When you're ready to make the move from snapshot to snap buying decision, it helps to hear the advice of an expert. Sotheby's Photographs Specialist Emily Bierman and fashion photographer Sebastian Kim share their tips for new collectors.
HORST P. HORST, CHANEL BEAUTY, NEW YORK. ESTIMATE $25,000–35,000.
Photography is one of the most modern and accessible forms of art. We've all posed for the family portrait at Thanksgiving, posted jealousy-inducing vacation images on Facebook, and taken many (okay, probably too many) pictures with our phones. But when you're ready to make the move from snapshot to snap buying decision, it helps to hear the advice of an expert. Sotheby's Photographs Specialist Emily Bierman and fashion photographer Sebastian Kim share their tips for new collectors.
Photographs is a robust and wide-ranging market, and there's still a lot to see. And seeing—at every possible opportunity—is the best way to refine your eye. "Come to Sotheby's auctions, look at catalogues, visit local galleries, and check out online archives," says Bierman. "Many museums, like the Metropolitan Museum of Art, have their collections largely digitized. Once you figure out what you're drawn to, whether it's a period, an artist, or a theme, keep track of it." Apps like Instagram and Pinterest are great tools to gather what inspires you.
ANSEL ADAMS, WHITE BRANCHES, MONO LAKE, CALIFORNIA. ESTIMATE $8,000–12,000.
Want to find out more about Ansel Adams or notice that your Pinterest board has been overtaken by street photography? "A lot of people don't realize that the department specialists are here to answer questions," says Bierman. "If you're looking to learn more about the market and there's a particular artist or photograph you're drawn to, stop by, call, or email. We're happy to establish a dialogue." Bierman also recommends past auction catalogues and Artnet.com when it comes to researching prices.
BERENICE ABBOTT, NEW YORK AT NIGHT. ESTIMATE $10,000–15,000.
Before making a purchase, savvy collectors need to pose a few key questions. "You should always ask about condition first," says Bierman. "Then you want to know the rarity of a work—is it unique or part of an edition? And, what type of photograph is it? For example, is it a gelatin silver print, a platinum print, a chromogenic print? Is it an early print, made close to the time of the negative, or was it made years later? One is not better than the other, but all those factors contribute to pricing and to your own sense of the photograph in question."
Photography is an investment and should be treated with care: Always keep your pieces away from direct sunlight and humid environments, such as bathrooms and kitchens, and frame responsibly with archival materials and UV-protective plexiglass. "You could also use glass, but we prefer plexi, because glass has the potential to shatter and damage your work," says Bierman.
STEPHEN SHORE, US 10, POST FALLS, IDAHO, 8/25/74. ESTIMATE $8,000–12,000.
Even before you love the photograph on your wall, don't forget to enjoy the process of discovering it. "I just pick what I'm drawn to," says Kim. "It always has to feel personal or intimate. For me, it started with the very first photograph I was gifted when I was Richard Avedon's assistant, Lauren Hutton Great Exhuma. Later, when I was working with Steven [Meisel] I got three more. And it's gone from there. Everything I have is connected to my work and to photographers I admire, who are in my world. I think, in the end, everybody has their own agenda for collecting. But you have to have some kind of emotional investment in what you're putting up."