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Friday, 18 December 2009


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With the number of photographers whose works are available for viewing/purchasing online being so great today and surely growing daily, might there eventually be a need for a digital variant of a gallery? A trusted/reputed site which curates a rotating collection of links to talented or desirable photographers? I already feel like it's a Herculean task to find talented artists of a specific type (ie - I had forgotten Don Worth's name, and was trying to find "that guy who shot those incredibly geometric, contrasty black and white photos of symmetrical succulent plants" and never could until I saw a shot of his in passing in a magazine ad).

I already feel like the immense population of the internet renders individual sites nearly anonymous - so how does a collector find an artist's site? And how does an artist garner a wider viewing audience?

This has been a very interesting couple of days on the Online Photographer's website.

Sidenote! There's a picture of a butt-naked girl eating a tangerine on the website "Joyful Nudes".

All fair points, the issue from the artist side is "eyeballs" (to use a hateful marketing expression I had to endure at a couple of meetings when I was still working in IT). My wife is a painter and has a website, but gets very few visitors other than people who already know her, bought from her, or those who picked up her flyer at her occasional exhibits.

The problem with web sites is that there are millions of them, so many in fact that browsing them is a monumental task. For a photographer to come to your (Calvin Amari's) attention is not easy. They need to either know what your interests are and hope that their e-mails to you don't get junked or that their keywords match your search criteria, assuming you even do such searches.

If, in the past, you dealt with gallery operators, they might see work that they might guess you'd be interested in. So, you had other people searching for you, in that sense. If we rely on the web, that "search" has to be done differently. My guess is that for the artist starting out, who isn't known, things are not much easier than they used to be. (Maybe it shouldn't be easy.) And that may also be true for the collector. Browsing thousands of web sites every day can't be that much fun, even they all used a "tenset".

What an intriguing post, Cal. Your suggestion that these website are setting up a paradigm shift in terms of collecting makes perfect sense. The internet has been around long enough--and has become a generally accepted source of information, commerce, and products--that items available online are no longer considered exotic, alternative, or otherwise "lesser" than what could be bought in a traditional outlet. Therefore, purchasing and collecting from websites can now be thought of as legitimate.

Furthermore, as you pointed out, these websites have created access. And that access, coupled with the acceptance of the internet, does set us up for some dynamic potential.

Cal Amari, I get it. Entering the world of amassing collections in solo fashion directly from the web is only as good as you are at assessing all the relevant factors that are normally handled by a gallery. The gallery owner who does this eight hours a day and manages to survive in this economy, usually, but not always, is better at it.

I wouldn't call it a paradigm shift, as this has been going on for some time, and most collectors putting in serious money usually have neither the time nor the inclination to do the footwork themselves.

From the point of view of collecting for personal enjoyment, one can't go wrong. Extend that to the investment or amassing an historically significant collection level, and the ice thins considerably. It will only be as good as you are, riskier, more adventurous and fun than going through the usual channels. Good luck.

--- Al

If your goal is financial appreciation of the collection, my guess is that this won't work very well; I have the feeling that the collecting community that runs prices up is mostly a closed shop.

On the other hand, if your goal is collecting photos that make you happy to look at, it should work excellently -- if your stomach is strong enough to look at the things you'll have to look at along the way to finding your gems. And you'll then have cool stuff that nobody else has.

Does "photography collector" mean "photography investor"? If a photography collector is just someone who enjoys photography, and wants to own original prints for enjoyment, then what does it matter what a gallery thinks of a photographer?

Unless you're looking to scalp some money from the purchase and resale of photographs it seems pretty simple to me: if you like a photograph, and collecting is your thing, you buy it.

Also you seem to imply that a photograph is less worthy of acquiring if you were to view and purchase it online instead of at a gallery, even seemingly going so far as to put it in a "special" online category. This seems very strange to me.

My experience is, if I see a print that I really like, and would consider owning, its usually expensive. The more I like it, the more it usually costs.

Most prints that are affordable I either don't like that much, or I'll look at it and figure I could produce that image myself.

The only prints I bought were from a young photographer who had a stall at a street festival, I think they were 2 8x10's with matting for $20 or $25. They were nice enough to appeal to my sense of aesthetics, and were equal to or better than would I could produce myself. I also have a Galen Rowell print that came free when I bought his book in the early 90's. I wonder if its worth anything now?

"Cal": The unwritten subtext of your article is capital appreciation. To that end, I'd have to recommend that the Internet is not a very good fishin' hole for such catches. I spend quite a bit of my time among the museum and collector worlds (which overlap), both of which still rely most heavily on the deeply inbred gallery/show circuits for assessing their arbitrary valuations. The Internet to these worlds serves rather like a bumper sticker, as it's such an un-vetted medium.

