In Arts + Entertainment

A Practical Guide To Investing In Photography

In an increasingly digital world, it pays to understand photography as an art form.

If you make a habit of visiting galleries that show contemporary art, whether they be looming sandstone institutions or back-alley Artist Run Initiatives, you’ll know that today’s art is less limited by medium than it’s ever been. Artists work across film, photography, painting, performance, and even virtual reality, mixing media and pushing boundaries.

So what does it mean to own and collect art as we enter an increasingly digital world, where objects aren’t confined by their materiality? And how does one collect photography in the age of the ubiquitous camera-phone?

To answer these questions, among others, Chippendale’s Galerie pompom held a panel as part of Sydney’s Art Month entitled ‘Collecting Photography’. Appropriately, the gallery was exhibiting a show by Melbourne artist Vivian Cooper Smith, A light without stars.

Smith specialises in photography and his works make their subjects mysterious, using digital and analogue techniques to play with layering and perspective, revealing themselves anew with every glance.

On the panel were Bethan Donnelly, Laura Moore, and Brett Ballard. Donnelly is a collector who has worked in galleries for around seven years, with five of those spent at STILLS, a venue dedicated to photography, video and multimedia.

Moore is a Sydney-based artist and the winner of the National Portrait Gallery’s 2012 Digital Portraiture Award. She has a technical background, starting as a news photographer before moving to advertising and finally becoming an artist.

Ballard, a Senior Art Specialist at an auction house in Sydney, began his career thirty years ago working in a photography gallery, and has an extensive knowledge of Australian and international contemporary art.

The panel was wide-ranging and enlightening. So if you’re looking to add a photograph to your collection, or begin your collection with a photograph, here’s some basic advice to help you on your way.

Go to galleries and see the art

Vivian Cooper Smith, Landscape #4, 2017, digital c-type print, 72 x 100 cm Photo: Galerie pompom/Facebook

There is no substitute for being in the presence of the object, where characteristics such as size, colour, and texture are best understood.

“You’ve got to do the legwork,” Ballard said, “And go to see the pictures.”

Moore was equally adamant, “As an artist, often the way I decide to print a work, and the way I decide to frame it is part of the work and part of the concept. So I really encourage you to actually get down and see them.”

Additionally, gallery spaces are designed to encourage close consideration, the sort that might make you realise you need a particular photograph in your life. And taking the time to explore a gallery is a wonderful way to discover new artists and new ways of looking at art.

Get it authenticated

When purchasing a photograph make sure it’s authenticated. Ideally, a work will be signed and accompanied by a certificate of authenticity – photos are usually signed on the back so as not to disrupt the image. If you’re seeking a certificate for a work you already own, contact the estate, the artist, or the dealer who sold it.

If you’re buying from a gallery the invoice can count as a certificate, so make sure to hold onto any paperwork. Brett’s advice is that, “The buyer should want to know as much as possible about the work.”

Just don’t forget to get it in writing.

Understand editions

Vivian Cooper Smith, Landscape #1, 2017, digital c-type print, 72 x 100 cm Photo: Galerie pompom/Facebook

Among the details you want recorded is the photograph’s edition number. The editioning of photographs began in the seventies as a way of ensuring their value for artists and collectors.

“It wouldn’t be advisable for any artist to print outside of the edition because it wouldn’t be good for their career, reputation, or the value of the work, and I think they’re the things that most artists really care about,” says Donnelly.

“It would be professional suicide if we started changing our edition numbers,” Moore agrees.

In addition to the edition run, a print of the photograph will often be kept as an artist proof. Artist proofs aren’t included in the edition count, and are usually reserved for the artist’s personal collection or for display in galleries. So, if they do come onto the market they can be more valuable than the rest of the run.

Do your research and support emerging artists

When asked how to best develop an instinct, Ballard says  “Research, research, research.”

“The best way to learn what you like, is to look at as much art as possible. So visit galleries big and small. Go to gallery openings; form relationships with dealers, artists, and other collectors,” he says.

It’s best to begin by getting to know emerging artists, whose work tends to be more affordable and accessible. If you find a piece you like, follow the artist: check out their exhibition history and schedule; follow them on Instagram and, if you like the look of something, message them to see if it’s available for purchase. You could even commission a work.

Most importantly, Moore emphasised, buying art from an emerging artist means that you’re allowing them to continue making art.

Buy what you love

The best way to know whether or not you should buy a photograph is to pay attention to how you feel in its presence.

Donnelly gave this advice: “I think the number one thing when you’re purchasing any artwork should be that you really love it, if you have an instant emotional reaction to it, or you can’t stop thinking about it, can’t get it out of your head. When you know you want to live with it and look at it every day and have it as part of your collection, that’s the foremost thing to think about.”

Published 13 March, 2018