The Online Photographer

Check out our new site at www.theonlinephotographer.com!

Thursday, April 06, 2006

The COLLECTOR CONUNDRUM

Approximate percentage of full-time or near-full-time professional photographers who now shoot digitally: >90

Approximate percentage of contemporary prints sold by major auction houses that were made and/or printed digitally: <10


Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON

13 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm not too surprised that digital prints aren't a large part of the market yet. The technology is still so new. Collectors are notoriously conservative, and it will probably be a few years until they start purchasing digital prints from digital sources.

As for the argument, "well, it's digital - isn't it easy to make as many copies as you want?", I think that's no different than making as many traditional prints as one wants.

It's just a matter of time (maybe a few years) until collectors start buying more digital prints than traditional prints. It's really the same concept, just a newer technology.

I imagine a similar discussion around engravings happened a few centuries ago...

10:28 AM  
Blogger eolake said...

Also, the Auction House market, I think, is very much about old photographers, preferably dead.

11:24 AM  
Blogger Photo-essayist said...

Anonymous wrote: "I think that's [making digital copies] no different than making as many traditional prints as one wants." I think a lot of folks who have spent long days trying to make just a few comparable darkroom prints of quality will feel there is a difference.

No doubt digital will prevail in time, perhaps not so much because it's what collectors want as much as it's going to be what's offered.

If you look at prices for art photography, it's pretty obvious that older is generally more expensive. A factor in this is that photographs can be genuine relics (in the best sense of the word) from another time, akin to amber capturing former life. It's one of photography's central attractions. When it is the intention of the photographer to convey a scene in an authentic way, traditional photographs are less suspect. It's simply a lot more work to manipulate darkroom photographs. Whereas with digital, faking is dead easy. People have seen so many visual effects in movies and advertising and have heard of enough scandals in photojournalism that digital photographs are always a bit suspect (again if authenticity is an intention). A painter friend of mine--a lifelong fan of National Geographic--now questions every wildlife photograph he sees in that magazine. Once fooled, always suspicious.

If manipulation is intended, then we recognize the craftsmanship required in a darkroom approach. It takes a master to do it well. Comparable digital manipulation requires an eleven-year old.

Personally, I regret that high quality digital work is devalued by suspicion and by the widely advertised view that anyone can do it, since I am now exploring B&W digital prints. No doubt there's a big part of me that regrets the genie ever came out of the bottle.

11:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What percentage consisted of digital 2 years ago? Five years ago?

Your statistics, such as they are, imply a disconnect when the truth is that acceptable of digital as a collectible is grownig at an unprecented rate, certainly faster than did the introduction of, say, minimalism in the overall art market.

12:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

First, it's important to understand that photographic collections, both private and public (museums), are actually collections of photographic PRINTS. To that end, the wet print is still considered more of a 1-off work of art and craft than an ink jet print. Generally speaking, that prejudice is justified.

Second it's also important to realize that although auction houses garner great publicity they are the secondary channels for photo sales. They deal in resale of things that are already owned in collections and that have a degree of established financial value through scarcity and demand.

Third, and perhaps most important, the galleries of New York and London overwhelmingly represent the principal primary sales outlets for photography (and other arts) in the world. It is in these settings where the valuation of works begins. Gallery owners may appreciate what they represent but they are, first and foremost, merchants. They will not represent what they cannot sell for handsome margins. We are beginning to see more digital prints in galleries (even digital -err, I mean "giclee"- prints of film images) but it takes time.

One of the important components of this "collectible" photography circuit, and another reason why NY and London are world anchors, is the publishing industry. It can get to be a catch 22 circuit between galleries and publishing. Images that have been published as bodies of work are more attractive to galleries. But images that have been shown by prominent galleries are more attractive to publishers.

Museums also have a part in establishing collectibility of photography by showing and/or adding photographs to their permanent collections. Digital images are beginning to show up here but very slowly and cautiously. Curators are quite conservative and the photography budgets of art museums are often rather small.

The Association of International Photography Art Dealers (AIPAD http://www.aipad.com/) is perhaps the preeminent organization representing the fine art photographic market. AIPAD holds a show each year which is extremely well attended by dealers and curators around the world. This is a primary event where new works are introduced into the art world.

Mike's initial remark that > 90% of professional photographers now shoot exclusively or primarily digital is actually a bit misleading. This is certainly true of certain segments of photography that have been anchored by the 35mm format. It's also increasingly true of commercial work that has relied upon medium format imagery. But it's not accurate with respect to the core fine art photography world which remains anchored principally by large format cameras. This, too, will change but not until reasonably affordable larger format solutions become available and until photo schools begin adopting such systems.

Finally, digital photography HAS had an impact on the art photography world. It has increased collectors' demand for traditional photographic prints and, commensurately, inflated the resale value of such works. This past February saw a record price paid at auction for a photograph; nearly $3 mil. for Edward Steichen's 1904 "The Pond-Moonlight". (http://tinyurl.com/ogthm) This was more than double the previous record price of $1,248,000 set for a Richard Prince print just last November. (http://tinyurl.com/8l534) So the transition to digital photography has been terrific for collectors of traditional prints!