I have to agree with Player, and others; use the Internet to buy prints that you enjoy viewing. If some appreciate in financial value, terrific. But don't count on it.

Hard to imagine anyone completing a print purchase without holding it and viewing first. I can see ordering from the web, but only if there's an easy return policy. Part of the beauty (and value, if that's of any concern) of a print is in the print quality itself, not just the image appeal. This is particularly true of a fine b&w print.

As Jeffrey Goggin correctly states, one can never judge a jpeg web post from a well printed RAW file, let alone a well executed silver print. In fact, the print should look better than a web post...if the photographer is a skilled printer with the required tools.

I have purchased prints from galleries, dealers, auctions, shows and from fellow photographers...but never once without seeing it in person...and falling in love with the print itself. And, I've walked away from prints of some wonderful images, because the prints weren't worthy.

I have to agree with the comments about the massive task of winnowing the nut from the weed.

One very important "portal" or "pre-screening" resource would be the photography blogs, such as this one, conscientious, Mrs. Deane, etc, which do some of the work of bringing good work to the surface.

Once you find a blog or three that agree with your own taste, this might assist in purchasing. It may be that blogs generally move towards established and therefore bargain-free work, but I doubt it.

"My experience is, if I see a print that I really like, and would consider owning, its usually expensive. The more I like it, the more it usually costs." Brendan Gray

And that means that you're developing an eye -- and I don't think an 'eye' works on video screens. You have to be in the presence of the work to get the vibe from it. You just don't get the impact of a large photo/painting by looking at a 4x6 photo on a monitor. Monitors also have the effect of "flattening" art works; that is, they suppress the detail that distinguishes really good work from the mediocre.

My experience has been that I'll see a photo or art work in a magazine or even on the net that interests me; then I'll go look at an actual piece. Most of the time, I'm disappointed. If not, I may then go back to the net and look for a works by that specific artist. If I see a specific work that interests me, I'll start the process of trying to acquire it, if I can afford it.

I also think there is a difference between building a collection to put on your walls, and "collecting" in the sense of acquiring hundreds of photos to be filed and looked at occasionally. They are really different activities.


Is Calvin Almari talking about purchasing both digital and silver-based prints? Are they being priced the same way?

I would love to know the author's definition of " 'accidentally modernist' 19th century photography." Maybe the work of Carlotta Corpron or Bedrich Grunzweig?

Earlier this year the Art Institute of Chicago featured an exhibition called “Yousuf Karsh: Regarding Heroes”.


I attended this exhibition and was absolutely blown away by seeing the actual prints of portraits of Winston Churchill, Humphrey Bogart, Albert Einstein, Georgia O’Keefe etc. The show was comprised of 100 portraits, printed maybe 20” by 30”, and was a joy to behold.

Who will be the Yousuf Karsh, Ansel Adams, Annie Leibovitz etc. etc. of the future?

The collecting of photographs falls into three categories as I see it:

1.You buy a print because you like it.
2.You buy a print because you think that it will, over time, inflate in value.
3.You buy a print because you like it and believe it is a good investment. This is of course the best reason to purchase work by contemporary photographers.

Discerning what to buy is harder than ever. There has never been a time in human history when more really excellent images are being created. I’ve been interested in photography for over 40 years, but my commitment to photography has increased 100 fold since the birth of the digital age. I now have the ability to shot hundreds or thousands of images in an effort to get one that really sings… one that really moves people. I sure the masters of the past spent more time before pressing the shutter than we do now, and I’m not sure that the current situation is ideal, but it is real.

This fact of fearless and virtually free experimentation plus the ability to easily post-process my work has allowed me to create images I could only dream about 10 years ago. But this freedom has also cluttered the web with thousands and maybe millions of really fine photographs.

The work I saw by Yousuf Karsh was stunning. He was a master of the craft of photography. But his pictures are famous because of the subject matter they contain. There could well have been Karsh contemporaries who had mastered the craft equally as well but spent their time photographing their children or wives or local politicians or weddings but will never, ever be well known. Their work will never be “collectable”.

And so, I think that we should by pictures, either through galleries or on-line because WE LIKE THEM and because they MOVE US in some way. It’s way too soon to know which work, by which photographers will someday be famous and valuable.

There are so many really fine pictures being made every day that we have entered a time in which 15 minutes of fame is not a bad thing to aim for. Fifteen years, or one hundred years of fame will be enjoyed by very few… a very, very small percentage of an ever increasing number of serious photographers.

"3.You buy a print because you like it and believe it is a good investment. This is of course the best reason to purchase work by contemporary photographers."

I beg to differ. "Investment" is precisely the reason NOT buy it. If you want an investment, buy stocks or bonds.

Viewing art as an investment is exactly the reason fine art photography is in its current sad state and that most photographers, some of the very best, cannot even cover their costs for materials.

This is not your ordinary forum.

