"Hello, I would like an art photo"



5 minutes reading

A painting or photo to hang in your home. Nowadays people are looking at both with a buyer’s eye. The Dutch market for contemporary art photography has become mature, people are saying. But how do you go about it when you want to buy an art photo? Where should you go and what price should you pay?

Collectors of photography working in the 1970s had gold in their hands. A wide supply, few competitors and very low prices in comparison to works that are sold or auctioned nowadays. This lucrative trade did not remain unnoticed, and as a result the market collapsed in the mid eighties. The price of a photo from the 19th or 20th century rocketed sky-high. And it is still uncertain when the end of this price rise will come. Art price, a French art database, raised its prices for antique prints with 150 percent between 1998 and 2003. Prices for contemporary photography rose 60 percent in the same period, while the value of 20th century photography remained stable. Dated figures, says Adriaan van der Have of Torch Gallery in Amsterdam: "Our people are doing better". For instance, he has been selling work by the German photographer Loretta Lux (1969), which between 2000 and 2003 rose no less than 450 percent, a price the average buyer simply cannot afford. 

Occasional buyers 
With regard to prices, auctions are not much different from the better class of galleries. There you can really get what you want if you bring 2500 euros. To chip a little off the price, collector Josje Janse buys her photos, mostly old ones, at international auctioneer’s firms, which lowers the price with around 20 percent. “I don’t spend money on something for its beauty alone. My children should benefit from it too.” Fortunately there is also a market for people who occasionally buy photographs. Places where you can purchase magnificent prints for less than 1000 euros. For instance, at the online photo auction for the Asian tsunami victims, many photos were sold for a couple of hundreds of euros. A trend that the photo stock agency Hollandse Hoogte will soon be catering to with its own gallery. Offering photos that are in the news at a fairly affordable price, simply because there is demand for that sort of thing. And at the Nederlands Fotomuseum in Rotterdam you can order a print of almost every negative in the collection, which comprises the legacy of over a hundred Dutch photographers such as Cas Oorthuys of Ata Kando. To give an indication: for a 25 x 20 cm print you pay 270 euros and for a postersize print of 1.5 x 1 metres you pay 840 euros. But make sure you know what you are looking for, because the archive contains literally millions of negatives.

A photo or an art photo. What is the big difference between the two, besides the price? And what is a vintage? “A vintage photo is a print made by the photographer personally or under the photographer’s authority, as soon as possible after the negative came into being,” explains Willem Diepraam, photographer, collector and the only licensed assessor in the Netherlands. Collectors usually buy a print belonging to a series of five, each of them numbered and signed by the maker.According to Edie Peters (Photoq.nl), such limited editions are a pitfall for people who want something of stable value hanging above the couch. “The negative, or in case of digital photos the property right, always remains with the photographer. This means that there is no 100% guarantee that the number of existing copies will never increase.” 

In other words, a limited edition is based on a gentlemen’s agreement, something that the small Dutch art world keep a close watch on. A buyer may also ask for a certificate, but this still does not rule out the possibility that one more print of a different size will be made. And then there is the problem of durability, the discoloration of photos known in collectors’ jargon as the wedding disease. Flip Bool, head of collections of the Nederlands Fotomuseum, tells us that an expensive Rineke Dijkstra will be “discoloured in 25 years time”. That’s why buyers should use their eyes instead of their ears, which only tell them what they are supposed to like, he thinks. They should go to the Instituut voor Concrete Materie (ICM) in Haarlem, for instance, an old smithy converted to an antique photography dealer. Here you find an enormous collection of different photos, ranged by subject such as industrialrevolutions, corporate photography, family albums, random snapshots but also vintage prints. Prices start at 15 euros to a little over 1000. The most popular among photographers and artists is the huge nameless archive. Naples seen by Georgio Sommer or affordable photos from Bechers, commissioned by Stork, which are otherwise rather expensive. Buy a series, put a frame around them and you are fixed up for 250 euros, says ICM founder and art historian Frido Troost. The good thing is that there is very little chance that you will find a second one elsewhere.

Hype or no hype?
The question of course is how long photography will be booming in the Netherlands. Or is it really a hype? Opinions vary in this respect. The market for photography is on its last legs, according to Rotterdam gallery owner Cokkie Snoei. She tells us that artists from the former Eastern bloc countries are the best-selling artists of this moment. “Peopleare beginning to look at art more conservatively and mostly want to play it safe.” Not at all, says Lex Daniëls, of the Amsterdam-based Reflex New Art Gallery founded in 2003. According to him photography has a solid place in contemporary art. “We are on the brink of great developments with continuously rising prices.” A prediction that could well see ICM laughing all the way to the bank.