Article was written by Kaspar M. Fleischmann,
Galerie Zur Stockeregg, Zürich
extract from the ‘Photography for Sale’ book, a project of CIRCLE-24.
1. Art and development - historical aspects
2. Methods of collecting
3. Specific problems in collecting art photography
4. The market and dealing art photography
1 Art and development - historical aspects
The camera obscura (darkroom) as a predecessor to the modern camera stems from the preindustrial era and is based on the principle that light emerging from a small opening and falling on an opposite wall in a darkroom portrays a picture of the outside world.
Aristoteles, the ancient Chinese and the scholarly Arabian Alhazen were aware of this and also Leonardo da Vinci advised: “One should hold a sheet of paper under the image in order to see all the objects outside the camera in their natural form and colours”. Early texts such as those of Professor Barbao of the University of Padua (1568), commended the camera obscura especially as an aid for drawing true to nature illustrations.
It was only in the 18th century, when it became portable and equipped with a lens instead of a hole, that the camera obscura attracted wider interest and ambitious sketching-artists were able to capture natural scenes with it.
It is no coincidence that realism simultaneously appeared in art painting in the West. The 19th century was not only the century of the birth of photography but also that of Jean-Babtiste Camille Corot and Gustave Courbet. With precise images of what they saw, they influenced impressionism which in turn occupied itself with such (photographic) details as locks of hair in the wind or the exact reproduction of a crumpled linen shirt.
Shortly after Talbot had discovered that images made with a camera obscura could be fixed on silver nitrate paper, Louis Daguerre discovered that they could also be made permanent on metal plates treated with iodine vapours. These new, hyper-realistic illustrations seemed to be perfect, timeless mirror-images and were considered to be miracles. Compared with the almost hazy photos of Niépce, daguerreotypes gave cause for Edgar Allan Poe's remarks in America: “This is a more absolute truth than the work of ordinary art”.
Along with Baudelaire, many of his contemporaries and countless more after him criticised the equalisation of photography with art painting. Pressing the release just activated a mechanism and could only be justified as a function which serves documentation and science, not as art. The medium was initially seen as objective and purely scientific. What Baudelaire could not have known at that time and what many art historians have ignored until recently -although this is of fundamental importance to understand photography- is the following: photography is originally a cultural phenomenon and was developed in the hands of cultivated ‘gentlemen-artists’ who clearly allowed themselves to be led by the same inspirations as the painters from the time before and after the Renaissance.
A technical and industrial use for the medium followed more than half a century after its birth when Eastman Kodak brought the first affordable amateur camera on to the market.
discoverers, theoreticians and users of photographs than as artists. Only in the following years did the artists widen their horizons and photography developed into an art medium. Photographs made by Gustave Le Gray, Edouard Denis Baldus, Warnod or Salzmann are entitled to stand in their own right and show no resemblance to their painting works.
After the birth of amateur photography (Kodak: “You release the shutter, we do the rest”) and due to the continuing pressure to constantly compare the two art forms, pictorialism came about around the turn of the century. The art photographers wanted, on the one hand, to separate themselves from the mediocre achievements of amateur photographers and, on the other hand, gain results which could be compared with the work of painters. Negatives, but also prints, were treated in such a way that a complete impression of painting could be achieved. Natural scenery and models were not only copied but also interpreted. Eventually, years later, the services of the genius Alfred Stieglitz were required to pull photography out of it’s a self-deluding impasse and bring it back to being an independent art form.
This misleading path of pictorialism was also abandoned in the 1850s by Henry Peach Robinson and Oscar Gustav Rejlander. Their pictorial photographs, which were made with photographic lenses, were less true to nature reproductions than the paintings of Monet and Manet who had reproduced minutely accurate illustrations of the retina. Julia Margaret
Cameron was one of the few who did not allow her work as a portrait photographer to be influenced and stayed with the original methods and whose models, such as Tennyson for example, had to sit for hours without moving under strong lights.
The mobility of cameras gave rise to travel and discovery photography. Francis Frith brought photographs from the Holy Land and Egypt to England, where the majority of people were now able to view pyramids and waterfalls for the first time.