It's like someone saying, "Hey! HEY! Look over here! Here's something you haven't considered."

Thanks, Mike, and everybody.

Jeffrey Goggin and others: The point about print quality risk is well taken and, as you suggest, a review period to mitigate that risk plainly seems essential. I would hope that artists view this as reasonable and acceptable.

Alan Gee: I've certainly spent plenty of time helping galleries review submitted work. In general, I don't think most gallerists are more capable, but I agree that they have more time.

Mark Hobson: I agree with Mike that gateway sites are unlikely to be an adequate solution, but the underlying breadth of sites is undoubtedly a huge challenge. Not only must one cover a lot of territory, one must also somehow get comfortable to commit to purchases always knowing that far better options might be out there somewhere.

Dalton: "…visit: printsociety.com…." What have I ever done to you, Dalton? Just gauge my eyes out, why don't you? While there may well be worthwhile content somewhere on it, this site's equivalent of Mike's "tenset" is atrocious.

David Dyer-Bennet, Ken Tanaka and others: I don't quite understand how this so-called "unwritten subtext" of investment goals can be divined from what I wrote. Investment is never my collecting goal. While I've made a few investments with dealers, essentially helping them acquire "inventory," I've never in over 25 years of collecting sold a single item that has entered my collection. Space and mortality issues no doubt will bring a change to that policy someday, but it hasn't happened quite yet.

Player: "…You seem to imply that a photograph is less worthy of acquiring if you were to view and purchase it online instead of at a gallery, even seemingly going so far as to put it in a 'special' online category. This seems very strange to me."

I have hundreds of photos, in some cases hundreds within one of the individual categories I mentioned. Some curatorial organization is essential. I certainly wouldn't intend to locate a few dozen new acquisitions from websites among 19th Century photography of Spain. I could, of course, place these within the general grouping of miscellaneous contemporary photography, much but not all of which is institutionally pedigreed, and I may well do so. But I quite like the idea of a separate grouping. I envision other collectors, curators and dealers encountering this set of prints, and my aspiration is that they would have two reactions: (1) strong appreciation for the work individually and as a group and (2) rising disorientation about their complete inability to get a handle on the source of any of the work. This is not simple game of stump the expert. Rather, it is an exercise in trying to concretely demonstrate something that few would doubt—the institutional art world isn't skimming off all the crème de la crème.

I am another photographer selling my work directly from my website. I am starting to sell a decent number of photos, more than I ever did from galleries with their outrageous commissions and arrogant attitudes. The web is the best thing that ever happened for the arts. Its about time the old system, where everyone in the arts made money except the artist, was swept away.

The point by Mr. Goggin is a salient one, and represents the dichotomy between light emissive and light reflective technologies at the current stage of photography. The number of master printers of archival pigment ink, wide gamut technology, I can count on one hand, in the world (I am qualified merely as an outsider in this gentrified society, but I visit plenty of galleries and museums).

Digital photographers/printers of the modern era (post 2003) have had enough time to master either RAW workflow OR pigment archiveability, not both (in my estimation it takes @5-10 years for each skill set). And true archival pigment printers didn't arrive before 5 years ago. Hence, I don't believe I have ever met/seen a photographer/printer do both well.

I am not saying it is impossible to get a good print from someone online, but if you think about it, unless they have been experimenting with K3 inksets, or the $7000 HP printers, for years, the print you get from your online sources came from a piece of garbage printer with a conflated color space, and will likely have the archivability of an overripe orange.

It is therefore my humble opinion that true digital "color" archival printmaking, from a photographer who manages his/her own color corrected workflow, from RAW to Prophoto gamut print represents an investment of no less than $30000 USD and 5 years of your life (this was the approximate cost of my education from 2003-present).

Even if you chop that number in half due to advancements in technology and the proliferation of archival ink, you are still talking no more than a couple dozen photographers worldwide who can deliver in print form what you are seeing in your new "color space aware" browsers.

The rest, well, they simply don't have control of the whole process, even if they are using a master printmaker.

"And so, I think that we should by pictures, either through galleries or on-line because WE LIKE THEM and because they MOVE US in some way. It’s way too soon to know which work, by which photographers will someday be famous and valuable." Marvin G. Van Drunen

That, is so, to the point of art. Art isn't invested, archival, master printed, galleried, or vetted.



Those of us who sell silver-based prints on the web have the advantage of both a mature printing technology and the wide (potential) reach of the web.

Bob Keefer

yunfat: Yours seems a rather extreme view -- all but a tiny handful of people in the world would be able to produce nothing other than garbage prints. Accepting your premises, I gather I would face the same print quality issues purchasing from established galleries. I don't doubt that the print quality is likely to be the number one challenge beyond the sheer breadth of options, but I would hope that the soil I'd be tilling isn't quite so barren and unpromising.

