Collecting Photographs

Collecting Photography

Things to consider ...

1.  who is the artist ?

2.  name of piece of art ? date ?

3.  technique used ?

4.  number of prints ?

The 70s marked the beginning of photography as a collectible art form. Photographers moved from printing unlimited copies, to the model used by lithographers. This is essentially a representation based on trust of how many prints are to be printed, and it relies on the honesty of photographers, their printers and galleries.

Prints are now typically (but not always) sold in series, with a defined end-point. Editions are usually between 3 and 15 prints, in various set sizes (small, medium, large format). Gallerist and photographers can decide to make the price increases when the prints are sold. The earliest prints are the least expensive, after which prices increase up to the end of the series.

Prices will also vary based on the size of the prints sold. There are usually two extra prints, not for sale but for the artist’s record: there are named Artist proof (AP) or Epreuve d’artiste (EP). These prints can however end up on the art market, especially if the artist is recognized after his or her death.

A photographer has more often an oral than a written engagement with a gallery insuring exclusivity in one country. Known photographers can have a gallery in several big cultural cities like London, NYC, Berlin, Milan… At an international art fair, his or her work could be presented simultaneously in a few galleries’ booths. The galleries keep track between themselves of the edition numbers and prices for available pieces.

Vintage prints refer to those printed at the time the artist was active, and are more valuable than reprints made later.


Printing & display techniques

The first decades of photography were very experimental and innovative. The earliest photographers, many of them French, used raw materials as egg white (albumen), salts or starch to fix images, first on paper, then on glass. It was a long, slow while until the discovery  of the film process that allows a very easy and democratic use of photography.

Most photographers today use digital printing, even if they still use film photography.  The negatives are scanned to print in professional studios. It is not possible to print the currently popular large, color formats in a darkroom.

Sometimes photos are backed with aluminum (‘contrecollé’) and they can also be face mounted to plexiglass, a technique and patented manufacturing process called a diasec.  This adds brightness and depth to a photo, and is currently in vogue.  BUT the plexiglass can be easily scratched and irreversibly damaged, which lowers the work’s value.


Learn more

  • A concise introduction to the history of photography.

  • Here’s a quick historical timeline of developments in photography from

  • A fun look at how art photographic movements map to major art trends.

  • Here’s a very good article on current trends in photography collecting, from Blouin ArtInfo.  

  • A great glossary of photographic terms can be found at the Ansel Adams Gallery site. It’s useful to familiarize yourselves with them so you can better understand exactly what you’re buying.

Collecting Drawings

We were struck reviewing the 2013 artprice auction data that drawings are commanding an increasing share of art auction revenue. In 2003, drawings were only 13% of auction revenue, by 2012 & 2013 it was more like 33%.

While it is likely that most of this value is from artworks from the modern period changing hands, we have been encouraged by well-attended fairs such as DrawingNow, and major gifts such as that of Florence and Daniel Guerlain of their contemporary drawings to Centre Pompidou, that drawings are increasingly appealing to new and intermediate collectors.

There are lots of good reasons for this, number one being that drawings are compelling, striking, and usually, but not always, more affordable than paintings.

You can see in them the talent and character of the artists that created them, they’re not always merely sketches and studies for a final work product that only hint of the great work to come. They’re great in their own right.

In fact, says reknowned drawings collector Frances Guerlain, “when we consider the old masters’ paintings, we find preparatory drawings that are every bit as beautiful as the final masterpieces.”

Certainly all the important museums have significant drawings collections, including Centre Pompidou and MoMA.

The term “drawings” also represents a very diverse set of materials and techniques. While paintings typically refer to works on canvas/linen, drawings can be made on paper, textured paper, found materials, wood, and yes, even canvas. Many artists create exquisite carnets de dessins, or sketchbooks, that are lovely, collectible art objects.

And works amateur collectors often think of as “paintings” are technically drawings because they’ve been done on paper, for example, watercolors.

When you’re buying works on paper, don’t be satisfied until you know what materials have been used to create them. It’s not enough to say “mixed-media” or “technique mixte” -- for conservation purposes you want to make sure the materials are ones that will endure -- unless degradation over time is an explicit artistic intent and one you’re comfortable with.

English-French Materials Dictionary for works on paper

watercolor = aquarelle

gouache = gouache

pastel pencil = pastel

dry pastel = pastel sec

charcoal = fusain

charcoal pencils = crayons fusain

conté crayons = craies Conté

graphite stick = bâton de graphite

water-soluble graphite stick = bâton de graphite soluble à l’eau

india ink = encre de chine

ballpoint pen = stylo bille

felt-tipped markers = stylo feutre

white-out or liquid paper = fluide correcteur (ou tippex)

water-soluble colored pencils = crayons aquarelles

spray paint = bombe de peinture



Donation Florence et Daniel Guerlain dessins contemporains Centre Pompidou, Editions du Centre Pompidou, Paris 2013 The Art Market in 2013

An atelier visit with Henri Foucault

About Henri

While Henri Foucault (b. 1954) trained as a sculptor at the Ecole nationale supérieure des beaux arts in Paris, he has become famous for his photography. This is in part because he uses photography as a medium for sculpture.

