by Mike McNamee Published 01/10/2011
In some ways, perhaps, the art world is still exacting its revenge on the cheeky upstart, 'photography', as it still struggles to find a place near the front seats in the art world. In terms of value, the price at auction is a determinant. Monochrome photography tends to outsell colour, rarity still counts for a lot, naked women still command high value. In a medium which can intrinsically generate 'copies', rarity can come from the absence of the original negative, the death of the printer, or the use of hand-made techniques such as platinum prints. Irving Penn's platinum prints were made, by him, in editions of one, two or three only. Now that he has also passed away, they command six-figure sums at auction. This, though, bears out Sergio Muscat's assertion (see later) that it is not normally the artist who benefits from fame, it is collectors, investors and auction houses. At the last two DePrury auctions, New York achieved an average of $22,000 (261 lots) and London an average of £7,700 (184 lots); a sex-themed auction of photographs realised an average of £5,909 (220 lots) in March 2010. Contemporary Art auctions realised 10 to 20 times this average around the same time, but 21st Century Art only averaged $4,600.
There are exceptions to this general trend of poor artisans, Ansel Adams managed to make a few bob while he was still alive, as has Helmut Newton. Bob Carlos Clarke also sold quite well. Even so, lesser known work from these people can be had for hundreds rather than thousands of pounds - more sought-after pieces, though, go up to around £10,000
Aside from this 'high-value- art' (sometimes too valuable to see the light of day), there exists a lower stratum of 'display art'. These images are intended to be hung in the home , hotel or business foyer and are intended to be enjoyed for the period of their display. They are often destroyed at the end of this time, especially if they have faded. Display art ranges from limited edition, numbered prints, through to mass-produced printed images (often famous ones) sold in IKEA, Homebase, CostCo and department stores. These images are bought because the purchaser likes them; they are an investment in pleasure for the period of their display and are not regarded as a monetary investment. In many instances the frame might outlast the print in terms of domestic use, although if the frame does not match a new home decor that too may find itself in the bin!
The artists' desire to create multiple images opens a potential income stream for the photographer. You have the equipment and the expertise to make prints, so why not do so for your local artists, who probably lack both. If you also have framing facilities as part of your portrait business then you might also provide a turnkey operation for artists. You are unlikely to become rich with this income stream, but it is likely that you can recover the investment on your printer. Artist and watercolour in, gallery-ready limited edition, framed prints out - simples!
Do not underestimate the skills at your disposal: setting up lights, measuring exposure, balancing colour, preparing an image in Photoshop and making a perfect print are things you may have spent a lifetime developing - they have intrinsic value! One problem here is that the artist may be talented but poor, cash-strapped, but time-rich. You may have to hack out a deal that takes time to mature and be creative with pricing and payment. One thing you might find to your advantage is lack of competition. Most galleries will tell you that only local scenes sell well, so if you are the only service provider in your area then you have the market cornered! Take time to get to know local artists and don't forget the Christmas, fine art card market.
This, then, is the fine art market from the photographer's point of view. It traces a path from mass-produced, printed posters through open edition prints, limited edition prints, hand finished (unique or rare) short run, limited edition prints (hand embellished with paint, gold leaf, hand-made prints using ancient techniques are all examples of short-run techniques). It finally reaches the stratosphere when things like hand-worked Polaroid prints from the likes of Andy Warhol are sold for mind blowing sums of money, despite that fact that they are not going to have even a hint of longevity! A problem with the latter route is that a spectacular death or fall from grace is almost a prerequisite for success and well-connected friends may also be required.
For this feature we have pulled together some features from our talented membership and asked them to emphasise any fine art aspects to their ventures; hopefully that gives an indication of the breadth of the topic! First though we look at the mechanics of the reproduction side of things.
There are 199 days to get ready for The Societies of Photographers Convention and Trade Show at The Novotel London West, Hammersmith ...
which starts on Wednesday 20th January 2021