At least one TOP participant has pressed his formidable mind into service on this issue and, in a sidebar discussion, suggested that, after I identify an image on an artist's site, I arrange to merely purchase the right to make one print of it, and then arrange for a master printer to work with the file, presumably exercising his or her own judgment about how to print it. I'm far from sold on that idea because I'm concerned about the artist not being involved in the print process, thus inserting meaningful separation between the artist and the print. It seems that I would be using the pool of artist websites almost as a type of sprawling stock photography outlet.

I'm I being too analog about this? Or would this approach be a win-win? Would artists feel comfortable with the arrangement?

And incidentally, assuming this approach is feasible, what --in percentage terms relative to the artist's stated price for a print-- would be a fair price for obtaining the right to have an artist's image printed once by a third party?

Much of this discussion presumes that the prints offered and selected would be digital. That's certainly likely, but it aint necessarily so.

Only in the midst of this discussion did I recall that I've once, and only once, ever purchased a print from an artist website. That was some years ago, well before TOP days when photographer websites offering prints were far more rare. I'd say that the was print I received met my expectations by a comfortable margin. Even if I wasn't so tickled with the print quality, I see that the artist's website says today what I recall it said back then: "If for any reason the print you get doesn't live up to your expectations, you can return it to me within 30 days, and I'll give you back all your money. No arguments, no hassles, no hidden clauses. Judging artwork by an on-line image is a chancy business, even when the images are as good as mine. I don't want anyone to feel dissatisfied."

If you google that text, you will find artist's site.

Perhaps the Signore could put some nickels and dimes in the kettle, too.

Buon Natale


This is a great idea for a couple of reasons. Almost alwasys, these "alternative art access" ideas, like some of the sites referenced here, are amatuerish in the extreme and refuse to screen out terrible art. They are all about making failed artists feel good about themselve. This effort isn't about open access at all. It's an individual collector, acting in a most EXCLUSIVE manner, leveraging the open access of the net. That is the only way to get impressive results. Those results have a far better chance of reflecting well about the possibilities of fine art on the net.

To CA:

Extreme is the definition of art, I have never found anything artistic in middling talent (unless, of course, it's my own).

Re your other idea about negotiating for a print you make yourself... it could never work because your idea hurts everyone involved, especially the photographer. Digital photography is pervasive because of the ease of its transferability, among other things.

Even if I could smash the computer the "master printer" was working on, and all it's hard drives, and blind him/her after their work was complete with the blunt end of a lenspen, how do I know he/she wasn't hacked wirelessly while my file was on their machine? ...A million dollars, first class tickets to anywhere in the world to vet the printer, NSA grads to scan for wireless incursions, and an Blentec Blender in four foot by six foot size so I can destroy all the equipment used to make the print, while I observed my art being printed... still wouldn't be enough.

You know why?

I just went from being an artist to a being a slave. Extreme enough?

Indeed, if I could say ONLY ONE thing to the kids viewing us now, it is this: never give your RAWs to anyone, even if they give you lots of candy.

Also, IANAL, but I have contracts for one time publication rights that have been as long as 16 pages, and which vary from country to country (Europe is pretty standardized, US, Asia (partly), but what if my buyer is from Sealand, or other places where US copyrights are ignored?). I would need a team of lawyers just to protect myself from the potential negative repercussions of your idea. I would be seeing posters of my photo in Shanghai bazaars (assuming I ever make a photo worthy of a Shanghai bazaar) before I could say the words: "who can I sue"?

BTW, the money back guarantee of my prints is for life, mine or yours (I live a little dangerously, fair warning), therefore I consider the artist guarantee you mention a little on the weak side, though you will have to pay the return shipping.

Bob K,

What is a silver-based print please? If you mean, to quote Henry Wilhelm:

Traditional black and white photographs have an image composed of pure metallic silver, which looks black because its very finely divided filamentary structure absorbs light instead of reflecting it.

then the distribution of your photos via the web to potential print customers discards the silver petina of your fine prints. You are ahead of the curve, but my photos will likely look better than yours on your clients monitors (my assumption is based upon your using film, which I understand, perhaps mistakenly, most silver prints come from), so I will likely get the sale instead of you, even though your print may be better.

You will never be able to produce the depth and sensuality of your print on even the most advanced wide gamut NEC and Eizo monitors. Technically speaking, you aren't giving customers a realistic appraisal of your work (even if you scan the print itself), because silver printing is the complete opposite of what a light emissive monitor, does. A grosser misrepresentation of a web image, in my eyes, than what I can produce with pigment inks, however brilliant your print may be.

Yunfat - What are you smoking?


Yes, it's true that my prints aren't as well represented as they could be by jpeg images on the web. Eventually, though, word will get out that my prints are nicer and I will sell more than you.... :)

Bob K

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