It may be stating the obvious that you should collect the kind of photographs that you really love, but it is a good reminder because we often get caught up in other things on our way to what we want: there was this great review; this is the latest; what a solid reputation; it’ll fetch handsomely at resale; someone anonymously paid $X for the picture!; the club or group has been supporting regional nature photographers for years… for heaven’s sake, buy what you love to look at.
Many collectors have chosen to specialize in an area they have become familiar with due to continuing interest. Some of these could be pioneer photography, early erotic images, abstract black and whites, images specifically from a region like the prairies, rural scenes, only certain photographers, or special kinds of printing processes.
To familiarize yourself with international auctions and transaction amounts paid by collectors have a look at http://www.adec.com/ based in Paris. You can search through their huge database, and, if you wish detailed picture/artist information, you can purchase “response units”, 20 for $20 US. Each unit allows you to view the complete details of a transaction.
Collectors new to the scene and on a limited budget often study upcoming talents who are developing a solid track record of artistic production and exhibition, are artists who question and push the boundaries of their art forms and who seem to have a personal and profound aesthetic and world view, one which they continually explore. Of course, the work must first off appeal to the collector before any further study of the artist is done.
Buying from an artist at this level of development means getting in early at rates which are affordable, a situation which might see the collector pick up a few early originals with the hope that their investment value will increase with the artist’s reputation and the rarity of the work. Often a limited edition of a print will escalate in price incrementally with each signed and numbered release. For serious fine art photography, collectors consider these criteria:
The artist (where do they fit in the evolving history of photography?)
The particular image (do you feel suddenly inside of it, or part of it?
Where does the subject exist in the photographer’s overall work?
Is it best at representing the artist’s strength and personality?)
The dating of the print (what kind of print is it?
Did the photographer produce the print or did an assistant do the job?
Is it a fresh print made from an earlier photograph?)
The medium (is the photograph in a very stable medium like platinum or giclee?)
The signature or identification
The edition or known extant prints, i.e. rarity
The place in the market of the artist and the particular image
When analyzing a photographic print to determine its merits of quality, one must first work from within the realm in which the work was created. For example, a pictorial landscape photographer would work within certain basic criteria such as achieving painterly effects with colour, a rich and full scale of subtle tonal gradations, and exquisitely sharp focus and usually work to produce a large print. An abstract expressionist, on the other hand, works from differing criteria, looking for movement, motion, suggestiveness, freezing an elusive or transient moment, and concentrating more on letting his or her personality free on the image.
Once the collector has a special focus he or she can measure the new artist’s work against the traditional criteria to see how it measures up and how it pushes the boundaries of the collectively understood genre.
Part of the joy of collecting is not only in building a collection, but in culling it from time to time, making adjustments, making deals, making donations of images for charitable events and so on. The whole process is very organic, a pure extension of the collector’s own development. For what art gives is much more than that which is simply acquired.