Everything you need to know from how to start to what to buy.
Photography is one of the most exciting, accessible and rapidly evolving of contemporary art forms, with an unparalleled position and influence in today’s world.
Whether you’re interested in building a collection, or just want to buy a single work, the photographic landscape offers something for everyone, whatever your interests, level of knowledge or budget.
Since the 1980s, the market for, and status of, Photography has been steadily growing - not least due to the creation of dedicated exhibition spaces like The Photographers’ Gallery - who have done much to elevate the medium’s reputation as an art form and to engage audiences with its ability to encompass a range of genres and styles.
The Photographers’ Gallery has over 40 years experience of listening to and advising both individual and corporate collectors. Our dedicated team can offer a comprehensive service from finding work that you will love to investment advice, building a collection, shipping and installation. We also advise businesses on building a corporate collection.
Beyond our own representations, we can also source and help negotiate the purchase of works from any photographer or collection on behalf of a collector.
Major museums and galleries across the world now have extensive photography collections and stage solo and group photography exhibitions as a matter of course; International Photo Fairs and festivals such as Paris Photo, Photo London, AIPAD and Rencontres d'Arles, are increasingly popular with both seasoned collectors as well as new enthusiasts, and prestigious prizes such as the Deutsche Borse Photography Foundation Prize and Prix Pictet have also done much to enhance Photography’s status and appeal.
As an investment, collecting Photography is an extremely attractive prospect. Over the last twenty years, Photography’s price index has more than doubled, with recent analysis showing that Photography sales up by 54% since 2000. However, despite the fact that there are a large number of photographers whose works sell for millions of pounds, Photography is still one of the most affordable and accessible mediums to collect. It’s entirely possible to build an exceptional collection for the same price as one piece of contemporary art. And if you’re interested in acquiring works from younger, emergent or less established photographers, you’ll be investing early in the next generation of visionaries.
The best reason to buy anything is that you cannot imagine living without it.
But how - and where should you begin? . Simply approach it like any other type of collection: immerse yourself in the subject.
Take time to understand your own tastes and interests and aim to refine your own palette over time. Let what you enjoy define your aesthetic style and personality and consider if you want to pursue any themes in your collection.
- Look for work that is compelling, thought- provoking and will continue to intrigue and engage over time.
- Build your collection carefully, settling an affordable budget. You can often pay for a work in instalments to spread out the cost.
- Consider collecting photobooks; these can be a worthwhile investment on a limited budget.
- Support emerging photographers and monitor their progress over time; remember you are investing in the artist as well as the artwork.
- Aim to acquire work you genuinely like rather than for an investment.
- Most importantly, follow your instinct and buy from the heart.
“Getting reliable information is the core of connoisseurship. And connoisseurship, although a deeply unfashionable word, is precisely the blend of knowledge and taste that you want to acquire.”
— Professor Frances Hodgson, academic, writer and photography critic
Find a gallerist that you trust who specialises in photography. Don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions and ask your gallerist for as much advice as you need. A good gallerist will both support and actively encourage curiosity so you can learn as much as possible about the work you collect and fully enjoy it.
Visit exhibitions, art fairs, photo-festivals; attend courses and artist talks. These can provide you with an opportunity to experience classic works of art, while exploring new, emerging art forms and styles as well. They introduce you to a new breed of artist, sharing their art alongside the great masters of the past.
Research the artists you are interested in, using various sources. A glossary can help with tricky technical terms. Sign-up for artists’ newsletters to stay up-to-date and receive first-hand information about new work. Learning about your favourite photographers and photography, its histories or how photographs are made, can be an entertaining and rewarding endeavour.
See a work in the flesh first, buying online should only come later and with more experience. Buying at auction can often lead to great results. Try to look up prices of the same or similar works before to avoid overpaying and go to the viewing day as the catalogue might not always include all the details.
- Signed works
- Limited editions
- Vintage photographs in good condition
- Signature images by an artist
- Check the condition carefully
- Check the provenance. Acquire directly from the artist through their represented gallery or reputable institution.
- Photographs in poor condition. Damage to a photograph can include scratching, handling marks and changes in colour. Whereas older, vintage prints might show some wear and tear, contemporary works should not have any blemishes.
- Unsigned or unauthenticated photographs.
- Lesser images, even by well-known photographers.
- Mass-produced digital prints in large editions, even by well-known photographers.
- Buying any photography just because you’ve been told they’ll be the next big thing.
LOOKING AFTER YOUR PRINT
- Make sure the surface of your print stays flawless.
- Avoid handling your artwork, or seek advice about how to handle it and always wear gloves, preferably nitrile.
- Mount and frame with a reputable framer that uses acid free, museum standard materials. There are different ways of hanging depending on the frame, enquire with your framer how to best hang your work.
- Purchase the best quality glazing that you can afford. Certain glass glazes can protect your print further as they filter out UV light. Be particularly careful with unglazed work.
- Avoid hanging your artwork in direct sunlight, over heat sources or in humid environments. Extreme temperature changes are not ideal and great humidity can cause damage to the print over time. While some photographic processes are quite stable, others can be very fragile and prone to being affected by environmental conditions. Ask your gallerist for advice about how to store and maintain that specific photographic process.
- Track the value of your works and insure them accordingly.