Where to start collecting photos
One of the great twentieth century icons, the camera, put the power of
the media into the hands of the ordinary person. Similar to the motor
vehicle, people adapted to using a camera at their own pace, enthusiasm and
artistic talent - some used the camera like a taxi (something we have to endure
to get us there), some used it at work and showed us the world, some became
like a Formula 1 driver and realised that photography is a marriage of art and
Collecting photographs, like all things collectible, is a
matter of personal taste. If you're considering it as an investment in
art, then you could do worse - the prices are soaring for limited edition
prints by well known photographer artists.
Chances are you've already started collecting
photographs, even if they're pages cut from a magazine, a poster of a
famous image or photography books. The leap to collecting begins when
you're ready to go beyond the image to the work itself. The collector of
photography is concerned with three-dimensional works of art - particularly the
photographic print (though some collect original transparency slides - my own
collection numbers over 10,000)
Painting, by its nature, creates one-of-a-kind works - you're either lucky enough to own the original (if it's not already
in a museum) or you have to settle for a print. Photography
offers few originals (daguerreotypes
being a notable exception) but nearly every photograph is available to own -
for a price.
Like all fields of collecting, the cardinal rule is
to collect what you love. But I strongly recommend doing your research,
following the photography auctions and standing on the sidelines a while before
jumping into the fray. Many collectors begin with a desire to own a famous
work that they've long known and cherished.
These iconic images - such as Weegee's
The Critic or Diane
Arbus's haunting portrait, Identical Twins,
Roselle, N.J. -- are hotly pursued by collectors.
How to spot an
iconic image? One rule of thumb would be if it's widely available as a
poster, it's probably an icon.
Personally, I don't recommend starting out with a
wish list of the 100 most famous photographs. For one, you'll pay an
extraordinary premium to obtain these icons. But more importantly, the
familiarity of the images makes it more likely that you'll grow tired of
them in short order.
I suggest going beyond the icons and looking at the
entire oeuvre of great photographers. Owning any work by one of the
greats, such as Robert Frank or Edward
Weston, has its inherent
pleasures--even if your treasure may not be recognized at first glance by a visitor.
And, of course, there are thousands of photographers
working today whose work is available at entry-level prices. Collecting
the work of a budding artist is not only a great way to get in on the
ground floor before values take off, it's also a fine investment in the
Another avenue for the novice collector is to start
with photography books. Monographs have established their own value,
especially those printed in fine or limited editions and signed by the
The collector's market today encompasses
areas of photography that were overlooked until very recently. Travel,
fashion, industrial, advertising, news, stock photography - name an area
of photography and you'll probably find somebody collecting it. While the
best examples of work in any genre exhibit a high level of technical and
artistic skill, the anonymity of most works in these fields limits
generally their value.
One notable exception is photographs of
celebrities which have a value all their own, though not necessarily as
fine art photography, and are generally treated as memorabilia.
examples of photos that I've made that might be considered collectible in the
future include the Official Portrait of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II on the
occasion of her Golden Jubilee Banquet held at the Commonwealth Heads of
Government meeting in Coolum 2002 (the picture includes 54 Kings, Queens,
Presidents and Prime Ministers) and a photo session that I did with Australian
actor John Bell recreating a photo session between Hitler and his photographer
friend Heinrich Hoffman is also collectible because of its historical and
celebrity connotations and connections.
But of course these are a
matter of taste - what is you favorite theme that you're basing your collection
on? How are you showing your collection - on walls, projected, in a
portfolio case or a carte de visite folder, or are you publishing your
photos? Thinking about its end use helps you consider what type of photo
images to collect.
If you're considering a feature wall to display your
photos, consider the size of the prints - 8 inch x 10 inch is a standard size
for photographers and with some films the image becomes grainy if it is 'blown
up' any larger - 16" x 20" is acceptable and colour prints off
transparency looks great inside your home or office.
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