Foucault gives volume and shape to his photographs using traditional sculptural techniques: adding or subtracting material. Over the years and the series, he experimented various treatments of the prints. He can perforate some photos, cut into them, sometime adding others underneath to create a moiré effect.

He also underscores forms in the prints with intricately inserted pins or carefully-mounted Swarowski crystals. The reflection of the light in the head of pins and the crystals create another play with volume and movement.

His favorite inspiration is the human form, and especially the moving body, the body of dance. His works are multidimensional and unreproducible. Foucault often uses solarization, making each photo unique and true of works of art.

In his large atelier just outside of Paris, he makes monumental pieces like the 25m installation realised for the Venice Biennale in 2005. It illustrates bodies either falling or floating, depending on your perspective. Foucault was honoured with a retrospective at Monnaie de Paris in 2008.

Let us know if you're planning to acquire a work by Henri -- you all have his card so you are welcome to contact him directly and we're happy to go back with you if you'd like advice on which work to buy.

Works from Satori

Works from Satori

Buying in the atelier

Before you go

The first question is always, how do I get invited to an atelier?

Well, ask your art advisor if you have one, if he or she has access to any artists’ ateliers, or suggest names of contemporary artists you’d like to meet. You may know or meet artists, and by all means ask if they’re interested in a visit.

You should know when you visit an atelier that the artist has likely spent considerable time tidying and preparing for your visit, hanging and organizing works. So be mindful that not only have they spent time in advance of your visit, but you’re cutting into their working time.

Also know that some ateliers get quite chilly during the winter -- dress appropriately!

If you want to buy something you see at the atelier, here’s what you need to know:

If the artist is represented by a gallery:

  • the gallery is usually representing the whole work of an artist, even what is still at the atelier and even if the sale is happening totally without its intervention. Then, you can see the various pieces and then proceed by buying and paying through the gallery (which will take the usual 50% of the price).
  • It could occur that the artist and his gallery have an agreement only on few pieces or a particular series only, then you can buy directly from the artist as the work is outside of the gallery’s agreement.  Expect lower prices in this case.

If the artist does not have gallery representation:

  • She or he is the only one in charge of discussing the price and the way of payment. Be ready to face such problems as: unset prices, lack of will to sell, etc. It is easier to manage once you develop your buying experience.

If you have an art advisor:

  • If you don’t have your art advisor on retainer (meaning paying on a monthly or percentage basis), he/she will or negotiate his/her commission with the gallery or add it to the artist’s price if the artist is unrepresented.

Reminder: if you are buying as a foreigner for delivery outside of France, you shouldn’t pay the French VAT.


It's like high stakes gambling coupled with flea market finds and fine art… keep calm!

French market regulation

The auction market was very protected in France until 2011: a long monopoly by the French state graduated and controlled the number auction houses.

In 2011, it opened the market to international operators, the 2 biggest being Christie’s and Sotheby’s.

Christie’s and Sotheby’s French offices were in Paris before only to collect works from private collections in France to be sold in London or NYC.

Interestingly, these companies can also now trade between private people without the works even going to a public auction, much to the chagrin of traditional auction houses.

Most of French auctioneers hold their sales at Hotel Drouot, which is still ruled like a medieval corporation. Since the 1860s, staff have been trained and come almost exclusively from the Savoye region (Alps), and are affectionately called “Cols rouges”.

Learning about the sales

To stay on top of the many auctions happening all the time, it's important to subscribe to some publications, online or otherwise. Common sales (as opposed to prestige sales) are often announced only a week in advance. Go in person to consult catalogues in auction houses or read them online. Follow them on social media, where available.

The big sales mostly follow the art calendar:

  • in Fall around FIAC
  • photography auctions in November during Paris Photo
  • big Spring sales in May

In Drouot, there is always something running. Busy all week long and some addicts go every day.

Preparing for the sale

If you’re interested in a sale, buy or download the catalogue, look for exhibition schedule, which will tell you when to go and see the works (usually it’s the day before or the morning between 10-12) :

  • Check the size, colors and state of conservation (ask for the report on very expensive works). Look at the description and provenance.

  • Ask the advice of an expert for specific and expensive works (although they are presented by an auctioneer, some incorrect authentications happen).

Before the sale

  • Decide how you want to participate:
    • in the room

    • via your art advisor on the phone

    • online (must pre-register your bids)

  • Register for the sales at Christie’s, Sotheby’s, etc. online or in advance of the sale at auction houses.

