The Steady Rise Of Fine Art Photography
To say, "I told you so," would be a little bit out of line but I've been watching this market (for obvious reasons) and I've noted it's growth. When I saw this article, I knew I wanted to share it with all of you.
So, what should you take from this article by Kathryn Tully? Photography is ART and it is an appreciating investment when you collect from the right artists (like me 🙃). In this budding age of this art form, the artists you invest in are ones most likely to create a body of work that yields dividends in not only love and inspiration but cash value.
This week, ArtTactic published a survey that showed that confidence in the modern and contemporary photography market is up by 9.2% since May, with the biggest increase in confidence at top end of the market, for photos priced over $100,000. Some 92% of experts surveyed thought that prices for modern photography are likely to rise in the next six months, while 34% thought that prices in contemporary photography would go up and 66% thought they would remain at current levels.
Historically, prices for fine art photography have tended to be much lower than those fetched by artists working in other mediums, but that seems to be changing for some parts of this market, albeit pretty slowly. "Prices are definitely creeping up, but it's not a steep curve, more of a gradual slope," says Ben Burdett, owner of ATLAS gallery, a London fine art photography gallery that has helped to build the photography collections of people such as Elton John and institutions such as the National Museum of Qatar and is currently exhibiting at Art Basel Miami Beach.
His assessment is that most years, a new auction record is set for the highest price paid for any photograph, while new auction records for the most coveted artists are set every one to two years, but that prices even for the hottest photographic artists are still pretty reasonable. "Compared to the fine art world, it's cheap. It's easy to buy a major name in the hundreds of thousands of dollars."
"Great art is great art," he said, "whatever the medium."
ATLAS focuses on classic and modern twentieth-century vintage photography, photo journalism and fashion photography, but also represents a selection of contemporary photographers, whose work the gallery bought to the fair. "We're selling a lot of the work of Nick Brandt here. He's a young artist, but his composition is very traditional. We're also seeing a lot of interest in more conceptual photography, such as the late 20th century photogram artists like Floris Neusüss. In a sense, they are close to fine art as they are not reproducible."
He says there's a relatively short list of really hot names in the photography market that consistently do well at auction, such as earlier twentieth century photographers like Richard Avedon and Irvin Penn, Helmut Newton, and living artists such as Cindy Sherman and Andreas Gursky. A 1999 Andreas Gursky work, Rhein II, holds the record for the most expensive photograph to be sold at auction after it fetched $4.3 million at Christie's in November last year. "At auction, you see the same names, and indeed the same images by those photographers, sell again and again. People feel more comfortable joining a party where everyone is already having a good time."
What he does see, though, is an adjustment taking place in the way that photography and its value is perceived and says there's much more of an overlap today between modern and contemporary photography and the broader modern and contemporary art market. "Some contemporary photographers such as Cindy Sherman and Andreas Gursky have escaped that definition. They are just seen as contemporary artists." Still, those artists still sell for lower prices than contemporary artists of a similar age and reputation working in other medium.
Big museums are also giving much more attention to fine art photography, which is certainly increasing its exposure. The Metropolitan Museum is currently showing Faking It, an exhibition devoted to the history of manipulated photography before the digital age, while in London, The National Gallery has just opened Seduced by Art, its first major photography exhibition, looking at how part and present photographers employ fine art traditions.
Burdett says that exposure is boasting demand from collectors; demand that is now global, not just concentrated in the US or Europe. He adds that the public are being introduced to new photographers too. "A lot of mid-twentieth century photographers such as Lisette Model are only just being explored in museum collections, so consequently they are receiving a lot more attention," he says. "We've seen a huge increase in people that want to become serious collectors of photography and get into this market quite deep. Photography is a language that everyone can understand."
But can the gap between fine art photography and the rest of the fine art market ever be fully closed? Arthur Goldberg, a major US collector of contemporary photography for the last 40 years, said that it was up to history to decide if there should be equality between the two when he spoke at the Artelligence conference in New York a few months back. However, he thought that buying photography was a real opportunity to own great art at a lower price. "Great art is great art," he said, "whatever the medium."