• 23 Apr 2018

While the photography season just finished in New York, Artnet published a study that points out disturbing facts. Indeed, the photography market which peaked in 2013 seems to have dropped to the extent of falling back ino its 2010 results. Art-Trope gives you a detailed assessment of this investigation.

Photographer Ansel Adams par J. Malcolm Greany

Photographer Ansel Adams © J. Malcolm Greany

A dizzying drop in the photography market

On April 6th 2018, the auction house Bonhams disappointed the Art world despite a highly anticipated auction. Indeed, Irving Penn’s photograph entitled “Cuzco Children, Peru” taken in 1948 and estimated between 200 000 and 300 000 dollars did not find a buyer. It is even more surprising considering the fact that Irving Penn, who just had a retrospective at the Grand Palais in February 2018; is the photographer who sells the most. As a result, Artnet Price Database and Artnet Analytics Reports jointly published a report about the photography market trends since 2010. On its main chart, the years 2011 and 2012 show performances on the rise which reached a peak in 2012 with 30.6 million dollars of total income. It means there has been close to a 40% increase every year since 2010. Such figures are the result of record sales particularly thanks to Christie’s and its photographic spring auctions. Therefore the first auction of a private collection of modern photographs generated 7.5 million dollars. However, a fall of 33% happened in 2016 followed by an improvement in 2017 prior to getting back down again in 2018 to reach 15.8 million dollars of income. It is the 2010 result.

Ballet society in 1948 by Irving Penn

Ballet society, 1948 © Irving Penn

Photography lacks of dedicated auction houses

The 2013 peak could find an explanation in the fact that Bonhams did not start selling photographs before April 2013. As a result, it contributed to the extent of 500 000 dollars as for the total income in the market. When it comes to analyzing the decrease that followed, the lack of actors dedicated to photography seems to be one of the main causes. Indeed, the deceptions of internationally renowned Artists sales such as Cindy Sherman and William Eggleston were the consequence of their inclusion with Contemporary Art sales as opposed to photography only. It shows that there is still a significant lack of recognition of the particular status as part of the Fine Arts market. Nevertheless, the Chritie’s and Sotheby’s duopoly needs now to face new competitors that are tougher. This is how Phillips cleaned out its competitors and ranked first in 2015 surprising everybody. It did not prevent the 2018 photographic season from disappointing its organizers. Laura Paterson, head of photography at Bonhams New York stated: “When something is very exceptional, we get quite good traction; this season it seems people were quite happy to look at a work and get the experience of a photograph, but less happy to pay for things.”

The most bankable photographers : a male dominated ranking

Among the 10 Art photographers who sold the most, Irving Penn and Ansel Adams dominate the ranking. Irving Penn totals 18.5 million dollars of sales alone since 2010. Ansel Adams is just behind with 17 million dollars. These two photographers are at the top by far since the third photographer, Edward Weston totals 11.8 million dollars. However, the photography world remains male dominated. Indeed, they generated 12.5 times more money than their female counterparts. Also, the only woman who is part of the ranking is Diane Arbus. The gap has slightly shrinked following up Bonhams’ entrance in photography. Female Artists recognition in the Fine Arts market but also in Art History remains a burning issue. Art-Trope wrote an article about this matter through the example of the city of Florence and its effort to do female painters from the Renaissance justice.

Woman in Chicken Hat (Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn) in 1949 by Irving Penn

Woman in Chicken Hat (Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn), 1949 © Irving Penn


Read our article about Art-Trope Artist Ueli Kühni here.

Sources: Artnet and The Art Newspaper