9 p.m. Tuesday: I am happy to report I am no longer overwhelmed. In fact I'm completely caught up with the orders, and with all the bookkeeping. Despite not being good at that sort of detail work, I'm being very careful and checking everything twice. If you place an order, you will get a response from me within 12 hours at the most, and probably much sooner than that.
It's been a successful sale so far, with 79 TOP readers from 19 different countries each ordering between one and seven prints. Twenty-one people so far have taken us up on our offer of a free one. Ctein ordered four, and I intend to buy "News." (I already have several Turnleys. Incidentally, speaking of that, it occurred to me this morning that Peter is the only one of Voja's clients whose prints I can actually afford! And I can only afford his because of the sales we've done together here on TOP.)
As a small tease, if you are one of the many readers I've heard from without enough free cash at the moment to participate in this sale, you'll be in luck soon. Ctein is in the process of creating an "example print" to show off the very, very best print quality that a 12-MP Micro 4/3 file is capable of—the largest, most detailed, most perfect possible print. Because it's intended as a technical example and he wants to get them into your hands for informational purposes, he is planning to pare the cost down to as little as humanly possible. That print will be extremely affordable. And you might well like the picture, too—it's more than just a test shot.
Speaking of being able to afford Voja's prints, a little story. (I've told this before, so feel free to roll your eyes and shake your head and go get a beer.) When I lived in Washington, D.C., I would make a day trip to Manhattan three or four times a year to make a whirlwind tour of all the photo galleries (and I believe there were a lot more of them in the '80s than there are now). One of my regular trips was always to see the AIPAD show, which was originated by my friend Kathleen Ewing of the Kathleen Ewing Gallery, AIPAD's first director. (This year's show just concluded, a few days ago.) And at one of the AIPAD shows, there was a high, thin buzz going around the room high in the air—Josef Koudelka was actually selling prints for the first time. The rumor was that he'd gotten married and was actually living in a domicile, after years of being a true nomad, sleeping on friends' couches and in the hallways of Magnum between photographic journeys.
Robert Koch Gallery of San Francisco was showing the prints, and they were utterly gorgeous, among the very most beautiful photographic prints I had ever seen. The murmur was everywhere—the prints were being made by the mysterious, very private master printer in Paris who also did most of most of Henri Cartier-Bresson's prints. Very exclusive, too—he worked only for the best photographers in the world, a small, select group. I was not to know his actual name for years, but that was the first time I'd ever heard of Voja Mitrovic.
And the Koudelkas only cost twelve hundred dollars. And I had twelve hundred dollars. True, it was most of my net worth, but I lived very simply at that time and didn't have much need for money. I decided to do it. The choice was between two wonderful prints; this one:
And this one:
I looked and looked, but I couldn't decide. I walked around the hall and came back. Yea verily, I had my checkbook out, my pen poised. But I got cold feet in the end and decided to be "sensible," and not buy a print at all.
Very foolish. It would not be worth 100 times that today, but it would easily be worth more than ten times what it cost then. And I will never own one now.
Tyrannosaurus vs. stegosaurus
Forgive me for rambling, but I thought of something else to tell you. Remember a few days ago when we were looking for a missing issue of 35mm Photography for Jim Hughes? Doug Chadwick found a copy on eBay, and I purchased it, in a lot of six issues.
Well, the issues arrived yesterday. There was the one with Edouard Boubat and "Dave and Pete Turnley," "two teenagers" from Fort Wayne. But the article that fascinated me was in the Spring 1976 issue, included in the lot. Entitled "The Print Prospectors," and written by Jacob Deschin, and among other things chronicling the tyrannosaurus-stegosuarus struggle between Lee Witkin and Harry Lunn, two powerful competing dealers of the era (I got ignored by Harry a few times, I'll have you know), it warranted the following cover blurb: "WHY ARE PRINT PRICES SKYROCKETING? WE INVESTIGATE THE COLLECTING BOOM." In the article, on page after page, one photograph after another was held up as an example of those then-sky-high-priced prints—next to each picture, a dollar amount in huge, bold type.
