Photography: An ever-growing popularity 
05-02-2011 18:58:50

Young and not-so-young generations in emerging countries are choosing to buy contemporary photographs, both modern and primitive. A gesture that is making prices go up!

By Hélios Molina - Translation : José Pietri-Odile Plettener

Only a decade ago, just a few dozen major collectors in Paris were concerned by the world of French photography. Demand from America has kept alive certain beautiful and great values of our country known for its primitive photography. France, one of the cradles of photography, recognized as an inexhaustible supplier of ancient and modern photographs has now reached its limits. One can far more easily identify epochs, artists and prices. Nowadays, this highly international and young market is opening up on several fronts thanks to the discoveries of wealthy collections. The big winner in this sector, still getting its bearings, is Central Europe. This is the new breeding ground being greatly exploited by European galleries for the last three or four years. Some names are a must. The Czech Joseph Sudek (1896-1945), blending together the art of light and objects, is a sure bet as well as famous names from this epoch in France. Likewise the Hungarians also have collections and fascinating artists (Angelo, Klara Langer, Imre Linszki, etc.). Nor does Germany forget its major post-war figure, Otto Steinert (1915-1977), with his "subjective approach", his portraits and views of Paris. But the photography boom has already, for quite some time, been buoyed up by the abiding splendor of American names such as Man Ray, Paul Strand, Diane Arbus, Edward Weston, Nan Goldin, Curtis (and his Indians), etc., pushing up the bidding to record-breaking levels. However, beware of reprints! A recent scandal concerning Man Ray's works revealed that some outrageously priced photographs were just reprints from the 70s. As for France, rich in the humanistic photography genre (1945-1980), the popularity rating is very real given the amount of publications, but the prices are not keeping up with their perceived esteem. The prices seem to be underestimated for the most well known, such as Doisneau, Ronis, Boubat, etc. As for Henri Cartier-Bresson, the most expensive among them, his works barely attain 8,000 Euros. Brassaï should be removed from this range since a recent sale at Drouot of a photograph by this artist took in 206,000 Euros. But nonetheless last year, photographs from "Paris la Nuit" (1932), by the same author, were sold for between 2,600 and 7,800 Euros. In this market there is apparently no specific established rule of prices. One of the first photojournalist around 1850, Felice Beato (1833-1907), a Venetian who acquired English nationality, did not attract any buyers in auctions despite very low prices. Nobody lifted their hand for portraits of Japanese from the early Meiji era, very rare photographs by Beato offered at only 1,600 Euros. Photojournalism is also a growing trend on the market and in galleries in the United States, Britain and France. It is not uncommon to find photos from reporting coverage on sale next to renowned artists. Impassioned future collectors can now focus on a single topic in order to avoid a scatter-shot approach. It is not about accumulating everything in total disorder, but about choosing between nudes, eroticism, travel photography, Orientalism, Surrealism, wedding photography, old trades, landscapes, sports, etc. And you will then realize that there is, in all countries since the early days of photography, an approach very similar to painting and a deep desire to bring these emulsions within the pantheon of art, sometimes successfully. And some photographs of genius cost no more than a few hundred Euros!




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