Notable: Art And Photography In The Marketplace

In Article, Black and White Photography, Photo Print Collector on October 24, 2010 at 3:18 pm


Annie Leibovitz and her Demi Moore Vogue Portrait

In an article ostensibly about Annie Leibovitz and her failure to crossover into the art world and attendant revenue rewards, John Gapper in the Financial Times summarizes the “state of the state” for photography as an art medium today.

We have long held the powerful role of the marketplace in determining “great art” and this article hits square “on the money”. The role of galleries, auction houses, curators , collectors and critics is unmistakable … along with the qualities of uniqueness and rarity in defining a photograph as “a must have”. These are the RULES of the art world.

Prices in markets are set by supply and demand and the photography market is no exception. "If all of the stars were to align, you’d have an image that was a cultural product by a photographer who had entered the pantheon of art history and there would only be one print," says Holdeman.

That hardly ever happens because photographs were made to multiply – the point of the technology is that a negative can be reproduced. "Rarity is essential and it is something that photography does not naturally have," says Boloten. "You can print thousands of the things and a collector will ask: ‘Why am I paying a lot of money for a print when Picasso only painted one of each?’"

Photographers who are alive present a bigger challenge in terms of scarcity. At 61, Leibovitz has plenty of her career left and she is known as a prodigiously hard worker, constantly adding to her portfolio. Prices for work of photographers such as Ritts and Mapplethorpe increased in the years following their deaths because that placed an unambiguous limit on supply.

Galleries have tried to solve this through editioning – limiting the number of reproductions of a negative to 10 or 15 high-quality signed prints, preferably made just after the photograph was taken. The dealers who represent photographers and have exclusive rights to sell their prints have become experts in curbing the market’s tendency towards over-supply.

For more on this well thought out piece: Financial Times

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