Artists such as Carleton Watkins, Timothy O’Sullivan, William Henry Jackson and Edward Muybridge worked with enormous photographic plates and produced sweeping views of the west of America with marvellous reality. The documentary power of the medium surpassed all expectations. Despite having the same accuracy and honesty, the photographs of these artists differed as much from each other as the artists themselves. Watkin’s photographs of Yosemite are direct and dry, those by Muybridge are romantic and full of feeling, O’Sullivan’s landscapes are grandiose whilst Jackson’s photographs have a more anecdotal effect.
From 1890 to circa 1920 pictorialism in photography in the West was practised by both professional and interested amateur photographers in remarkably similar ways. New techniques such as the non-silver processes are typical of that era, not only to guarantee the tenability of the final print (by replacing the silver emulsion with pigment, platinum,
bromoil and rubber solutions) but also to give the photographers the possibility of unrestrained management and control of the tone values in photography. The photographs of Hugo Henneberg, Hans Watzek and Heinrich Kühn, who together formed the Vienna Trefoil, were so full of pictorial effects that the unsuspecting observer could be forgiven for
thinking they were reproductions of paintings. This photographic impressionism was advanced by the camera clubs which had become active throughout the world. They propagated this new style by means of exhibitions, portfolios and publications.
With the rise of photographically illustrated mass media in the 20th century, people were only then being confronted with the visual capabilities of photography, without the quality of the prints playing any part in the matter. The works of artists such as Henri Cartier-Bresson, Alfred Eisenstaedt and Brassaï were regularly to be found in magazines and books and they gained the significance of Cartier-Bresson’s ‘decisive moment’ which was thematic for the whole period. News travelled the world principally by means of photography.
Nevertheless, a few artists worked further on the qualitative, high-value ‘final prints’. Edward Weston photographed a bell pepper in such a direct and clear manner, that it took on an abstract effect and could no longer permit any objective criticism.
‘Group F/64’ and were dedicated to the use of the smallest diaphragm opening and the greatest detail reproduction and depth of field. Adams’ landscape prints, with a previously unattained tone reproduction and overwhelming visualisation and composition, received not only worldwide admiration but spurred politicians and environmentalists to uphold the conservation of natural landscapes.
Also, one Eugène Atget, who photographed Paris around the turn of the century, created a work of documentary value in a unique way. Taken early in the morning to eliminate disturbing movements, his photographs bear witness, in an almost surreal way, to streets without people and neighbourhoods with shop windows and richly detailed façades. The work of Atget and Weston begins with realism and ends with a mystical power of the engagement created by the artist’s own interpretation. Other artists tried to free photography from the mechanical by laying objects directly onto sensitive paper and under bright light, determining their contours on so-called ‘photograms’: Man Ray and Marcel Duchamp in Paris, but also László Moholy-Nagy from Bauhaus and one Anton Stankowski and the dadaist Erwin Blumenfeld used photography as a means of propagating their art and of applying methods such as ‘solarisation’ in an unprejudiced way.
For an inexperienced person, it is relatively simple to recognise photographs from such great artists. What is really much more difficult is to discover the subjectivity that is inherent in photography. Still, however cleverly concealed by trickery or aberration, the signature of the artist is always present, however difficult to read.
A contrast with the art of painting and graphics that is unique to photography is the direct credibility which emanates to the observer. This feeling for reality is always present, whether the photographer wished it or not and it compels the observer to almost believe what he sees. Whereas previously the photographer’s equipment was made up of
magical instruments and its products were exact reproductions of the world, today it has become a tool that is affordable to everyone, as familiar as a pencil or a typewriter. Everyone knows that the three dimensions of the world are defined by our eyes and cannot be realistically reduced onto a single surface by one lens. In the spirit of the industrial revolution, photographs were seen as ‘truthful’ windows on the world. Today, in the light of postmodernism
and in this period of hard and software, it should be more readily interpreted as a mirror of the world.
The time is ripe to understand photography for what it is: an instrument for personal interpretation in the same way as writing and painting. The many different styles prove that the medium does not limit itself to one manner or ideology. Photography has long since had its day as the most important medium of information; since the second world war television, video and satellites have taken over this role. Museums have opened their doors to photography throughout the whole world. Art critics and art collectors are interested in photography as an art form with historical and documentary importance and also, due to its new trends, is important as future development. What Baudelaire was most afraid of, has actually happened: although presently separated by clear differences such as art historical and developmental aspects, painting and photography as forms of art expression are being put on an equal par with each other.
