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Current News             Issue Archive             Article Archive E-Photo Newsletter   Issue 153   12/5/2008

Latest Market Observations: The View From Paris and Miami

"Because things are the way they are, things will not stay the way they are."--Bertolt Brecht

By Alex Novak

Paris Photo was decent if not exactly sparkling with enthusiasm. Crowds were up considerably from the strike-affected previous year, but that ironically often made sales more difficult when booths were overcrowded with lookers. Sales were flat to down for most dealers that I talked with, although most of the Americans (and a lot of the Europeans) told me that they broke even or better (which is actually pretty good for this expensive fair).

Even the currently running Art Basel Miami doesn't look that much off (40,000 vs. 43,000 attendees, this year over last year), but the buyers have been more wary at the fairs and prone to dealing more, especially on contemporary work.

I talked with Petaluma, CA photography dealer Barry Singer by phone. Singer was exhibiting at the Art Miami Fair, one of the satellite exhibit shows around Art Basel Miami this week. He told me that he had already sold a $100,000 painting by Kara Walker, plus 16 photographs. That put his totals well into six figures "with over two more days to go" and matched his last year results at AIPAD's Photography Miami Fair, which was cancelled this year. As Singer told me, "It's certainly not a disaster here. We sold pictures to people we know and lots of pictures to new people."

While some of the other photo dealers showing in Miami had more mixed results, most did ok here. That's a pretty decent endorsement of the market considering this was done in a week when it was announced that over a half million jobs were lost in the previous month of November. But then the Dow rallied nearly 260 points on the news, so go figure.

Big contemp art pieces are definitely being affected, which is very problematic for those dealers, although some are still certainly being sold at some pretty nose-bleed-high prices. I would not want to hold any of the high-priced pictures by Richard Prince, Cindy Sherman, Andreas Gursky, etc., unless I was prepared to do so for at least ten years or more. However, Gagosian Gallery reported to the Art Newspaper that business was “surprisingly strong” with six works sold by 5 pm the first day at its Art Basel Miami booth, including an Ed Ruscha, "Woman on Fire, 1990", two Richard Princes and Anselm Reyle’s Untitled, 2008.

I expect that these, along with some of the other higher priced contemporary art flyers, may experience a major dip in value in the near term. But like stocks, you don't take your losses unless and until you have to sell the items. Contemp art has always been a roller coaster ride, reflecting the economy (albeit 12-18 months later). The early word in Art Basel Miami and at the satellite shows was that collectors were looking more at affordable and somewhat smaller contemporary work. Think residential scale rather than industrial scale. Also, collectors and curators seem to be getting more "serious" about work. The silly stuff is being bypassed in this environment--and about time!

Photographs that are readily available (later prints and work that have been made in fairly large editions) will be, and have already been, somewhat affected by the market, especially at auction.

Also, those photographs/photographers that have experienced too sharp a rise over the last three years (think Penn, Avedon, Beard, Horst--late prints, Newton, Lindbergh, Stern, Frank, Weston, etc.) may have some difficulties selling for the more recent sky-high prices, especially at auction.

The Constantiner Collection (with its inch-thick catalogue) coming up at Christie's may be selling at the worst time for this type of market (mostly nudes and fashion images from the 1950s-present), but perhaps the decision to sell it was made before these changes in the market. The estimates, at least, are not excessive, but in this market for this type of material, anything may be excessive. Given the option of time, I would certainly have opted to hold the material instead of selling it right now, but I wish Leon and Christie's good luck.

Perhaps some of the best deals were seen in the recent auctions in London and Europe, where the sudden rise of the dollar (22-25%) made the reduced estimates and reserves seem even more enticing to Americans--although few Americans noticed this phenomenon this time around and the material was not in the top niche. The Spring auctions, if the dollar is still as strong (doubtful), might provide Americans another opportunity. Auctions in London and Europe have largely had poor results, often selling less than half their lots, although the largely 19th-century Jammes sale in Paris (more later in the next issue of the newsletter) did fairly well, even with much more mediocre material then in previous Jammes auctions here at Sotheby's. There were exceptional pieces in this auction, of course, and these did fairly well, although perhaps not as well as they would have just six months ago.

On the other hand, most high quality and rare vintage photographs do not appear to be going down much, if anything at all (maybe sideways for a year or two); although with financial cash flow pressure on many dealers, you may be able to pick up some great bargains in the short term, or at least so I have been told by collector Michael Mattis.

