Photography market: Paris rivals with New York and London



Strong demand and an abundant offer: having earned a legitimate place in the history of art, photography has become a dynamic medium with a rapidly maturing and increasingly demanding market. Today the photography medium accounts for 7% of total global auction revenue generated from Contemporary art and its auction revenue total has grown 1,300% since the end of the 1990s (+1,270% between 1998 and 2008) in a market traditionally dominated by painting, sculpture and drawing.

During the 2008-2009 crisis, collectors spent substantially less on art generally, buying fewer paintings (sales of Contemporary paintings contracted 11% in 2008-2009 compared with 2006-2007), but they do not appear to have reduced their spending on photography. The success of the photography segment is probably related to the following factors: firstly, the star signatures in the photography segment are less expensive than those of the Contemporary painting market, and secondly, photography is an easy medium to store (ideal for bulimic collectors and investors) and is totally in tune with the avid consumption of images that so much characterises the spirit of our times.

The auction triumvirate Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Phillip’s de Pury & Company held their special New York Photography sales from 6 to 8 October 2010. The final results were good with three-quarters of the lots sold. The stars of these sales were a portrait of Pablo Picasso by Irving PENN ($182,000 at Phillip’s de Pury & Company), a reprint of Robert FRANK’s U.S. 90, en route to Del Rio, Texas that sold for twice its high estimate ($215,000 at Sotheby’s), Edward STEICHEN’s Wind fire, Thérèse Duncan on the Acropolis ($115,000 at Sotheby’s), a print of Ansel Easton ADAMSGrand Tetons and the Snake River ($270,000 at Christie’s) and a daguerreotype entitled 261. Paris Etude de plantes by Joseph Philibert GIRAULT DE PRANGEY ($195,000 at Christie’s).

These six-figure results were all generated by “safe-bet”, “historical” and Modern signatures of the photography market. The following week a number of more recent photographs sold in London at the Post-War & Contemporary Art sales. Andreas GURSKY’s spectacular cibachrome Pyongyang IV (304.5 x 207 cm) crossed the GBP 1 million threshold ($1.7m), doubling its estimated price range announced by Christie’s! In fact, since it last sold in February 2008 (at the top of the market), Pyongyang IV added a further $500,000 to its hammer price. These prices were particularly encouraging in the run-up to the Photography Month in Paris.

Paris, world capital of photography
Every year, Paris hosts a plethora of photography exhibitions throughout the capital over a period lasting roughly one month.
The core event at the origin of this effervescence around still images is the Paris Photo art fair which brings together 120 galleries from 25 countries (18 to 21 November 2010). Indeed, the Parisian event is a grander version of the September of Photography in Lyon and the Rencontres de la photographie in Arles during the summer. This year, for the 30th anniversary of the Photography Month, there will be numerous commercial and non-commercial side-events, including exhibitions by André KERTÉSZ (Jeu de Paume, until 6 February 2011), Larry CLARK (Musée National d’Art Moderne, until 2 January 2011) and Harry CALLAHAN (Henri Cartier-Bresson Foundation, until 19 December 2010).

At the same time, around 200 alternative exhibitions will be organised in the framework of the Photo-OFF Month and the auction houses are preparing for marathon sales: on 19 November, Sotheby’s will start the proceedings with the first Photography sale and Piasa will be offering Old, Modern and Contemporary Photographs on the same day. The following day, Christie’s is organising a major sale of works from the Richard Avedon Foundation and there will also be two specialised photography sales on 21 November: Old and Modern Photographs at Ader and Photography at Kapandji Morhange. In fact, there will be thousands of photographs offered for sale in less than one week!