For Collectors

I’ve never been a collector of photographs although I do have a very large collection, mainly of my own work, but with a few fine pictures by other photographers, including one or two vintage prints worth fairly serious sums. But I’ve always felt that the kind of photography that interests me most was largely produced for publication in magazines and books, and that these are the things that anyone with a deep interest in the medium should collect.

Of course there are photographs that are made to be seen as objects and that suffer greatly from reproduction; the gum bichromate that usually hangs in my front room would be one example, although even framing it behind glass as I have really kills the tactile nature of the image. It’s replacement for this year, a finely printed large format 2008 calendar* with pictures from the 2005 FotoArt Festival in Bielsko-Biala can hang without protection (and also has the bonus for me that the August image is my picture taken on the riverside at Greenwich, and it feels good to be in such respected company as Pilar Albajar & Antonio Altarriba, Gunars Binde, Stefan Bremer, Shadi Ghadirian, Eikoh Hosoe, Peter Korniss, Joachim Ladefoged, Sarah Saudek, Antanas Sutkus, Lars Tunbjork and Ami Vitale.)

Greenwich, February 1982. (C) Peter Marshall
A couple of my favourite photographs on display are from gravure portfolios published years ago in an American photographic magazine. I’ve seen the originals of both, one a pigment print, and the other an albumen print, and the gravures are both better prints, though costing several thousands of pounds less. On my bookshelves are thousands of superbly printed images (along with rather more where the printing is indifferent or worse) including many colour images which are keeping considerably better than most of the high-priced vintage prints I see displayed by dealers at the shows.

Some books are of course also extremely valuable collectors items now, and the two volumes by Martin Parr and Gerry Badger on photo books have certainly helped to create a market for some of the more obscure (and sometimes deservedly so) titles around. With notable exceptions it isn’t the most interesting works that become the most collectable, but probably those that were either produced in very short runs or that failed to attract much sales at the time.

I do have a few signed copies of books, but I’d never dream of paying extra for one, although a simple signature by the artist adds significantly to the price. But except for those photographers I’ve known personally I really don’t see any point. Obviously I’m not a collector.

A couple of recent events brought these thoughts to the top of my mind. One was finding a link to an article by Paul Messier on the AIPAD site, ‘Preservation of Photographs: Handling, Storage, Display, Conservation & Retention.’ This is a short piece by one of the authorities on the subject, but probably won’t tell most photographers anything they don’t already know. My own older work is stored in conditions almost guaranteed to cause rapid deterioration – some in my loft, glacial in winter and baking in summer, and all suffering from the occasional high humidity of the damp low-lying Thames valley. Which perhaps explains my own conviction – currently heretical among conservators – that the best chances for survival of my own work are digital.

Recently as a member of the London Photographers’ Gallery I got an invitation to a ‘Collecting Photography Course‘ they are running next month. It looks an interesting programme of half a dozen events including the VIP reception for the Deutsche Borse award with champagne and canapés, as well as talks by some very knowledgeable people and visits to the V&A, Michael Hoppen Gallery and Merill Lynch. At £400 it’s a little above my budget, but if you have excess thousands or millions sitting in your Swiss bank account ready to invest in buying photography, well worth the price.

*Collectors – serious offers are invited for my two spare copies of this highly collectable 58cm x 58cm calendar!

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