As some of the world's biggest auction houses gear up to offer photographic pieces this week, statistics show that photographs are consistently lesser valued than their artistic counterparts. Take a look at why photographs have yet to find the same financial footing as other works of art.
Ansel Adams is perhaps the most ubiquitous photographer ever. His photographs have been on the auction block a total of 3,171 times, amassing a sum of $57 million. This seems like a great run (and it is), but consider this: in May of this year, a single Alberto Giacometti sculpture, "L'Homme au Doigt," sold for $141.3 million. At that same auction, Picasso's “Les Femmes d’Alger (Version ‘O’)” fetched a whopping $179.4 million.
So, why the vast gap? Drew Sawyer, a photography curator at the Columbus Museum of Art, notes that it's likely a result of the very nature of photography: it's easily reproduced. In particular, until the 1970s, little effort was made to edition photographs, meaning the relative scarcity and thus, the value of a collectible was often tough to ascertain. This in turn means that a potential buyer has to have an intimate knowledge of not only photography and fine art, but of the general market and the market for that specific item; a combination that few buyers feel confident enough in to drop six to seven figures on (or eight or nine, in the case of paintings and sculptures). Oftentimes, the exact status of a photograph's dissemination is unknown, making it difficult for it to garner the same sort of stratospheric worth that a Picasso might. In fact, whereas Impressionist (for example) paintings have skyrocketed in the past few years, indicating a recovery from the recession of the late aughts, photography has actually declined below its average value before the recession. With that in mind, now might be a good time to invest (you know, if you have a spare $500,000 lying around).
Do you think photography should be on equal standing with other visual arts? Is it as highly regarded as an aesthetic, even if it lags financially? Let us know your thoughts!