An André Kertesz—
It was a whopping $600 for a Brassai or a Eugene Atget. In the stratosphere was a rare Daguerreotype of Edgar Allan Poe for $35,000, the value of which may not have changed much since then. But at the top of the real-world prices was Stieglitz's "The Steerage" and Diane Arbus's "Identical Twins" for $4,000 each. A lot of money in those days—about the price of a nice high-end Buick. For a lousy pic-cha? I can see why that would impress.
"The Steerage" would most probably crack the million mark if one were to come on the market today—but I'm just guessing. I wrote an article about that Arbus a while back, though, and looked into what a print would be worth, and an unsigned "Identical Twins" would go for somewhere within shouting distance of $400,000 now, I think. There's that factor of 100. A wee bit out of reach for most of us. Somebody, somewhere, is probably regretting that Buick and wishing they'd kept taking the bus.
This George Tice print, Two Amish Boys, Lancaster, Pa., is worth $1,200 now. In the "collecting boom" of '76 you could have picked it up for $75, according to Jacob Deschin's 35mm Photography article.
I'll never be a photography collector. I have a few nice things, and a few more interesting things, and a lot of things that have personal meaning to me, but not much that will go to even a modest museum when I shuffle off to Buffalo. But I should have bought a Koudelka when I had the chance. That fish slithered and slashed through the shallows and clean got away, dang it.
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Original contents copyright 2012 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.
Featured Comment by Juan Buhler: "Interesting that you mention those Koudelka photos in this context. When I took Peter's workshop in Paris in 2003 (the very first one he did!), and Voja came over to talk to us, the print of Koudelka's 'Romania, 1968,' the one with the horse, was one of the few he brought. He had two prints: one straight, 'as is' from the negative, and his final exhibition print. The difference was amazing: the tonality of the horse is incredible, the texture of the background wall makes you want to touch it. If I had any shreds of an idea that a good printer is not an artist, they went away when I saw that. It was one of the highlights of that week."
Featured Comment by John Camp: "I got relatively affluent in the early '90s, and had always been interested in buying some decent photographs. I talked to a museum curator who suggested that I go after the images I wanted, but that I buy the 'printed later' copies which were quite a bit cheaper than the vintage shots. The idea, he said, is to get photos you love, and not worry about the investment value. It turned out that the museum had another curator who would have told me the opposite—get the vintage stuff. But, I didn't talk to him.
"So, I bought a lot of prints that haven't increased much in value, although they're famous, or at least, famous among photographers. If I'd met the other guy first, I would have spent more money for the same images, but the values would have increased a lot.
"As a great philosopher once said, 'Oh well.'
"There are a couple of footnotes to this experience: one is that 'printed later' prints are often better than vintage prints, so maybe I got more out of them aesthetically than I would have if they'd been purchased as financial instruments. (Sob.) The other is, I did buy a beautiful Mapplethorpe flower, a big silver print. I have no idea of what it's worth now, but every once in a while I look at it and fantasize that it's worth a lot."
Featured Comment by Peter Turnley: "Your post today is wonderful. When I do my Paris workshops, Voja comes and shows my workshop participants what both of the Koudelka photographs you have posted look like with a simple exposure of a piece of fiber paper exposed one time in order to achieve the proper blacks with no burning and dodging. He then shows a final print of both of the photographs after his often half hour to one hour of burning and dodging required to achieve the look of the two photographs you've published in this post. Without fail, when the moment comes when he puts the two next to each other—the breath is literally taken away from all of the viewers in the room when they realize the contribution his printing makes to the final print. This is never meant to take any thing away from Koudelka's genius in making the photographs because Voja acknowledges of course that he couldn't make the prints without all of the necessary information on the negatives—and he always asks that if anyone photographs the scene that they not publish it. But, seeing this demonstration is a moment my workshop students will never forget!
"Viva Voja, and viva Koudelka—I am eternally inspired by Voja and his printing, and by Koudelka's photographs and his approach to life and photography."