I expect with inflationary pressures that will hit with a vengeance in about two to three years that such vintage prints may even go up--perhaps a lot. When governments start printing money like there is no tomorrow to pay for massive bail-outs and planned infrastructure/building projects, money's integral value will go down and the value of hard goods will all go up accordingly. For a while it looked like we might have to deal with a deflationary environment (due to the collapse in oil and some other commodities), but that no longer looks likely. I think it now looks like a very good time to buy high quality vintage photographs--if, 1. You can find anything worth buying (good stuff rarely comes out during a recession); 2. We don't have a further financial collapse and go into a full-fledged depression (unlikely at this juncture, but the Bush administration has made a royal hash out of the start of the financial bail-out); 3. You have money on hand and enough cash flow (big ifs for a lot of dealers, at least); 4. You have at least a five- or six-year time horizon. It actually appears to be the perfect time to buy for collectors, given these circumstances and a lot of care. There have even been a few recent buying/investment groups materializing on the market during this period already.

Remember my previous market articles this year (see: http://www.iphotocentral.com/news/article_view.php/159/150/893 , http://www.iphotocentral.com/news/article_view.php/157/148/885 , http://www.iphotocentral.com/news/article_view.php/150/141/824 ) and the admonition of Warren Buffet: "Today people who hold cash equivalents feel comfortable. They shouldn't. They have opted for a terrible long-term asset, one that pays virtually nothing and is certain to depreciate in value. Indeed, the policies that government will follow in its efforts to alleviate the current crisis will probably prove inflationary and therefore accelerate declines in the real value of cash accounts…Those investors who cling now to cash are betting they can efficiently time their move away from it later. In waiting for the comfort of good news, they are ignoring Wayne Gretzky's advice: 'I skate to where the puck is going to be, not to where it has been.'"

Photo LA Opens On Jan. 8th At Barker Hanger At Santa Monica Airport and Will Run Through Sunday, Jan. 11th

Photo L.A. 2009, the 18th annual international Los Angeles photographic art exposition, will take place from January 9-11, 2009 at the historic Barker Hangar at the Santa Monica Airport. Photo L.A. 2009 will feature photography for sale, from the earliest 19th-century photographic experiments to the most contemporary photography and photo-based art. Seventy of the world's leading galleries and private dealers representing international and U.S.-based artists will display work at the show.

The fair begins with an opening night reception benefiting the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) photography department on Thursday, January 8 from 6 p.m.-9 p.m. Public hours for the show are Friday, January 9 and Saturday, January 10, from noon-8 p.m.; and Sunday, January 11, from noon-6 p.m. Tickets are $20 for a two-day pass, and $30 for a three-day pass.

"We are pleased to be teaming up with LACMA this year. Los Angeles is the creative hub for artists and a major creative center in terms of the production of contemporary photography. Together with LACMA, we are planning a number of special programs for our visitors, featuring some of today's most renowned artists," says Stephen Cohen, president of Artfairs, Inc. and director of Photo L.A. "Photo L.A. continues to grow each year, with an increasing number of new and returning exhibitors and visitors. This year, the Barker Hangar will serve as a prime space for the fair to present its largest collection of Los Angeles based artists and international exhibitors," he continued.

Programming highlights at Photo L.A. include the LACMA Artist Conversation Series & Book Signings with Charlotte Cotton, LACMA's head curator of the Wallis Annenberg Photography Department, on Saturday, January 10, from noon-6 p.m. Cotton will speak with leading photographers, including David Maisel (noon-1:30 p.m.), Susan Meiselas (2 p.m.-3 p.m.), Bruce Davidson (3:30 p.m.–4:30 p.m.), and Diane Keaton & Marvin Heiferman (5 p.m.–6 p.m.) to discuss their new publications. Book signings with the photographers will follow each conversation. Highly acclaimed photographer and UCLA professor, Catherine Opie, is also scheduled to lecture at Photo L.A. on January 11, beginning at 1 p.m. at the Ruskin Group Theater, adjacent to the fair (3000 Airport Ave, Santa Monica, CA 90405). Opie currently has a major retrospective at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City, and recently published a catalogue of her photographic works.

Among the 70-plus photo dealers and galleries at Photo L.A., I Photo Central galleries Andrew Smith Gallery and Contemporary Works/Vintage Works will be exhibiting work there.

