Issue #61  8/5/2003
Photo San Francisco Attendance and Sales Up Sharply From Last Year; Show Organizer Announces Larger Booths and Venue For Next Year

Attendance at the Photo San Francisco event was up by more than 20% from last year's fair. About 4,500 attended this year's show, although the number of dealers was down (some were last minute emergency cancellations). Saturday's traffic (1,800 just for that day) was almost too much to handle; Sunday was strong; although, typically, Friday was much quieter. If you are a collector or curator keep that in mind if you want to get the full attention of the dealer next time at a show.

These collectors and curators did have a great opportunity to see thousands of images from 19th and 20th-century vintage photographs to contemporary prints. Prices ranged from a few hundred dollars to a few hundred thousand dollars. The mix of images was impressive, and many attendees mentioned this to us.

Nearly all the dealers we talked to did rather well at the fair this year. (Of course, there were always a few exceptions to this trend.) That was quite a turn-around from last year's Photo San Francisco and even more recent shows at other venues. The lookers were definitely out in much greater numbers, but the buyers seemed to be fewer but bigger this year. Analysis: the market is coming back. More lookers usually foreshadow more future buyers, and bigger buyers recognize buying opportunities faster. The auctions have been very strong this past Spring, and now Photo San Francisco seems to be the first photo show to confirm this movement on the dealer side.

Most dealers that I have talked to also note an up tick after the end of combat in Iraq despite the normal slower summer business cycle. It isn't quite the boom time of several years ago, but the market is definitely looking up.

The attendee mix was good at the fair. We saw a good balance of curators, collectors and dealers there. Some of those dealers who didn't exhibit this year were still in attendance. Perhaps what they saw will entice them back next year for the revised show. Institutions and collectors represented the full spectrum from small to large. I saw more big buyers here than at shows earlier in the year. More importantly, they were now more in a mood to buy.

While I didn't get much of an opportunity to scan the room properly, I did see some interesting items and exhibits. One of my favorites was at Peter Fetterman's booth. Peter had up a special exhibition on "Woman: A Celebration". He has been working on a major traveling exhibition and book of the same name. He was kind enough to give me a copy (more on the review in the next newsletter). Suffice to say this is a wonderful group of images. Peter's book is now available from most bookstores and from his gallery for $22.95 each. You can email him at pfgallery@earthlink.net .

Artseal Gallery and its director Adam Gendell sold what I considered the "buy" of the show: a very large vintage Yavno of Muscle Beach. Since it sold, I won't reveal the price, but it was not far from what some big galleries charge for late printed ones. More than a few dealers were eying it, but reportedly dealer Katrina Doerner bought it.

My friend Arnaud Delas of Hypnos Gallery, based in Paris, exhibited some very interesting early ethnographic and microphotography images, plus some platinum prints of California that were quite beautiful. His best image in my opinion, one of dancers in Cambodia by Wilheim Burger, is simply magical (not an overstatement) and rare. It is still available (unless I break down myself and buy it) from Arnaud, who can be reached at hypnos3@wanadoo.fr .

Joseph Bellows had some great stuff on his walls, including a Neil Selkirk print of Diane Arbus' Iconic "Twins". At $40,000 it was reasonably priced in today's hot market for this image. You can add another zero-plus on the end for a quality signed vintage print. Less expensive was contemporary tintypes by Jayne Hinds Bidaut of various insects, including beetles and butterflies. Made in an edition of 10 copies, plus artist proofs, these sell from $1,000-3,500 depending on where the image is in the edition. I also liked some of the Oscar Bailey panoramas of California and Pirkle Jones images here.

At Beham Gallery, the attraction was Steven Meyers' x-rays of flowers, a la Dr. Trasker, which were nicely executed.

Galerie 19/21, which is run by Florence Pénault, always has some fine reasonably priced European images--both 19th and 20th century. I didn't really get the chance this time to visit, which was definitely my loss, but I liked their catalogue image by Sabine Weiss, which was a vintage study in light (a man lighting a cigarette on a dark foggy night with a street light behind him).

New York dealer Bruce Silverstein did very well at the fair with both contemporary and vintage work. I thought he had a fantastic Aaron Siskind of a white house and a reasonably priced (certainly compared to recent auctions) Drtikol nude in a pigment print.

