Issue #75  8/12/2004
Good Looking Show But Schizophrenic Results Mark This Year's Photo San Francisco

Well, it was certainly a different Photo San Francisco this year. The show was in the much larger Festival Pavilion, which allowed for much bigger and wider booths and aisles. Stephen Cohen, the show promoter, also spent considerable funds on decorative plants to "green up" the show. Many of the dealers, including us, utilized the bigger space for more creative and better-designed booths. But attendance was down this year by about four to five percent at 4,300 attendees, and in the larger space it felt like even less. Clearly the opening night, which was a charity event for Fort Mason itself, was less than entirely successful. Several dealers felt that the sponsor did not add any real buyers. Still there were people with money in the sparse crowds on opening night. And with the larger booths the show had a nice open feel.

There was also more of an emphasis on contemporary work, which was a real mixed bag, with some very creative and intelligent work shown with some very amateurish or simply schlocky imagery. Although booth numbers were up considerably (now over 80 exhibitors), the name recognition of many of these new exhibitors was non-existent. While the show did manage to hold on to almost all of last year's dealers, two high level dealers missing in action from last year's list were Howard Greenberg Gallery (or Staton-Greenberg) and Bruce Silverstein (finishing up work on his new uptown gallery, although he did show up to look over the show). Now the challenge will be to pick up some of the bigger names from Photo LA to complement the great new space in San Francisco.

Dealers reported very mixed results here, with a number reporting a great show and others deeming it a terrible outing. Many larger collectors and curators that usually attend this fair took a bye this time out, but many other new ones--and some with considerable financial oomph--took their place. If the normal crowd for Photo SF could have been added to this mix, the show might have been exciting indeed. As it was, most dealers reported "break-even" or a "small profit" at this show. Most of my normal clients from Los Angeles, who almost always attend this northern California version, failed to make the trek to San Francisco this time around. But clients did come from as far a field as Australia and New York, and most dealers noted the "out-of-town" influence, such as Robert Tat when he said, "This year the fair seemed to attract more collectors from outside the bay area, indicating that it has become a serious photographic event which is not to be missed."

Show manager Stephen Cohen noted that Photo San Francisco had the "most exhibitors ever and it was a very good looking show." He blamed the economy for the flat sales and slightly lower audience turnout.

Mack Lee of Lee Gallery told me, "I was very impressed with the show. More booths were attractively designed and showing the best selection of contemporary photographs I've seen at Photo SF. I had a good show. The sales were about the same as last year, but I sold to more collectors this year. I sold vintage photos by Bill Brandt, Gertrude Kasebier, Brett Weston, Eugene Smith, Wayne Miller, Dorothea Lange, and Eugene Atget among others. The good sales, the great weather and the beautiful city will make for an easy decision to do it again next year."

Peter Fetterman also did fairly well, saying, " I went to the show with zero expectations, having not done particularly well on previous outings. Much to my surprise we did well mainly because one of my key New York clients turned up to visit. We sold several Ruth Bernhards, and actually Ruth herself, much to my surprise, turned up on Sunday and stayed an hour at our booth. Our clients were delighted to meet a "living legend". At almost 99 years old she never ceases to amaze me with her enthusiasm and energy. Her very presence prompted some additional sales. We also sold our Diane Arbus "Barber Shop" and several Willy Ronis, the most undervalued master photographer, still around at 92 years old."

At Vintage Works, the large color prints from our featured contemporary artist Marcus Doyle drew lots of raves and more attention than from any other photographer's work that has ever graced our walls. You can see more of his work at http://www.iphotocentral.com/showcase/showcase_view.php/57/1/1 . Vintage Works is now Doyle's exclusive representative. I have started discussions with several institutions and publishers about the work. The larger prints in 20 x 30 and 30 x 40 inch size are simply spectacular. We also had substantial interest in the black and white vintage prints of contemporary photographer Joel Levinson, who is in the process of producing a new color book. Levinson recently raised the prices on three of his key images, but we still have a copy or two at the old prices. You can see Levinson's work at http://www.iphotocentral.com/showcase/showcase_view.php/50/1/1 .

I sold several Louis Stetner prints of graffiti that he did while an assistant of Brassai. We still have a very good selection of these apparently unique vintage prints. We also sold a very nice Laure Albin-Guillot and Jose Ortez Echague to a fellow dealer. While the Echague was our only print, we do have a number of very strong, new Laure Albin-Guillots in stock, including some in our mid-summer sale (see article below). Several fine daguerreotypes were also sold at the show. Also pending are several major museum sales for pieces by Lewis Carroll, Ilse Bing, Julia M. Cameron, more Albin-Guillots, a number of photography books, etc. We recently purchased a good group of Carrolls and Camerons and invite calls on these.

