‘It’s apparently easier to sell a $30 million Picasso than a Henri Cartier-Bresson for 8,000 euros these days’.
This statement by Johannes Faber, an Austrian dealer specialising in modern photography, is based on recent results in the market.
On 15 May in New York the 1939 ‘Portrait of Dora Maar’ sold at Christie’s for $35 million; the same auction where a late portrait of a woman (1953) by Picasso achieved $30 million.
It’s also the week that Photo London opened at Somerset House in London’s West End, a fair that Johannes Faber has participated in since the very outset 3 years ago.
His stand is a rapid summary of the modern art market, a domain with many opportunities for anyone with even a little bit of common sense.
Johannes Faber is the only person in his field in Vienna and takes part in all the major fairs, including Paris Photo, which he says is the most important event in the category. ‘
Ten years ago the market for modern photography enthusiasts was more extensive. Since then demand has fallen off due to the crisis…
Newcomers want large-format colour photos. Images that they can hang on their walls.’
For the photography collector market remains an eminently technical field. Paper quality, format, and print date (prints from in the same era as the negative confers ‘vintage’ status) are factors that influence the value of the works on offer.
‘People with in-depth knowledge of photography are increasingly scarce,’ adds the dealer.
At his Photo London stand is a trove of photographic treasures.
His most expensive image, possibly the most expensive at the fair, is an icon of 20th century photography: ‘Movement Study’. This large-format image from 1925 is by the Austrian Rudolf Koppitz (1884-1936) who shot to fame with this portrait of a naked woman, arching backwards, standing in front of a group of black toga-wearing women.
The record at auction for this photo, 136,000 euros, was set in 2001.
Johannes Faber sold a small format print from this movement study to the Neue Galerie in New York, the museum owned by Ronald Lauder, during Tefaf Maastricht in 2015 for 360,000 euros.
But the vintage print presented at Photo London, the largest in existence (57.8×47.3cm) is offered again for 360,000 euros.
The photography market places a premium on famous images.
A lesser-known vintage photo of a dancer from 1930 also by Koppitz is on same stand for 6,500 euros.
The Austrian dealer pays honour to the Brits with a graceful vintage portrait in black-and-white of the Queen’s sister Princess Margaret from 1967. It was taken by her then-husband, Lord Snowdon (1930-2017) and is on sale for 4,700 euros.
One of the great international heroes of modern photography is Frenchman Henri Cartier-Bresson (1908-2004) to whom the Pompidou Centre dedicated a retrospective in 2013.
Cartier-Bresson himself was not a stickler for his own vintage prints. At Johannes Faber a delightful image by him showing a couple of elderly characters on holiday in 1947 in Atlantic City has an 8,500-euro asking price.
The last known image of the painter Pierre Bonnard, yet another vintage, by Cartier-Bresson in 1944 is on sale for 32,000 euros.
The singer Elton John, whose extraordinary collection is currently on display at the Tate Modern, is a perfect illustration of the wisdom of collecting modern photography.
In the antique photo category, Photo London also offers a high quality selection.
The renowned English dealer Robert Hershkowitz, for example, is selling a seascape at Sète, a variation on one of the 19th century’s legendary images by Gustave Le Gray (1820-1884), taken in 1857 (price: £110,000). An impressionist vision before the movement blossomed.
In 1999 ‘The Great Wave, Sète’ was bought by the now-deceased Qatari sheikh Saud Al Thani for the equivalent of 793,000 euros, the record price paid for a photograph at the time.
Michael Benson, co-founder of Photo London alongside Fariba Farshad is targeting photo audiences from across the board, including the contemporary art crowd. ‘London is a natural platform for contemporary work,’ he asserts.
Decorative large formats and shocking images of celebrities are in abundance at Photo London too.
The fair is still in its infancy.
And this year Photo London puts the spotlight on multidisciplinary american bright artist Taryn Simon who’s been selected as this year’s ‘Master of Photography’.
Here she explains ‘Image Atlas’, a work she’s exhibiting at Photo London made in 2012 with the web activist Aaron Swartz, who died in 2013.
It illustrates how word and image associations vary from country to country.
Photo London. Until 21 May. http://photolondon.org