Andrew Smith Gallery will feature an all-California line-up, entitled "From Carleton Watkins to Ansel Adams". Work by Carleton Watkins, Edward Muybridge, Timothy O'Sullivan, Adam Clark Vroman, Edward Weston and Ansel Adams will trace the history of landscape photography in California from 1861 to the early 1950s. The gallery will be exhibiting exquisite vintage prints from Watkin's round-top albumen mammoth plates from his first trip to Yosemite in 1861, to O'Sullivan's exceedingly rare work in the Great Basin with the King Survey in 1867, to Muybridge mammoth plate prints of Yosemite from the early 1870s, to Vroman's platinum prints in California in the late 1890s and early 1900s, to Edward Weston's Dunes, Clouds and Trees from the 1920s and 1930s, and finally to Ansel Adams's magnificent landscapes, from his vintage prints from the early 1920s to his grand landscapes of the 1950s. To see all of Andrew Smith Gallery's inventory on I Photo Central, click here: http://www.iphotocentral.com/search/result_list.php/64/14/0 .

Contemporary Works/Vintage Works will feature a major selection of Robert Mapplethorpe images, plus a large group of masterworks from top photographers, including , André Kertész, Édouard Boubat, Horst, Robert Frank, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Aaron Siskind, Harry Callahan, Edward Steichen, Irving Penn, Francois Kollar, Jacques-Henri Lartigue, Dorothea Lange, Lee Friedlander, Barbara Morgan, Clarence John Laughlin, Ilse Bing, Brassai, Edward Weston, Frantisek Drtikol, Josef Sudek, Helen Levitt, Raoul Ubac, Walker Evans, Arnold Newman, Carl Mydans, Brett Weston, Robert Doisneau, Willy Ronis, Eugene Atget and Ralph Meatyard. We will also have on hand some wonderful 19th-century material (Le Gray, Fenton, Bisson Freres, Baldus, Marville, Southworth & Hawes, De Launay, Negre, Teynard, De Clercq, Fortier, Richebourg, Frith, Disderi, Clifford, Salzmann, etc.), so please be sure to ask us about it. We also represent contemporary work by Stanko Abadžic, Arthur Tress, Lisa Holden, Michael Philip Manheim, Krzysztof Pruszkowski, Claudia Kunin and Mitch Dobrowner, and will have examples in our booth. To see a selection of Contemporary Works/Vintage Works top photographs, click here: http://www.iphotocentral.com/search/result_list.php/128/1/0 .

For a complete list of exhibitors and additional information on Photo L.A., visit http://www.artfairsinc.com/photola/2009 , or call 1-323-937-4659.

Holiday Sales On I Photo Central End In Two Weeks On Dec. 19Th

For a limited time, Newsletter readers can shop our Annual End-of-the-Year Holiday sale on I Photo Central, which is brought to you by all of the website's photography dealers. These items are available at special sale prices (from 20 to over 60% off the regular list price) only until December 19th. Many of the items' regular list prices were reduced earlier, so the actual net reductions may be well over 40% to 80% in many instances. These are all final prices, so no other discounts apply. Shipping/insurance will also be added, plus you will be responsible for any applicable taxes or customs fees.

There are some great deals, so check them out soon at: http://www.iphotocentral.com/sale/sale.php .

If you want to do further sorts on the sale list, you can go to the Search Images page at http://www.iphotocentral.com/search/search.php and put HolidaySale1 into the key word field. Then you can also use the other search fields, such as price range, country, date range, etc. When you have all your choices made, simply hit the Search button (not the Show All Images button). When you put in the key word, you must have the capital letters in properly and no space between the words or the number "1". Also make sure you do not have any extra space after the key word. This way if you are bargain hunting, you can put in a range from $1 to $500, or if you want to focus on the top end, just put in a range from $1000 (or $5000) to No Limit.

We are also running a special Holiday Book Sale offer on most of the books posted up on line at a 20% discount price during this same time period. You will also save shipping costs within the U.S., if you order $250 or more per dealer. There are many very low priced photography books listed on the site that can fill in your library or make great holiday presents.

The Book Sale can also be found at: http://www.iphotocentral.com/sale/sale.php .

While books can be searched on the regular Search pages with the drop-down menu on media (just select "books"), we expect to soon have an entirely separate photography bookstore--the first such multi-dealer version on the web.

Photo Review Benefit Auction Has Sealed Bid Auction of Unsold Lots

The non-profit Photo Review Benefit Auction is having a sealed bid auction of unsold lots from this year's auction.

If you would like to participate, you can view the auction and bid online at http://www.photoreview.org/auction.htm . Only the available lots are now posted. So that your purchases can reach you in time for holiday gift giving, absentee bidding closes at midnight on December 12, 2008 and then the lots will be offered on liveauctioneers.com and eBay on December 13 starting at 2 p.m. Eastern Standard Time and lasting an hour or so. Please note that if you haven't done so, you need to register beforehand to participate in Live Auction.

