A Dealer's Perspective

Everything Changes

People are always asking me what things have changed in the field of fine-art photography over the last 25 years. I will enumerate just a few here.

One is a general increase of awareness among the art gallery crowd as to who the various nationally known photographers are. In the early 70s, most of these people in this part of the country only knew about Ansel Adams and Edward Weston, and those only vaguely. Nowadays I am frequently impressed by the number of "names" people know. In art galleries that handle other media, the gallery personnel just seem to assume most any visitor is aware of many of the better known contemporary artists. Photography isn't at that level yet, but itís on its way.

It is always interesting what goes in and out of fashion. In the 1970s, I used to read articles about people getting bored with "concerned photography" popularized by such persons as W. Eugene Smith. Nowadays it is very popular and very PC, almost to the extent that in some circles oneís work is just not important if it is not socially relevant. And whatever happened to the "snapshot aesthetic"? Remember all the Garry Winogrand imitators out on the streets? We had plenty of them down here because he taught for awhile at the University of Texas. Another area of the field that is always changing is that which is considered "shocking". Joel Peter Witkinís work used to be strictly "under the table" in New York galleries. I also remember reading scathing reviews of a New York show of the more erotic work of Robert Mapplethorpe.

The photographic prints themselves are getting bigger, and color is used more (even to a blatant disregard of the fading propensities of Ektacolor). The old technique of hand coloring black and white prints has really taken off as has platinum printing. I don't need to mention how the computer has affected the field, particularly in working with negatives and in printing (like the Iris and EverColor processes).

Needless to say, photographs have become a lot more expensive. In the early 1970s, 16 x 20 prints by Ansel Adams used to sell for $250.00. Now, unknown photographers start their pricing at that level. I don't carry as many of the famous photographers as before because many of the prices are above my market. One reason for these prices is simply that so many important photographers have died in recent years (an inducement to not wait in purchasing the work of older photographers!). Another distinct trend is the increase in corporate buying. I have always thought this particular trend was the driving force behind people producing larger and larger prints; one has to fill those big corporate spaces!

Today the web allows any photographer to publish his work and be noticed. Anyone can put his work out there on a personal web page for all to see. Photographers specializing in certain subject matter, like nudes for example, can get thousands of hits to their pages. Although much of this work is amateurish, it is nevertheless published for the world to see; one doesn't have to go through the filtering process of getting into a magazine or gallery. Now the filtering can be done directly by the viewing public, both a challenging and stimulating occurrence! (November 6, 1996)