Modern Photography/Collection

The collection of photographs could be said to have popularly begun in the 20th century.

It seems to me that the first stage in the development of the modern collector's market in photography came ... with two bookseller's catalogues in 1939, then considered to be the centenary of photography ... For collectors and dealers the centenary was also a reminder that these early images were now artifacts in their own right, and that the passage of time had ensured that they were no longer capable of being produced in the way they were then ...

—Stuart Bennet, Christie's (Auction House), address to collector's symposium, Arles, France, 1977.

The pursuit reached relative maturity in the closing decades of the 20th century.

The current surge of interest in photography as a fine art and the burgeoning of public photographic collections have led to a brand-new phenomenon: private individuals, many of whom previously collected modern paintings or graphic art, are increasingly collecting photographic works. There are now, in New York City alone, more than a dozen photography dealers; moreover, the major art auction houses have entered the field.

—Preface to The Photograph Collector's Guide (1979), Alan Shestack

Reasons for collectingEdit

Why do we collect?

Collecting (and every collector knows the symptoms) means seeking, desiring, wanting, yearning for, coveting, having to have ... and — as soon as possible — acquiring, possessing, hugging to the bosom, and savoring with all the joys and prides of ownership.

It is impossible to explain to someone who is not consumed by such passions why the purchase of a special painting, book or photograph takes priority over a trip to Europe, a new pair of shoes, or a gold inlay. We all know collecting art is not a pursuit of basic survival. However, it is an exquisite involvement with aesthetic achievements — a kind of mingling with the gods. Though we may not live by bread alone, collecting is one of the few pursuits in which we can have our cake and eat it, too.

—Lee D. Witkin

Originals versus reproductionsEdit

Original prints can often be said to have a beauty distinct from printed reproductions more widely available in books.

Original prints have unique qualities of tone, luminosity, and "presence" that no book or magazine reproduction can duplicate. From the first day I opened the doors of my gallery, I have repeatedly heard the remark: "I'd only seen the image in books — I had no idea it was so beautiful!"

—Lee D. Witkin

Selection criteriaEdit

While selection criteria are ultimately personal, many collectors have specific strategies based upon raw personal response and/or technical and aesthetic merit.

I have always used two criteria in my collecting: first, the image must produce a strong emotional feeling in me; and, second, there must be a high quality to the photographic print itself. Because I never collect 'names,' per se, I buy the work of unknown or forgotten photographers as well as famous ones.

—Dan Berley

A gut level feeling — but you have to have as informed a gut as possible.

—Anonymous collector

In addition, many collectors focus their collections on a particular subject (for example a geographic region, or images containing a certain visual subject), group of photographers (for example photographers from a certain country), or time period, images produced using certain cameras or processes, or some combination of these.