  • Buy or download the catalogue so you can follow along and note sale prices.
  • There is usually no registration required for common sales at Drouot.
  • Set the value you don’t want to exceed for each work you’re interested in.
  • Don’t forget that you will pay 15-20% taxes (for the auctioneer) plus VAT on the top of the “hammer” price when paying.

During the sale

Follow the lots and prices with your catalogue.

When it’s your turn, raise your hand to indicate your interest. Then the auctioneer either announces a slightly higher price or you can speak your offer.

If the auctioneer slams his “marteau” or hammer at your price, you win… unless the price has not met the reserve bid set by the vendor. In which case you're out of luck.

Warning again : Don’t forget the circa 20% of taxes + VAT that always make the prices higher. As he is taking a commission on the work seller, it means the auction house takes approximately 35-40% on each transaction.

After the sale

An agent will come and give you a piece of paper to fill with your information. Ask where you will pay and collect your purchase.

Auction houses can also offer shipping solutions.

Participating in an auction online

It’s started… Always difficult to bid without seeing. For small items, standard goods (furniture like Panton chairs), or very trained buyers.

Some are Artnet, Expertissimo (with decreasing bids on a set time)

Additional reading

Seattle Times, 1990 (dated, but captures the spirit of the place!)

Grayson Perry: Democracy Has Bad Taste (Thanks, Suzanne, for the link!) A podcast about "the complex process of judging whether contemporary works of art are good or bad quality."

Vote for our atelier visit here!

Here are just a few artists we can go visit. Take a look at the images above and the links below to get a sense of their work and their ateliers. Then, pick your top 3. We'll collate the results and book a 'date' with the most popular choice!


 & the nominees are...


Christophe Beauregard , photographer, at Bateau Lavoir in Montmartre

Franck Léonard, painter and drawer, in Montreuil

Charlotte Charbonnel, mixed media works with a scientific bent, in the 19th

Henri Foucault, photographer & sculptor, in Montreuil

Laëticia de Bazelaire, sculptor Place Saint Marthe in the 10th



Pick your top 3:

Name *

A few more galleries to visit in the Marais

We visited Agnès B, Semiose and Galerie Dukan, yet there are so so many more galleries to see. Here are our favourites, across the cost spectrum.

Galerie Perrotin

76 Rue de Turenne, 75003

Galerie Thaddeus Ropac

7 Rue Debelleyme, 75003

Galerie Karsten Grève

5 Rue Debelleyme, 75003

Galerie Jean Brolly

16 Rue de Montmorency  75003

JGM Galerie

79 Rue Du Temple 75003 Paris

Galerie Marian Goodman

79 Rue Du Temple 75003 Paris

School Gallery

322 rue Saint Martin  75003

Galerie Isabelle Gounod

13 Rue Chapon  75003

Galerie Christian Berst

5 Passage des Gravilliers  75003

La Galerie Particulière

16 Rue du Perche, 75003


Marais Galleries Collecting ABCs.png

Useful online resources for researching acquisitions

Galerie du jour, Agnès B with Vincent Dulom

Galerie du jour, Agnès B with Vincent Dulom


ArtPrice and Artnet : art market information, primarily the sale prices of art traded at auction.


city | art insider's twitter feed 


Fondation Ricard's Galeries Mode d'Emploi, available in galleries or online. 





Sotheby's Paris

Christie's Paris 


Saatchi Online


What Is That Art Worth?, NY Times, January 5, 2013   

Tips to Starting a Collection, WSJ, January 20, 2012

The Price of Art Fairs, Blouin Art Info










Some ideas for collection groupings

Displaying a collection at the Maison Particulière in Brussels, Belgium.

Displaying a collection at the Maison Particulière in Brussels, Belgium.

It is difficult to determine what your collection might become at the beginning, but the more you acquire, the more you realize what appeals to you the most -- and thus a collection evolves. Not unlike your personal fashion sense, it requires experience and time. I like to think of it on a long term scale.

A few ideas for art collections:

  1. a historical period of art: Old Masters - 19th century - Modern - Postwar - Contemporary art
  2. what the art depicts or renders eg, landscapes, portraits, still lifes, architectural drawings, maps, a particular subject such as deer etc. This gives you choice in forms, too, from oils, watercolors and works on canvas, to sculpture, ceramics, tapestries etc.
  3. a collection featuring the work of a certain artist
  4. a “school” of work such as neo-realism, post-modernism etc.
  5. type of work such as a collection of sculpture, photography, oils, decorative arts such as tapestry, design furniture and objects
  6. A mood: sombre, light-filled etc.
  7. a theme, for example political art, the art of war, satirical art, grotesquerie, society etc.


