Monday, December 10, 2007

Toward A New Definition of Art Photography

I began photography when even famous photographers exhibited 8"x10" black and white darkroom prints. I could lament about this, but I would prefer to be part of the future not the past. Andreas Gursky's 6 ' 9 1/2" x 11' (81.5" x 132") "99 Cent" ©1999 pushes all of photography in a new and expensive direction.

We have become the new painters. The rewards will be wonderful, but the challenges immense. Some photographs have sold for a million dollars. Many are selling for $10,000 or more.

But let's go back to how Gurksy has changed the future of photography as art. In all fairness Jeff Wall's work must also be acknowledged as part of this new direction - huge, amazing light boxes slowly crafted to perfection

Let's address 40"x60" prints - something that is becoming commonplace in gallery and museum shows and appears to be an offshoot of Gursky type large scale prints. With matting and framing the production costs are about $2000 per photograph when working with print and framing services that operate by gallery and museum quality standards. A photographer with the means to make their owns prints and do their own matting could lower the price significantly if able to afford a $5000 Epson 9600 inkjet printer or an equivalent darkroom setup.

So far the issue is not darkroom vs. digital but one of scale. I recently went to an exhibit with 20"x30" prints and 40"x60" prints. The smaller prints could barely hold my attention. I have no idea how young photographers or even older photographers will be able to operate in this atmosphere. It will be expensive. Perhaps 17"x22" prints and smaller will become the new "work print" and careful selection will be made in choosing what to make into gallery size prints. Perhaps there will be a negotiation process between buyers and/or distributors, which begins with the smaller print and with an offer of a negotiable advance where the photographer offers a significant discount in exchange for the advance. I like the idea of photography becoming the cutting edge of museum exhibits. It is an expensive, but bright and exciting possibility.


Blogger geoffrey ellis aronson said...

The issue of size in the gallery scene may be a moot one, I suspect. What we have experienced here is a trend away from commissioning sculpture and painting in corporate environments towards the permanent installation of photomurals in banks, hotels and corporate conference rooms. Whereas a painter may charge 6 figures for a mural 20 feet by 8 feet, a photograph can be purchased and installed at a significantly lower price. Post 7/11 there has been a need to economize, even on the corporate spending level.

Galleries specializing in photographic art have realized the huge potential to brokering corporate commissions to their photo stable. Those with the strongest corporate ties and most illustrious names who have published monographs and enjoy universal appeal are stepping into the market.

This by no means should be read that the rest of the market is dropping off. corporations still need to supplement their collections and satisfy the demands of their workers for art work in the office arena. But for a gallery, to make the same profit as the commission of a mural must make 50 print sales of works in the smaller dimensions. There will always be that demand and I suspect that whereas a few of the more prestigeous galleries may be deemphasizing their small print sales, this should leave room for the artist to make direct sales, bypassing the gallery scene.

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