Alternatively, you can request a list of the remaining lots and their minimum prices by either emailing the Photo Review at info@photoreview.org , or calling them at 1-215-891-0214.

The auction will also honor its "End This Auction" feature through the closing date: bid the high estimate and the auction ends immediately and the lot is yours.

Millon Sets Record Prices For Blanc Et Demilly Photos

Millon & Associés and its photography specialist Christophe Goeury auctioned off a major group of 600 lots, comprising more than 800 prints, all original, unique and signed by Théodore Blanc and Antoine Demilly, which came directly from the artists' families. The auction was conducted Monday, October 13, at Drouot Montaigne. The auction realized a total of $455,735, and buyers included a French museum, photography dealers in France and the United States, as well as private collectors of photography and contemporary art.

Two exhibition prints, lots 535 and 536, both titled "Gouttes d'Eau (Water Droplets)," circa 1950, were sold for $10,579 each, a world record for photographs by Blanc & Demilly and the highest price achieved during the sale.

Photographs that were shown in the retrospective exhibition "Blanc and Demilly--Photographers in Lyon 1924-1962" held in June 2000 at the Georges Pompidou Centre were especially popular: "Fourvière dans la brume" sold for $8,463, four times its estimate; "Carrefour de l'Annonciade" realized $7,161, and "La Place Saint Jean" achieved $6,428, both twice their estimates.

Other notable sales included "Ampoules (Light Bulbs)," which sold to a private collector for $6,836, and "La Nageuse," which realized $5,208. An album of views of Lyon sold for $6,510.

All prices given include the buyer's premium. Prices were converted from euro to US dollars at a rate of $1.302/euro, which was in effect during the sale.

Photo News Briefs

BABY ANNOUNCEMENTS

It seems like I am making one or two of these a month lately. New York City Gallerists Tom and Kristina Gitterman announced their new addition: Nola Jane Gitterman, who was born on November 11, 2008 at 3:35 a.m., weighing in at 6 lbs., 11.4 oz. and measuring 20 inches.

Also another New York dealer, Ariel Meyerowitz, gave birth to Sadie Bay Weller, who was born on October 9, 2008 at 1:09 a.m., weighing in at 6 lbs., 9 oz. and measuring 19.5 inches.

After adding in the Silverstein's, Bulger's and the Kicken's new children, I am growing concerned about the photography trade and what it is doing to our population growth! I will try to add photos to our online version of the newsletter.

SFP CLOSES DUE TO FAULTY WIRING

The Societe Francaise de Photographie had to recently close after an inspection of the facilities disclosed that faulty electrical wiring endangered the building which houses the SFP. The SFP offices should reopen in a few months after new wiring is installed.

More Photos and Special Exhibits Added This Month to I Photo Central

Over 100 new items have been added to the I Photo Central website this past month--most just over the last few days. You can see them here: http://www.iphotocentral.com/search/result_list.php/16/30/0 .

The photography dealers on I Photo Central have also been extremely busy over the last month or so, putting up new Special Photography Exhibits. There are so many new ones that I will simply list them by title and URL address.

Down to the Sea in Boats: Images of the Shipping Industry from 1850s-Now: http://www.iphotocentral.com/showcase/showcase_view.php/194/1/0 .

Highly Related: Photographs in Series: http://www.iphotocentral.com/showcase/showcase_view.php/193/1/0 .

The Flower in Photographs: http://www.iphotocentral.com/showcase/showcase_view.php/195/1/0 .

They Shoot Horses, Don't They?: http://www.iphotocentral.com/showcase/showcase_view.php/191/1/0 .

We have also continued to change images and add to our essays for all our Special Exhibits, so they are worth another peek, especially if you have not looked lately. And, if you see one you like, let a friend know too!

You can see all of these fine new exhibits and others (now a total of 128 Special Exhibits in all, including those in the archive!) at: http://www.iphotocentral.com/showcase/showcase.php . Don't forget to check out the archived exhibits at the bottom of the page as well.

New Sudek Book Series Kicks Off

By Matt Damsker

Josef Sudek: The Window of My Studio; Portraits. Volumes One and Two of a series of Sudek photography books published by Torst, Prague, Czech Republic, 2008, hardbound; $60. Volume One contains 75 color photographs, ISBN No. 978-80-7215-315-2; Volume Two contains 86 color photographs, ISBN No. 978-80-7215-319-0. Information: http://www.torst.cz ; Distributed in the U.S. by D.A.P. New York, N.Y.; phone: +212-627-1999; fax: +212-627-9484; email: dap@dapine.com; http://www.artbook.com .