The pros and cons of various art buying venues


  1. direct atelier

    1. if you happen to know artists

    2. if artist not yet represented, can buy below retail prices

    3. gives you a wonderful sense of supporting a real person’s artistic voice and ambitions

    4. can be the beginning of a lifelong relationship

    5. if the artist is represented you will need to pay gallery commissions

  2. galleries

    1. biggest galleries tend to show internationally-recognized artists

    2. smaller or newer galleries present emerging, often more local, artists

    3. some are working with modern and postwar art.

    4. Paris has a very long history as an art market; it is still the 4th place for art market, after NYC, China, and London

    5. From the price of a work, usually 50% goes to the gallery, 50% to artist.

    6. If artist is represented by multiple galleries, each party takes a cut of that percentage.

    7. typically galleries pay a commission to consultants or advisors

    8. galleries may offer discounts to regular clients

  3. auction houses (lots more to discuss next week!)

    1. again Paris is tops for auctions

    2. can buy in person, through an advisor, or online

    3. can get some great deals

    4. can get caught up in adrenaline

    5. percentage goes to house

  4. internet

    1. A truly impersonal transaction

    2. lots of choice, hard to verify authenticity, state of the work etc

    3. takes practice to know how a work viewed online translates into the real world object

  5. through an art advisor

    1. has access to widest offerings across galleries, private collections, auctions, ateliers etc

    2. works with you on collection goals and strategies

    3. notifies you of works of interest

    4. accompanies you if you wish to galleries, fairs and auctions

    5. can negotiate on your behalf

    6. can be paid on retainer, by percentage, or by commission from galleries and artists -- make sure you clarify up front

  6. fairs

    1. offering the possibility of seeing the latest productions of thousand of artists at the same time
    2. exposure to international galleries -- without taking a plane
    3. becoming an important source of revenue for traditional galleries


Another view:

How to start an art collection with $1,000 or less, by The Guardian's Culture Blog, October 2013


Caroline's review of the art market

The art market today

  • The latest evaluation of the art market’s size and its evolution were released last week (October/2013). They are showing a 15% increase of the contemporary art market at an international level.

  • Contemporary art has become more attractive than before, but modern art still represents almost 40% of the market. The emerging markets and new museums in China and others are demanding contemporary art.

  • Also art has become an important tool for investments. Since the various financial crises of the last 10 years, banks are investing in art as a refuge. So they’re a demand-side pressure.

The three main market segments for works of art:

  1. On the bottom: reproductions

    1. can buy online, low-risk

    2. no real investment upside

    3. an easy way to get works you love on your walls

  2. middle of the market: good original works

    1. lesser or modestly known artists

    2. real value, reasonable prices,

    3. potential for investment upside, but it’s always a risk

    4. the satisfaction of owning an original work

  3. crazy top market for a very few collectors and investors

    1. can be hard to understand the rationale

    2. can be quite speculative and risky

    3. once a work is acquired by a celebrity investor, that’s instant promotion for the artist

    4. top collectors also often sit on museum boards, so what they’re buying tends to end up in museums, too
contemporary art market 2013.jpg

What smart collectors do before they buy

First Principles

  • Love what you're buying
  • Research and evaluate before buying your works of art
  • Choose works that move you toward a collection

Before you buy, be able to answer following questions:


(1) Who is the artist?

  1. Date of the artist’s birth and death (if applicable).

  2. Where does the artist live and work?

  3. Where, when and with whom has the artist studied?

  4. Which organizations does the artist belong to?

  5. At which galleries, museums or institutions has the artist has exhibited?

  6. Has she or he had one-person shows or group shows with other artists?

  7. Which awards, prizes, grants and honors has the artist received?

  8. Which public, private, or corporate collectors owns work by the artist?

  9. What positions has the artist held? (resident artist, professor, teacher, lecturer, writer, and so on)

  10. Which publications mention the artist? (online art sites, books, catalogues, magazines)


(2) Why am I buying it?

  1. Why do I like it?

  2. Do I like the subject matters, what it represents, the colors, the historical aspects, the lives of the artists?

  3. Does it make me feel a certain way, does it represent an important truth for me?

  4. Do I admire its technical aspects?

  5. Does it make me see life differently?

  6. Is it that it's old, new, local, foreign, big, small, round, square, whatever?


(3) Investment potential


  1. How much do I care about investment potential for this work?

  2. How significant is the art?

  3. How does it fit into the spectrum of similarly collectible works

  4. What is its provenance, history, and documentation (or more simply, where has the art been and who's owned it)?

  5. Who is selling it?

  6. Who is promoting the artist? (gallerist, collector, museums etc).

  7. Does the asking price feel fair?

  8. How are similar works selling at auction?

  9. Are prices increasing or decreasing?

  10. Will I be selling in the short-term (want clear evidence of price increases) versus long-term?

  11. Am I comfortable with the level of risk involved in this purchase?