THE PRINT MARKET
Every photographer wants to sell their work. Every gallerist wants to sell photographer’s work. But it is so much easier said than done. And yet, at the high end of the photography market, the Gursky’s and Sherman’s of this world sell for millions of dollars.
This talk was an informal discussion about the print sales market, between Chair Jeffrey Boloten, Managing Director of Artinsight, Zelda Cheatle, London based gallerist, and WM Hunt, US based collector, curator and photographic consultant. A match made in heaven; the speakers knew one another well and there was healthy, light hearted banter, but it proved invaluable to have a trans Atlantic perspective; one which, as the talk went on, was evidently a key issue in this topic of the print market.
Jeffrey Boloten started with a little run through of the art market at present, and photography’s place within it. It seems that, after a little lull at the end of last year, sales are on the up again and the photography market is more buoyant than that of the general art market. The photography market has evolved over the years to include prints not originally made to sell; fashion photography, reportage, photographs documenting performance artists and installations are now all equally sought after as art in their own right. This is an interesting development, given that prior to this the market was predominantly made up of fine art photography, made to sell. But here’s the thing, and was pointed out by Cheatle; dedicated photography galleries don’t sell photography. Photography only sells in art galleries. And this is the crux of the matter for me. Working in a dedicated photography gallery, I have experienced this first hand; Photofusion struggles to sell prints. Someone in the audience made the point that dedicated photography galleries often show more reportage based work, and of course there is place for that kind of gallery and for photographers to get that kind of exposure (later on, Hunt did admit it was hard to sell reportage stuff; people don’t want to live with that kind of thing on their walls). But as Cheatle pointed out; look at the new Saatchi show, Out of Focus. All of the photographers in that exhibition are represented by art galleries; they (along with Cindy Sherman and Andreas Gursky who sell at the top end) consider themselves artists who use photography. They are not photographers.
In saying this, Cheatle confirmed something that I had been thinking about for a while. I remember bumping into James Hyman at the London Art Fair, where he was exhibiting paintings, and I asked him why he wasn’t exhibiting photography. He said he takes photography to Paris Photo, and takes it to fairs in New York, but it just doesn’t sell in London. His theory was based in the history of photography; in France photography had been picked up by the Surrealists as an art form in the 1920’s, and from then on was accepted as art. In the US, the beautifully crafted prints of Edward Steichen and Ansel Adams were quickly accepted as art; in contrast, the UK had documentary magazines such as Picture Post and the point of photography was very much as a documentary tool. This theory makes a lot of sense to me, and I put it to the panel. The response I got was that the people who buy prints in Paris Photo are German and Italian (not French!); and yet they did agree that the buzz surrounding the event in Paris is huge, and amongst everyone, collectors and non-collectors alike. That didn’t happen in the short run of Photo London, and I remain convinced that the reason for this is that photography is more ingrained in their psyche as an art form. It is still true that New York leads the world in the marketing of photography as art, although new art markets are springing up in Russia, India, China and the Middle East.
Talk then moved onto the subject of the quality of prints, and the fact that longevity of digital prints is suspect. Hunt is convinced they won’t last, and I thought it interesting that the Director of Harman Technologies, who was sat in the front row, didn’t make a sound to contradict him. So what happens when a digital print, bought at a high end auction, does fade? Hunt recounted the story of the fading Gursky hung in Tate Modern; apparently it is the dealer’s responsibility to re-print if such a thing happens. This then raises a lot of questions; Is it the same print? Does it have the same value? The feeling did seem to be that analogue prints were better quality (apart from when they’re not fixed properly, as in the case of Hunt’s Arbus which he sold to an unsuspecting dealer in Dubai!). And then of course the big editioning question. It was refreshing to hear Zelda Cheatle’s take on it; she sees editioning as a marketing tool, which actually doesn’t mean a thing. A print made now is going to be different to a print of the same image made in ten years time, or even tomorrow. Which makes editioning irrelevant; it’s only there because dealers like the idea of rarity.
The talk was incredibly insightful, with experienced speakers who were great storytellers and made this potentially dry subject a lot of fun. However, all of this chat was very much geared towards the high end photography market, and although Jen Bekman’s 20×200 online gallery initiative was given a brief nod, there was not a great deal of talk about the lower end of the market. Which I think is a shame, because let’s face it, most of the people in the audience won’t be selling their work at millions of dollars. After all, they consider themselves photographers, not artists.
Written by Carole Evans