Published: 08/03/2024

📸 Snap it up: Investing in photography

📸 The last decade has produced some of the most outstanding auction results on record.  

In the modern era, photography has gained recognition as an artistic medium equal to traditional forms like paintings and sculptures. Despite the widespread availability of cameras, only a minority possess the artistic insight, technical skill, and imaginative flair required to be considered “fine art photographers”. Consequently, a small group of photographers stand out at the forefront of this field, commanding record prices for their work, sometimes selling for millions of dollars.  

A Man on the MoonMan on the Moon, Neil Armstrong 1969

But, actually, what is “art photography?” 

Art photography is hard to pin down, as it doesn't have one specific look or technique that sets it apart from regular photos that we take every day, stored in our camera rolls or photo albums. Its appeal lies in its ability to tell a story, evoke emotions, or convey ideas, connecting with the human experience. Essentially, you just know when you see a photo that goes beyond the ordinary.  

When acquiring art with an eye on potential future returns rather than solely for personal enjoyment, the artist becomes your primary consideration. It's crucial to thoroughly research them. Established photographers will have auction records that you can track on platforms like Artnet or Artprice. However, investing in the work of a newer artist involves a degree of risk, yet it could yield significant rewards. While recent graduates may not have a track record in the secondary market, you can gauge their potential success by examining their participation in exhibitions, features in magazines, or any awards they've received. Look out for any buzz surrounding their work. Anonymous vintage photography is currently popular and can be enjoyable to purchase at street markets, yard sales, or online. However, unless you chance upon the next Vivian Maier, it's a speculative investment. 

And what about the investment case? 

Consider the provenance 

The more evidence you can get hold of about a print’s history, the better. When was it made? Where was it printed? Who’s bought and sold it in the years since? Be aware that the sooner a print was made after the photograph was originally shot, the greater its value. A print was made posthumously, it won’t be signed by the artist and this will have an adverse impact. Also, editioning has only been widely practiced since the 70s so an earlier print won’t be numbered but information about how many others exist should be included in paperwork together with other details about the print’s past when you purchase it from an auction house or dealer. 

Consider the photographer 

Beyond the photograph itself, the photographer plays a crucial role in the investment potential of a piece of art. Researching the artist's background, body of work, and reputation is paramount. Established photographers often boast auction records that can be tracked through platforms like Artnet or Artprice, offering insights into market demand and value appreciation trends. However, venturing into the realm of emerging artists can also be lucrative, albeit riskier. 

Keep an eye out for recent graduates or rising talents whose work has gained traction through exhibitions, featured in prestigious publications, or accolades and awards. The buzz surrounding their creations could signify future market success. Additionally, vintage photography has garnered significant attention, with collectors scouring street markets, yard sales, and online platforms for hidden gems. While the discovery of an unknown talent is rare, such finds can prove to be valuable investments. 

Here are some visionaries of photography who redefined the lens: 

David Yarrow: Renowned for his captivating wildlife and conservation photography, Yarrow's distinctive style and commitment to capturing the essence of the natural world have earned him global acclaim. His dramatic compositions and immersive storytelling transport viewers into the heart of the wilderness, fostering a deep connection to the beauty and fragility of our planet. 

Ansel Adams: Widely revered for his breathtaking landscapes of the American West, Adams' mastery of black and white photography and dedication to environmental conservation have solidified his status as a legendary figure in the art world. His iconic images, characterized by meticulous composition and tonal range, continue to inspire awe and reverence. 

"When words become unclear, I shall focus with photographs. When images become inadequate, I shall be content with silence.” Ansel Adams 

Cindy Sherman: A pioneer of conceptual self-portraiture, Sherman's transformative work challenges conventional notions of identity, gender, and representation. Through her enigmatic personas and cinematic tableaus, she explores the complexities of human existence and the fluidity of self-image, leaving an indelible mark on contemporary art. 

Henri Cartier-Bresson: Revered as the father of modern photojournalism, Cartier-Bresson's candid street photography captures the essence of fleeting moments with unparalleled spontaneity and precision. His keen eye for composition and decisive timing revolutionized the medium, influencing generations of photographers and shaping the course of documentary photography. 

Annie Leibovitz: A trailblazing portrait photographer, Leibovitz has immortalized some of the world's most influential figures through her intimate and iconic images. From cultural icons to political leaders, her evocative portraits reveal the complexity of the human spirit, transcending mere representation to capture the essence of her subjects' inner worlds. 

Most expensive photograph ever auctioned

Le Violon D’Ingre (1924) by Man Ray sold for  $12,400,000 at Christies New York. 
Le Violon d’Ingres is regarded as the most expensive picture in the world and one of the 20th century’s most recognized and appreciated artworks. This shot exemplifies Man Ray’s commitment to artistic independence. Man Ray’s muse and partner, artist Alice Prin, was the sitter who posed for the famous photograph. The artwork was initially published in André Breton’s magazine Littérature in June 1924, the same year the piece was created. The work was printed in gelatin silver, and is  29 x 22 cm. 

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Investment considerations

Provenance holds significant weight in the world of photography investment. Documentation detailing the print's history, including its creation date, printing location, and previous owners, provides crucial insights into its authenticity and value. Prints made closer to the original photograph's creation date tend to command higher prices, with posthumously produced prints often lacking the artist's signature, thereby affecting their desirability. Moreover, while editioning became more prevalent in the 1970s, earlier prints may lack numbering but can still hold value, especially when accompanied by comprehensive documentation outlining their rarity and provenance. 

📸 We think there is a great place for fine art photography in our Splint Invest portfolio.  

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Aurelio Image CEO


CEO & Co-Founder