Subjectivity begins in all art forms with personal choices and ends in many decisions; in photography, one has the choice of camera, film, diaphragm, exposure time, subject, lighting, location etc. The often uttered claim - the more simple the camera, the easier the photography is an incorrect conclusion. The task actually becomes more difficult if the equipment is too simple. Millions of people can draw and write but only a few excel above the rest with their achievements. Equally, millions of people take photographs every day and the number of photographs has become so great and of such a high quality, that barely a few photographers can become prominent. Today, we are living in a time where not only the perfect, high-quality print counts but equally, the perfect idea that stands behind it.
2. Methods of Collecting
The possibility of building up a good collection without having to invest enormous sums of money is, unlike any other area of art, still possible with photography today. A solid basis for collecting as well as a lasting interest seem guaranteed: all important museums in the world, many enterprises and institutes and countless people have made their own
collections; universities give lectures about the history of photography, in short everything indicates that photography is and shall remain a collectable item.
In photography, there are five different methods of collecting. Each method results in a collection which, as a whole, has much more visual impact than individual photographs which have been collected at random. The collector must always be aware, with all forms of collecting, that when choosing photographs he should allow himself to be led by his own personal feelings and strive for a high quality of prints.
The first method of collecting is thematic. This is a very rewarding variant, not only because practically every thinkable theme has been photographed but also because collecting photographs with the same theme allows the subjectivity of the various photographers to come beautifully to the fore.
In a theme collection, the choice of the period would naturally be dependent upon individual taste. This method shows the differences in mentality of artists of the time. Worthwhile collections are nudes, landscapes, trees, portraits, architecture and still-lives. At the same time such individual preferences can lead to a theme collection, for example; the surgeon who collects photographs of hands or fashion photographs for a textiles dealer. Something a little more pretentious is collecting from one style or period.
A collector may possibly be interested in the New Objectivism and photographs from the Bauhaus period or he may be interested in surrealists. He may perhaps be fascinated by the achievements of the pictorialists in their struggle for picturesque effects or by the grandmasters of so-called ‘straight photography’. Each of these styles offers the collector the great satisfaction of impassioned search and discovery. Even a whole period might interest him, such as the time between the two world wars or the 19th century. Or he might specialise in the period before the negative-positive process or the period thereafter. There are even collectors who only concentrate on a particular year because certain aspects of art history are of great significance to them. Others combine style with the era and collect for example only photo-collages from dadaists.
The collection of techniques in photography is the most pretentious method of collecting: it demands a great amount of specialist knowledge. An area of collection such as the nonsilver processes of the pictorialists is already being documented with one example of all known techniques. Since extremely fine nuances which were kept secret by the artist often come to light, the collector has to be intensively occupied with literature and carry on discussions with such specialists as museum curators, gallery owners and dealers. The necessary professional knowledge embraces the chemistry of the processes and the use of paper, which was often furnished with an emulsion by the artists themselves. Worthwhile collections of techniques may be as follows: the so-called silver and iron processes as a group; the non-silver processes as another; the work of the pictorialists and a few other techniques which could be summarised as the dichromate processes; the photo-mechanical techniques such as Woodburytype, collotype and photogravures as specialist areas. In such a way, colour techniques in photography can also be collected whereby one must take account of autochromes as well as hand-tinted photographs.
One area which stands alone is, of course, the positive process with daguerrotypes as the most famous. Whoever concentrates on techniques is, at the same time, collecting photographic art history.
The fourth possibility is collecting master prints. By this, one understands the photographs of grandmasters which are distinguishable by their first-class print quality but at the same time are typical and important examples of their entire work. Edward Weston’s ‘Shell’ is an excellent silver print and at the same time one of his most important photographs. Paul Strand’s ‘Wire Wheel’ is a typical work from his abstract period.