Not sold, but getting a lot of strong interest at the Vintage Works booth, were several iconic vintage prints, including Eisenstaedt's Gala Opening at La Scala in Milan and Bill Brandt's Attic Room, Top Floor, A Night in London, or Soho Afternoon (he titled this important one several different ways), plus Andre Ketesz, Willy Ronis and Robert Doisneau vintage images.

Amanda Collins of Martin Gordon Gallery, a fellow I Photo Central member, told me that she had a lot of interest in the gallery's FSA prints. According to Collins, "still available are later printings of Dorothea Lange's "Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California" ($6,950) and Walker Evans "Bud Fields Family, Alabama" ($4,950)," which seem quite reasonable.

Gary Edwards said, " I did well in sales. Strangely, as at AIPAD, I sold more early and good Japanese images than anything else, by volume. Perhaps it was because I just did a show in my gallery of 19th-century Japanese, and brought the best of the unsold things to SF. I also sold the usual mixture of Middle East, Europe, etc. All this would have made a good show, but the sale of a vintage Francesca Woodman (and interest in a second one) elevated it to a very good show." Edwards also noted another good way to add value to a show of this type: "I also bought some new stock, mainly Asian, and was happy to use the occasion to diversify with some new material for the next show."

Adam Gendell of Artseal Gallery said he " saw an overall improvement over last year, with the $1,000-$2,500 category very active and more multiple buys from individual collectors. We also noticed that people who placed things on hold actually returned to acquire the images and that there was a acquisition trend towards more narrative imagery." Adam will have to explain that last bit on "narrative imagery" to me some other time.

Gendell confided that "vintage works by Lewis Baltz, Edmund Teske, Jerry Uelsmann, Danny Lyon, Dorothea Lange, Duane Michals and Weegee drew much attention, but the still available vintage Bill Brandt "1937 Coal Miner Bathing" $12,000; Edward Curtis "1910 Male Portrait" $6,500; Horace Bristol "1943 Naval Aviator Brinks Bass" $9,500; Arthur Rothstein "1935 Postmaster Brown" $3,500 and the Albert Renger-Patzsch "1924 Cactus" $6,500 were personal favorites."

Richard Morehouse held his own at the show selling "a Rogovin, a Hine, and a Renger-Patszch to dealers, and a collector bought Stieglitz photogravures."

Andrew Daneman from Northern Light Gallery seemed to speak for a number of dealers when he said, " Everybody said it was the economy, but I think it was that and perhaps a different crowd than usual. While the show wasn't a disaster for me, I did about half the sales of the two previous Photo SF's I attended. People who bought at the two previous shows were either not in attendance or not buying. Dealers were waiting to sell something before buying more, and so the circle went."

Daneman had a very fine group of African portraits from 1920s Mozambique, "which received many comments, but no buyers". The group of ten images was only $3750.

San Francisco dealer Robert Tat told me "by far the most popular item in my booth was a set of four vintage clown photographs of Klein and Erlanger, a pantomime and juggling clown act who probably worked in vaudeville. The character and pathos of these images seemed to touch many, as they did me when I acquired them. They sold early on, but remained on my wall for the duration; I could have sold them many times over!"

Tat also noted some piece that did not sell and are still available: a beautiful Minor White "Driftwood and Eye" from 1951, printed 1975, priced at $4,000; and an Aaron Siskind "Durango, Mexico" 1961c./1975 at $3,500. The latter I very nearly bought myself. It is a great image and I'll probably regret not having pulled the trigger.

Terry Etherton of Etherton Gallery told me "I thought the show looked very good in general. My biggest complaint is that the show has too many "marginal" or relatively unknown dealers, which dilutes the show in general." Etherton also noted, " I thought I had some excellent photographs in my booth that went largely unnoticed or unappreciated, such as the three Frederick Sommer photographs." As Terry said to me, "When is the last time you saw a Sommer at one of these shows let alone three?" With new emphasis on this artist, these images are bound to go soon.

Etherton did have some final words to say about the show: "I think that overall Steve did a good job on the show and I cannot find fault with his efforts. I am mildly disappointed in the sales I made given the depth of good material I had. Oh, well. But I had a good time, saw my buddies in the business, ate well, went to a ball game, and got out of the Arizona heat. What do I have to complain about?"