A Guide to Collecting Photography

Above: All images by Jake Chessum available from Grey Dog Photos
Above: All images by Jake Chessum available from Grey Dog Photos

One: Find Your Passion

It is my belief that buying photography should be an exciting and engaging experience, which is why every selection I curate begins with a conversation. Whether you are new to buying photography or an established collector looking to branch into new areas, I am are here to assist, and I’ve have jotted down some notes for you to get the conversation started. These are designed first and foremost to help you get the most enjoyment from your search.

“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery every day.” Albert Einstein

With any collection, you are going to want to start small, focused on a specific area or theme. This approach will enable you to learn an area well – be that a photographer’s entire body of work or the classic images associated with a particular period or genre of photography.

Armed with this detailed knowledge and taste, you will be well versed in not only the work you love, but also the language used to describe the work, which is important because it will enable you to discover similar photography which you may not have known existed.

But before you can narrow your focus, you must first widen it. Developing your eye will take time, so whenever possible, look around you. Take note of photographs in magazines, photobooks and online, and immerse yourself in work that draws you in and keeps you engaged over a long period of time. Watch for exhibitions that come to your area to learn why certain images and photographers are revered.

Follow curators, picture editors and educators on social media. Look at work that is beyond your means; it will provide a framework and context for your own collection. The more information you absorb, the better informed you will be when it comes to curating your own collection. It will make drawing down to concentrate on the areas that you have come to love all the more easier.

Two: Gather Your Resources

“My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style” – Maya Angelou

Once you’ve done your research, start to look for images you want to live with and can afford. Establish a budget and stick to it. While you may wish to one day own a classic print, doing so may not be possible from the outset, so set your sights on the images that keep you coming back for more. Remember you are looking for work you love. Allow your personal style to influence your eye. This passion means you will be able to speak confidently about the image with anyone you share it with. In purchasing such a print, you have created a connection to a time or a place or a person that means something to you. Just watch: As you share this meaning, your knowledge as a collector will grow. If you set achievable purchasing goals you will meet them, and the more likely it will be that you commit to collecting for the long-term.

Price is a consideration. From antique plates, to prints from a particular movement, to prints made in a particular way including modern archival processes, each genre comes with a price bracket that can be varied and wide. Therefore, knowing why an image is important, how it fits into the history of photography or why it fits with your collection will enable you to curate a selection that includes not only high-end purchases but also work from photographers at the start of their careers. Creating a plan for your collection will help you in the long run.

Three: Community

“My friends are my estate.” – Emily Dickinson

Finding a trustworthy expert to help guide you through every step of collecting will help a lot. Anyone you work with should want to answer your questions and spend the time to further your photographic education. From what an edition number means to the production values of the print, the specialist you choose to work with should be well versed in the history and the quality of the prints for sale as well as the story behind the image and knowledge about the photographer.

Today it is easier than ever to network with other collectors and institutions positioned to assist in developing your collection. Follow them on social media to find out about new photographers and their work. Your research should be ongoing, and this is an easy way to stay on top of developments while at the same time continuing your education.

Photographers’ backgrounds are important considerations. The information to look for includes where they have held exhibitions, how they have worked, who they have worked with or worked for and when. Provenance, for example, is not always relevant, as in the case with more modern work, but when it is – the where and from whom the print has come from is of vital importance to its uniqueness.

Condition also plays into collecting considerations, and it takes time to understand what is meant in the descriptions you will encounter. Your acceptance of condition is down to personal taste, but as a loose rule, newer prints should be as close to fine as possible whereas it will be difficult to find work from the previous century in such good shape.

Should you see work by an established photographer or an emerging one, contact your trusted guide and again ask questions. It may be they are able to provide additional insight or historical context which, while not immediately apparent, could prove useful.

Four: Living With Your Prints

“Perfection is achieved not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” – Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Is the photographer’s style inherent in the image? Does this style work with your collection, taste or intentions? Hopefully you have considered these notions before you purchase your print, but just as important is to think about where you are going to hang your photograph once it arrives at your home or office and the effects that particular environment may have on the print. Direct sunlight and humidity are best avoided so ensure the frames you use include museum-grade glass or UV Plexiglas. Speak with your trusted contact and/or framer for the best options or research on your own the materials used in off-the-shelf products and buy only those that meet your needs.

Don’t forget to check the size of the print you are buying. Including the frame, will the print work in the space you have in mind? With contemporary photographers, it may be possible to acquire a large custom-sized print. With other works, a series of smaller images may display better. In either case, be sure of the scale of the image – it may not be possible to return or even exchange a piece you have acquired.

At Grey Dog Photos, we love looking at photography, and our curators come from a wide variety of backgrounds. Our collective experience is matched only by our enthusiasm and passion for moving images. We feature only images we love, which is all the reason we need to share them with you.

© Sean Samuels 2016

Sean Samuels is the Founder of Grey Dog Photos
You can follow Grey Dog Photos on Facebook /greydogphotoprints on Twitter @greydogphotos and on Instagram @greydogphotos.


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