved at auction for a 1948 vintage print with a clear and documented provenance in excellent condition. The current price for a late print in very good to excellent condition is $50-60,000. And the Ansel Adams Gallery reports about a print of Moonrise that looked like it had been a pinup in a machine shop, with heavy oil stains on the mount, smudges and scratches on the surface, that basically had zero value on the market.

In the 19th and 20th centuries, signing a photograph was the exception rather than the rule. More people were making photographs than buying them. it wasn‘t until the latter part of the 20th century, when the market for photography became a reality, that the practice of signing became more common.

 Existing prints, editions
Rarity can be an important factor for evaluation. Most contemporary artists are producing limited editions but prior to the 1980s most photographers did not limit their prints. Be also aware of how each image is limited. Sally Mann, for example, is doing her limited editions as 25 prints in the format of 20x24 inch, 25 prints in the format of 8x10 inch while reserving the right to produce yet another 25 in 16x20 inch, so you can never know haw many prints exist (without checking with the artist or her dealers).

This are only a few points that a novice collector should take into consideration. I will deal with some more in upcoming posts. So stay tuned. ;-)

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