Stephen Cohen, the show's organizer, had some fascinating but grotesque vintage medical images up in one booth, and the main booth focused primarily on contemporary material. Lauren Greenfield's series on Young Women was a strong one. I also liked the color and playfulness of Judy Gelles' Beach Boxes. Steve had a 16-photo Box Grid of Gelles' work that he was selling for $8,000, or you could buy any one of the single images for $650. Steve told me that he had his best Photo San Francisco ever and one of his best shows ever here. Last year, embarrassingly enough, Steve had not done so well at his own show. He did do a good job this year of getting the word out, spending more on advertising and publicity. It seemed to have paid off. He also seemed a bit more mellow here, especially after going through angioplast surgery just a few weeks before the show. Just keep away from those sticky buns, Steve.

LA book dealer Michael Dawson also reportedly did well. He had some great images and sold more than a few. He brought a sought-after Ansel Adams of the "Oak Tree, Snowstorm", which he sold to one of our newsletter readers. He also showed Claudia Kunin's multilayered image "Dwarf Girl"--perhaps not a politically correct title, but a fascinating image on two cloth drapes overlapping each other. You need to see Claudia's work to really appreciate the creativity here.

Another key Ansel Adams image was on display at Santa Fe dealer Andrew Smith's booth: a 16 x 20 inch Moonrise. The price was a reasonable $33,000 as I recall.

Terry Etherton took a chance and showed only large-scale hand-colored silver prints by Kate Breakey. The huge and bright images of birds and flowers got a lot of attention. I understand from Terry that several curators and dealers were very interested in the work and that a major fashion group was looking at buying a very large group to decorate a location in Italy. Etherton also did a brisk business in Breakey's books. The prints, which were priced at $3,000-6,000, were really quite stunning. They reminded me a bit of the large paintings by Georgia O'Keefe. Breakey is Australian but now lives in Tuscon, AZ.

Gary Edwards had two very haunting Russian pieces by Alexey Titarenko of St. Petersberg buildings with ghostly images. He also had two very rare Francesca Woodman vintage silver prints (not to be confused with the later prints now being printed by the estate). I like all four of these pieces.

Northern Light and its owner Andrew Daneman, after a rough time in airports, did well here. He had some good images at reasonable prices. A Salzmann was picked off the wall by a fellow dealer. Andrew also had a series of small Watkins (Western views) and Bierstadts (Niagara) that were quite attractive and at reasonable prices. His Chauffourier's of two large Italian buildings were actually three-piece montages stacked one on top of the other. It was an unusual pair of buildings to say the least.

Jo Tartt had a number of nice images. His surreal portrait of Roger Parry by Maurice Tabard was super. I also admired his Ralph Stein images of Rockefeller Center dancers and New York Bridges.

Chris Wahren had some microphotography by Joseph Jan Vier Woodward that was stunning. Along with those, he had two very unusual close ups of birds, which were on printing-out paper (circa 1900). Both he and I wondered why someone hadn't picked these two rarities up quickly. Chris also had some vintage and contemporary hard images that were keepers, including pieces by Mike Robinson and Irv Pobborarsky. I admired an ambrotype of a train trestle.

My friends and booth neighbors David Winter and Ross Winter (not relatives, just friends and fellow dealers) brought lots of "vernacular" work by anonymous and better-known photographers. Among several images, I grabbed up a large anonymous 1940s print of the detail of a train. Someone said it looked a bit like O.Winston Link's work, but I thought it shared more with Charles Sheeler's work. As David said on his catalogue page: "Unboring photographs for sale or lease."

San Franciscan Robert Tat brought a fine selection of pictorialists, as well as some better-known photographers.

Paul Hertzmann and Susan Herzig had a selection of fine masterworks on the wall. Their Cunningham flower was reasonably priced for its rarity, and I fell in love with the shipboard scene by Hagemeyer, one of my favorites at the fair. I would also like to thank them for their kind and gracious hospitality while visiting them before the fair.

The San Francisco Chronical newspaper was nice enough to give me a call on Photo San Francisco and the photography market. The article mentioned our important and rare American salt print of the inauguration of President James Buchanan (the first photo of a Presidential inauguration) as being one of the highlights (and one of the most expensive images) of the fair. I also mentioned that we had images starting at a few hundred dollars at the show.

Stephen Cohen, the show organizer told me that he was moving the show over one building (still in the Fort Mason Center) next year to the larger Festival Pavilion. He says this will allow him to offer 12-foot deep booths to attract even more contemporary galleries into the show. He also told me that he liked the mezzanine area at the back of this facility for food service, which will overlook the show floor.

Steve said that he felt that this year's show was "great" and that he looked forward to building an even larger version next year.