These first two volumes of studio work by Prague's poet of the camera begin a comprehensive series of Sudek photography books published by Torst (all nine of them will eventually be available in the U.S.). They powerfully capture the moody artistry of the great photographer at his most hermitic, on one hand, and most social on the other, although it may be misleading to dub Sudek's portraits--mostly of family and friends--as sociable artifacts, since they convey the same shadowed sense of isolation and interiority that defines so much of his work.

That said, these superbly reproduced images bring Josef Sudek (1896-1976) to life with remarkable clarity and fresh focus on the mysteriously "non-descriptive," as Anna Farova calls it in her "Contemplation" in the first volume, which offers startlingly abstract images from the two windows of Sudek's studio in a courtyard of Prague's Lesser Town, where he worked and lived for much of his career. These studies are uniquely expressive, capturing either the close-up sight of the lonely, gnarled tree that occupies the gated exterior, or the wonderfully complex double vision of windowpane--usually frosted or fogged over with humidity--and tiny yard beyond.

Farova notes that the emphasis on the tree brings to mind Sudek's later series of maimed trees which he sought out in a forest of the Beskid Mountains (the focus of a subsequent Torst volume), but it's also clear that the studio-window studies, with their close-in, claustrophobic mood, are highly personal expressions. They stand as timeless, unsentimental metaphors for the reality of inner and outer life, and at their most abstract they evoke everything from Japanese brush painting to Monet's water lilies, yet they remain utterly Sudekian in their appreciation of spare, humble details--an old cup in the corner of the window frame, laundry drying on a clothesline, the squat Prague houses beyond the gate, or else a glass of water or a lone piece of fruit in sharp focus before the frosted glass, which result in unique still lifes.

It's obvious that Sudek invested his soul and spirit in these images. Farova calls his studio window "the changing screen on which his memories of the First World War and his losing an arm in battle were perhaps projected when Sudek was deep in contemplation." These photos also mark the beginning of his non-commercial work, when he stopped enlarging his photos and devoted himself to contact prints. And while there may seem an intense melancholia to these wintry, inside-outside shots, suggesting an imprisoned yearning for outward connection, they are also charged with a palpable delight in the sheer visual magic of the images, their optical effect and play of light, tonality and reflection. They are clearly the work of an artist in sublime command of his medium.

As for the portraits collected in Volume Two, one of Sudek's Czech champions, Jan Rezac, describes the "rare unity of style" of Sudek's work in an interview with Radim Kopec, which prefaces the book. Indeed, it's not such a leap to move from the stillness and mystery of the studio window shots to Sudek's depictions of his human sitters, bathed in shadows and--to a one--introspectively engaged while Sudek captures them looking off to the side, deep in thought, or else facing the camera with airs of resignation or reserve. Smiles are rare here, and usually slight. Sudek knew, as Avedon once pronounced, that "the smile is a mask," and so his subjects seem thoughtfully themselves, often exuding an Eastern European anxiety and sobriety that seems an outgrowth of wartime experience.

There's also a charming theatricality at work as well. It's something not usually associated with Sudek, but his images of well-dressed sitters in their suits, trench coats, fedoras, berets, cloches, and with their canes and pipes, are often evocative of Hollywood studio shots, with a downbeat, noir-ish glamour that doesn't detract from or mock their implicit character.

This theatrical overtone reaches a kind of apotheosis in a 1928 close-up of a young man--a Mr. Podrazil--who faces the camera with a frank, full-frontal glare of self-possession, confident and a little cocky beneath his large fedora, while the shadows cast by his hat darken three-quarters of his face, from which his intense dark eyes penetrate us. Sensational. So, too, are Sudek's images, from the 1940s, of a veiled woman, the contours of her head barely discernable under silky fabric. She is the mysterious totem that could stand in for so much of Sudek's work--dark, hidden, wounded, and yet throbbing with the irrepressible life that lies beneath.


Matt Damsker is an author and critic, who has written about photography and the arts for the Los Angeles Times, Hartford Courant, Philadelphia Bulletin, Rolling Stone magazine and other publications. His book, "Rock Voices", was published in 1981 by St. Martin's Press. His essay in the book, "Marcus Doyle: Night Vision" was published in the fall of 2005.

He currently reviews books for U.S.A. Today.

(Book publishers, authors and photography galleries/dealers may send review copies to us at: I Photo Central, 258 Inverness Circle, Chalfont, PA 18914. We do not guarantee that we will review all books or catalogues that we receive. Books must be aimed at photography collecting, not how-to books for photographers.)