-K. Tanaka-

12:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't think I agree with photo-essayist when they said "If manipulation is intended, then we recognize the craftsmanship required in a darkroom approach. It takes a master to do it well. Comparable digital manipulation requires an eleven-year old."

The techniques are quite different between the darkroom and a program such as Photoshop, but the eye of the craftsman is the same. It's the end result that is important, and the craftmanship can be recognized. An inexperienced eleven-year old will produce equally poor results with either method. However, an advanced artist will produce superb results in their chosen medium.

But, like any new art form, there is a long period of acceptance of it as "serious" art. Just as traditional photography was sneered at for decades by visual art collectors as merely a technology whereby the unwashed masses could produce visual images, so is digital photography now. By analogy, digital is to traditional photography, as photography was to painting a century ago.

Upon looking at a photograph, I'm pretty sure that the phrase "that could have been done by an eleven-year old" was said by painters in 1906.

5:09 PM  
Anonymous Nathan said...

For the past 2+ years I have been working hard and giving away thousands of digital pix. 1 year ago I pronounced film dead and had fun with a little obituary for it. 1 month ago I ordered a $200 Rebel T2 35mm camera that would take all the EF lenses I already had. Now I finally have excited paying customers after just a few precious rolls. Everything makes partial sense to me ... sometimes. -N8

5:12 PM  
Anonymous Peter said...

I think we need to distinguish between creation, and reproduction.

Arguably it takes just as much skill to create a print using digital as it did in the darkroom. Certain things are definitely easier and more convenient, but there is still a serious amount of "learning your craft" and "paying your dues" required until you start getting results you're happy with. It's not a shortcut, it's really just a different skill set.

However when that print is done and in 1s and 0s on the hard drive you can print out as many copies as you want. I think this aspect of criticism(?) is probably justified. The cost of reproduction is greatly reduced. (That's the point really, IMO. It's not a bug, it's a feature.)

I've never been in a darkroom, but my understanding is that unless you're on a Lambda, Frontier, or something similar, every single "normal" print requires quite a bit of manual labor to achieve a result. If you screw it up, you're out the paper, chemicals and time. If, for whatever reason, I need another print of something I just click print and I'm done. Note I do have to make sure that I use the same paper, ink, and settings, and that the printer itself is in good condition. This reproduceability also is a great motivator to work that much harder to get it done right the first time, for pictures I really like. In the end though, when all the "work" is finished, it's all stored in those aforementioned 1s and 0s.

The guy from LensWork has a great essay on his website about this topic actually. pigmentonpaper

2:20 AM  
Blogger Steve said...

Look outside of photography for a moment. People always place a higher value on something hand made. It holds a special significance. A freind once purchased an intricate cork carving of an oak tree. He was so happy with his purchase he showed everyone he could. Then he discovered that the carving was made with a laser guided by a computer. Instantly he didnt want it anymore. The real value for him was in the (mistaken) knowledge that such a fine piece of art was created by hand. What would you value more, the real statue of David or a computer generated likeness?

Inkjets prints are fabulous and I have two printers myself. But personally I will always value a hand crafted wet print over an inkjet. People often make claims that digital printing is just another type of skill. I disagree. Photoshop is not so much a skill but rather knowledge. Once you learn how to use the program it is quite easy to make wonderful prints. In the darkroom I know what to do to make good prints but I dont have the SKILL to achieve it.

2:43 AM  
Blogger Photo-essayist said...

I agree with Anonymous about the eye of the craftsman regarding digital art photographs. But there is also a problem with public perception. Recently we had an infamous case of a published news photo from a combat photographer in Iraq that was doctored in the field within a few hours of digital capture. It was good enough to get past experienced photo editors. (And I'm sure that there are thousands of eleven-year olds who could have done a more sophisticated job working on their computers at home.) This kind of stuff makes people wary and spills over into the fine art world.

7:51 AM  
Anonymous Daniel Sroka said...

Photo-essayist said: "If manipulation is intended, then we recognize the craftsmanship required in a darkroom approach. It takes a master to do it well. Comparable digital manipulation requires an eleven-year old."

Here's my response.

9:15 AM  
Blogger Nils Jorgensen said...

A couple points here.

Firstly, the issue of manipulation is not limited to the digital medium alone. In the area of street photography for example, it is much easier, (and just as heinous a crime as any Photoshop manipulation), to simply stage a photo from the outset, and thus invalidate it's authenticity (within the terms of the genre) from the start.

Secondly, inkjets got off to a bad start in it's infancy, because prints faded. This is not the case any more, and indeed I would suggest that unless a B/W print has been rigorously processed, (to standards that I doubt all are) a print from a modern archival inkjet will outlast many conventionally produced images.

2:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am getting a little tired about technical & digital talk. If we spent the same effort thinking about creating photos, probably we would have some real progress in the medium, not just more pixels. Where is the revolution in content?

5:00 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home