Building a good photography collection is an art in itself. Whether it is an amateur or professional collection, historical and technical knowledge is advisable. As photography is attracting broader and younger audien- ces, Laura Noble (UK, 1974) thought it was high time for a new informative document on the subject. Her book The Art of Collecting Photography offers all the insights you need to safely dive deeper into photography.
Laura, your reason for producing The Art of Collecting Photography. Please tell.
Working at a photographic gallery I find that I’m often asked questions which seem quite obvious, but are not to the general public who – if better informed – would start purchasing photography much sooner with some basic knowledge. When AVA approached me to write the book I jumped at the opportunity to pass on my enthusiasm for photography and collecting to others.
Which person or group were you thinking when composing the book?
I had all groups in mind, from the novice to the more advanced collector. Primarily, I envisage it as a guide to help those who may have bought a few photographs but have yet to acquire a more in depth knowledge about the medium and would like to know more of the technicalities of collecting. The basic tools for further research and knowledge are all there from editioning to storage and conservation.
What kind of prior knowledge do you need to understand The Art of Collecting Photography?
Very little really - just a passion for the medium and a keenness to learn more! The key to col- lecting is to look and look again. As with any- thing, the more you work at, it the more you enjoy it, and most people buy for this reason above any financial considerations.
Can you tell something about the way you’ve worked building your own collection?
I wouldn’t call it work, more of an addiction. Once you start it is hard to give up. I do my research if there is something I have my eye on and always ensure I have a chance to see it in the flesh. Often it is through happy accident that I come across something at a photography fair or in an exhibition and of course through my work a lot of photographers’ come to me with portfolios and books. Books are essential and another com- pulsive passion of mine. I have a wish list, which keeps growing as time goes by and the more work I see the longer it becomes.
From which point did you start collecting?
First came the books and then speaking to others who collect and realising how simple it is to buy art with the right knowledge. My first purchase was a John Kippin print that I paid for in instalments.
What’s the satisfying element for you to collect photographs?
Where do I start? The day after I took my Kippin print home, he came into the gallery by chance. Meeting him was a thrill and really made the whole process much more satisfying. I do love finding the right place to hang something if I haven’t already a spot in mind or just discove- ring something new about a work the longer you have it, whether it’s a minute detail or just the presence it brings to a room. It is wonderful when friends and family take an interest and get joy from them too. The great thing about buying living photographers’ work is that you are helping them to keep making work. The idea of patronage may seem like an old fashioned one but it should be encouraged when the talent is there.
Your favourites. Are you talking individual photographers or more a genre?
There are far too many to mention them all. Walker Evans, Laslo Moholy-Nagy, Nan Goldin, William Eggleston, Daido Moriyama, Dorethea Lange and Weegee to mention a few. I have little obsessions with certain things. For example the weather, rain in particular and planes keep cree- ping into my collection. The former is perhaps a pretty universal subject, the latter rather crept up on me unawares! Found photography is also quite a passion of mine, the mystery of the auteur makes the work and story behind the photo- graph all the more intriguing.
Where did you obtain your knowledge?
My knowledge for the genre began early, as my father is an enthusiastic photographer. I studied fine art both in the UK and Australia. First came the books and the exhibitions and then the fairs and auction houses. By observing first and doing my research it has become an enjoyable and of- ten instinctual process. Talking to other collectors really helps for picking up tips and advice.
Is it necessary to know every detail? Photography is about being amazed, isn’t it?
If you are talking about technical details, this depends. Yes the initial amazement is very important, but if you intend to buy the work you need to make sure that you are buying the best that you can within your budget. The quality of prints can vary so it is always better to get the best print possible. The more I learn the more I enjoy photography in all its forms.
Is there a particular reason why photography is becoming a steady player on the art market?
Certainly it is a relatively recent medium – at least in the collectors market - in which a lot of interesting new work is being made at quite af- fordable prices. The buoyancy at the affordable end continues to stimulate the higher end of the market, where photographers such as Gursky are reaching quite astonishing prices. There are many other connected factors that have driven the rise of collectable Photography – such as it’s universal qualities, it’s approachable nature to many people who would otherwise be intimi- dated by purchasing artwork and it’s ability to crossover into so many genres.
What kind of recommendation would you give to starting collectors?
Ask questions. Buy what you love and it will give you pleasure for a lifetime. Don’t just buy the first thing that you see. Go to lots of different galleries and ask questions. A good dealer will be helpful and keen to give you options. Before purchasing anything take a day or two to think it over. Most galleries will let you do this whilst reserving something. If there is a particular photographer that you are interested in get the best possible print you can. If you can invest in a vintage print, all the better, but do set yourself a budget and stick to it. It is so easy to get carried away and if you are at an auction house this is especially important. Of course, a good book on the subject is always useful!
Laura Noble is a working artist and writer. She has exhibited in the UK and Australia and regularly writes for various photographic journals including London Independent Photography, Image Magazine, Next Level, Eyemazing. She worked at The Photographers’ Gallery in London, and consults emerging photographers with portfolio reviews and encourages new collectors to invest in the fine work available today.