3. Specific Problems of Collecting Art Photography
Photography collectors must take distinct idiosyncrasies into account. Despite the fact that in most cases there is a negative available, one often talks about rarity in photography. With printing, there is always technically-speaking, a requirement to produce only one copy. With all other methods one must be aware that as a consequence of other mechanisms, rarity value is often created. The fact is, there was no organised market for trading art until the second world war. Printing photographs exist in the first place through an inner need to express oneself, they are artistic achievements, a search for identity and personal satisfaction. (Exceptions are prints for the mass media) Of the art print, for which the photographer finds the power of expression and print quality important, there are seldom many copies; the laboratory time is too expensive and after all, creative work with the camera is the only thing that matters! Prints which are produced by the artist at the time when negatives are originated are called ‘vintage’ prints in jargon terms: the image is immediately ‘harvested’ after being taken. The vintage print plays a prominent role in photography. Because actually taking the photographs and the work in the laboratory are so close to each other in terms of time, the subjective impressions, which still live in the photographer’s memory, influence the prints when he produces them personally. Serious collectors always make sure that their prints are ‘vintage’. If the artist again prints his negatives at a later juncture one talks about ‘later printed’ prints. If the photographer is elderly and still produces prints from his own negatives one calls these photographs ‘modern’ prints. An example is the aged Berenice Abbott from New York: her vintage prints date from the 1930s and are mostly contact copies in the negative format. Later she produced prints which she had enlarged to a completely other format and which had a totally different effect on more modern paper. Another example is Ansel Adams, who in the Sixties and Seventies printed particular photographs in great numbers. The difference in time since the experience becomes clear in very different ways in comparison with the vintage print. It was also Adams who talked about the negative as ‘score’ and the print as ‘performance’. This clearly shows that for the master from the 1920s the darkroom was of great importance. Here the negative was interpreted as a music score and could only be called a print after days of work. Whichever manner of printing was used, vintage prints all have one thing in common: the artist has made them himself. (With lithography the artist only has to be present when the plate is made; the printing can be done completely in his absence). This matter also influences the rarity of photographs. Apart from a few exceptions, it cannot be said of any of the great photographers that he has produced large print numbers, mostly there are just a few prints. The collector of art photography quickly recognises different prints: vintage prints carry the distinguishing marks of older paper with rich emulsions, density and where the tone values are more saturated; the years show themselves on both the front and rear sides of the paper, for example, light oxidations on the edge of silver prints, ageing processes etc. In addition, hand-written notes, identification marks, signatures, dates, stamps and so on, qualify the photograph as an early print. The collector can discover all such special details in voluminous reference books. A later print which is on modern paper naturally shows no signs of ageing and often has a reduced effect in tone values and density. (New kinds of paper have less silver in the emulsion than the older ones, a direct result of the silver prices.) ‘Modern’ prints are instantly recognisable for the collector. It is interesting to note in this connection that despite some record prices, no known falsification has ever been established. Modern prints from old negatives cannot be exchanged with vintage prints. Old paper cannot be stored without depreciating in quality. In order to judge vintage prints from the 19th century, thorough technical knowledge or the opinion of specialists is necessary. As well as the named differences, a collector must know a great deal about the artist to avoid surprises. For example, not every Atget print is vintage. Berenice Abbott, who discovered and saved Atget’s work in Paris, has also made prints from the original plates. These Atget prints have a totally different value on the market. As a result of Parkinson’s disease, Edward Weston could no longer work in the laboratory and asked his sons to make prints from his negatives. Thus there are now vintage Weston prints and prints which have been produced by Cole or Brett Weston. The vintage Weston prints are many times more
expensive. The serious collector also knows that there were a few great photographers who attached no value to printing
personally and delegated this work to others. Thus it is extremely difficult to find a vintage Cartier-Bresson or a vintage Jean-Jacques Henry Lartigue. He must also know which photographers only printed negatives earlier and later delegated this work. André Kertész and Bill Brandt belong to this group. There are also young, world-famous photographers who leave the laboratory work to others and only sign the perfect, high-quality prints, such as Robert Mapplethorpe. Ernst Haas made dye-transfer prints himself in the Fifties but later handed this work over to a specialist. Another thing the collector must know is that although Erwin Blumenfeld did his own laboratory work, he attached no value to the quality of the prints. He was keen to experiment and his prints fetched high prices, despite a lack of quality.
