20 Sep 2011
6 Questions to Ask When You Want to Buy Photography as Art
Today’s post was written by photographer Steven Crainford. Steven is a good friend I made at the Artists’ Network here in Toronto, and he is also my printer for all my Giclée art prints. This post was originally posted on his blog, and it is reprinted here with his permission.
6 Questions to Ask When You Want to Buy a Photography as Art
By Steven Crainford of A Musing Photographer
You are at an art show, or perhaps a gallery, and you see a photograph on display that catches your interest. You are considering buying it for your home or office. Before you plunk down your credit card there are several questions that you should ask.
QUESTION 6 – HOW IS IT FRAMED?
Not that many years ago, the concept of framing art in an acid free environment was not nearly as well accepted as it is today. I have a few pieces in my collection that had corrugated cardboard behind the picture and mat board that had a brown core that was not archival. So, it is important for the longevity of the photograph you are thinking of buying to ask the artist (or sales person) whether the piece is framed in acid free materials. If not, don’t buy it – unless it is really cheap and you don’t care how long it lasts.
QUESTION 5 – WHO PRINTED IT?
If you want to buy a painting, you know it is painted by the artist because the signature proves it. However, a photograph, while taken by the artist, may not be printed by him/her. In these days of digital capture and printing, anyone with a printer could have printed almost any photograph. If “your” photograph is not printed by the artist it is not necessarily a bad thing.
Back in the days of silver printing, Richard Avedon, a highly respected fashion photographer, did not print his own negatives. But, for many years he had all his work printed by one person. They developed an extremely close understanding of how to express what Avedon wanted. If a modern photographer has all his printing done by one printer you can be pretty sure that you are getting quality work. But, if it is printed at different times by different labs, then the results may be inconsistent. To my mind, it speaks to a lack of pride in the final product that is being sold. So, ask about it and learn.
QUESTION 4 – WHAT IS IT PRINTED WITH?
You all remember the photograph of old aunt Maude who appears to be fading away into nothingness. I had a university graduation photo from 1971 that hung on my mother’s wall and 25 years later it was getting faint and the colours were changing. This is a result of the technology of photographic printing in the past. Prints were made using dye based pigments, and after long exposure to light, they begin to change. With digital prints it is possible to use either dye based inks or pigment inks. You want to be assured that “your” photograph is printed with pigment inks. If so (and the answers to the other questions are right) your art will last well beyond your lifetime with no perceptible fading of the image. If you hear the words “dye based inks” then put down the picture, step back and nobody gets hurt!
QUESTION 3 – WHAT IS IT PRINTED ON?
Continuing with the theme of longevity and archival quality, you need to know that the paper or canvas that the artist used to make “your” photograph is fully acid free. Don’t accept anything less!
QUESTION 2 – WHY DO I WANT TO BUY IT?
I think this question applies to all art, not just photography. I sincerely hope that you aren’t thinking of buying “your” photograph as an investment that will make money. The chances of that are remote. And even if it did appreciate in value, in order to realize your profit you would have to sell it. And then you couldn’t enjoy it any more! This brings up the issue of open versus limited editions. There are some who believe that a print from a limited edition is worth more than one from an open edition. OK, suppose you had a print from an edition of 15. Is it intrinsically worth more than one from an edition of 250? I don’t know. But, think of it this way. You have your print hanging on your wall and you enjoy it. Now think that 250 others have theirs hanging on their wall. How likely is it that you will know or run into any of them? Not very likely. So, as far as you know, yours is the only one even though it could be one of 10,000. It seems to me that the cachet of limited editions is often artificially induced as snob appeal. I think you shouldn’t be distracted by these things and you should answer the next question.
QUESTION 1 – DO I LOVE THIS PHOTOGRAPH?
Going back to the beginning of this post – you come upon a photograph at an art show. Does it stop you in your tracks? Does it make you smile? Does it move you? Does it take you someplace you want to be? Is it something you want to look at again and again? Then, I think it is a photograph you want to buy. Of course you need it to be within your budget, that goes without saying. Many people wimp out by saying, “I have no wall space.” I think that, if it really speaks to you, you will find somewhere to place it even if you rotate other pictures to accommodate your new acquisition. So, buy it because you love it!!
So, there are my thoughts on the matter! You may agree, you may disagree, but I hope you have an opinion. I would love to hear it. I am going to finish with a quotation from a novel I just finished reading. It was the story of Renoir creating “Luncheon of the Boating Party”.
“Art is love made visible.”
All the best, Steve
What do you think about buying photography as art? Do you ask different questions when you do?
And for the artists out there – are you taking these questions to heart? Is your artwork up to par with what buyers are looking for?
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