Constantin Brancusi simply kept his prints and they have remained in perfect condition to this day. In the 19th and early 20th-century signing photographs was more the exception than the rule. The collector must know, therefore, from which photographer a vintage print must definitely be signed, from which it makes no difference if there is a signature or not, and from which he should expect no signature. For example, Ansel Adams, Berenice Abbott and Irving Penn belong to the first group. With artists such as Heinrich Kühn or Eugene Atget other distinguishing marks show the authenticity (studio stamp, handwriting, chemical notes etc). With artists such as Albert Renger-Patzsch and Edward Steichen, one need not expect a signature. Albert Renger-Patzsch often enriched the back of prints with written statements. Edward Steichen immediately put his signature into the negative, if he signed it at all, to keep the prints intact. There are also cases where placing the signature was delegated. The famous photographer Paul Strand only signed a couple of his vintage prints because it was not the normal practice then. When friends later advised him to do so, he could no longer use his paralysed right arm. He authorised his wife Hazel and also Ann Kennedy to sign important vintage prints on his behalf. In well-known cases such as these, the market does not make any adjustment to the value of a print. The Market and
4. Dealing Art Photography
Since the second world war, the market for art photography has spread and organised throughout the whole world. The parties involved are galleries, dealers and auction houses. The price of photographs is determined by the following factors: quality of the print, scale and density of the tone values, (with colour photography: scale and saturation of the colours), reputation and importance of the artist, the place of the photograph in the compilation of the artist, the aesthetic merit of the composition, condition of the prints, authenticity, rarity, vintage, later or modern printing, origins of the print (history), signature, stamp, date, notes in the handwriting of the artist, in collections of museums and/or institutes, important exhibitions, price attained at auction in USA and Europe, prices in the galleries, trade prices, personal research and judgement. Generally, vintage prints fetch the highest price when selling. Prices depend upon the reputation of the artist and upon market demands. Paul Strand’s vintage prints lie between 30,000 and 170,000 and Ansel Adams’ vintage prints are between 10,000 and 30,000. The later prints from Ansel Adams can fall to 2,000: judging by these trends, it pays to buy the work of above-average, talented artists. Later and modern prints generally fetch lower prices, but here also the above-mentioned criteria are adhered to.
Since the market for art photography has already been functioning for years, the value of each artist has been determined. A collector would do well, however, to seek advice from serious specialists until he has sufficient professional knowledge to be able to weigh up all the factors. Photogravures from Camera Work, ‘limited editions portfolios’ have their own price mechanism. The majority of photographs from modern to classical presently fetch between 1,000 and 100,000.
With respect to handling photographs, the collector is acquainted with the professional care of his prints. Most importantly, never let your fingers come into contact with the surface of the print; hands are always greasy and often rather damp so that fingerprints can appear which are almost impossible to remove. If the surface of a print must be handled, whether for the restoration of visible damage or to refresh old prints, or even for retouching blemishes, the services of a professional, for example, a museum curator, are called upon. Photographs are stored in portfolio boxes or hung in frames. In both cases, they must always be mounted in acid-free passe-partouts so that their tenability is secured. Photographs should never be exposed to sunlight for long periods because the ultraviolet rays cause, as with all other things, fading to occur. Taking account of these ground rules leads to well-preserved photographs in the long term. One last point which is just as important for dealing: photographs are, like no other collectable item, easily transportable and timeless.
About Collecting PhotographsI n f o r m a t i o n s o u r c e s :
• Photograph’s: A Collectors Guide, by Richard Blodgett Ballantine Books, New York 
• The Photograph Collector’s Guide, by Lee D. Witkin en Barbara London
• The Gallery of World Photography, E P Dutton, Inc, New York 
booklet was part of a larger project “Photography for Sale”, from CIRCLE 24 -a worldwide foundation of professional photographers. This text © Kaspar Fleischmann, Stockeregg Gallery, Zürich, Switzerland. For more information please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or see what more we have to offer at our website: www.photography-for-sale.com
List of photographs:
portrait of Nicéphore Niépce (Wikipedia)
website of: Maison Nicéphore Niépce
'View from the Window at Le Gras'
Joseph Nicéphore Niépce circa 1826
Occhiomagico - Italy
size photograph 15 x 18 cm.
'Kiki, oh Kiki'
b/w print, signed and stamped
Publication: "Photography for Sale"
"Photographs: A Collector's Guide" ASIN : B000UDFG7Y
Publisher : Ballantine Books; First Edition (January 1, 1979)
ISBN-10 : 0345282728
ISBN-13 : 978-0345282729
6 years of famous Swiss CAMERA magazine edited by Allan Porter