Photographers – Do you Collect Music?

Over the last twelve to eighteen months I have made a concerted effort when speaking with other photographers to ask them the seemingly obvious question: “Do you collect other photographer’s work?”

The responses have been very interesting to say the least, with the vast majority saying, “Yes. I have quite a lot of photography books.”  To this end, I don’t think I know a photographer worth his or her salt who does not own even a modest collection of books on photography.

At this point I have to clarify myself by adding: “What I mean is, do you collect or own any Fine Art Prints from other photographers?”

I am often greeted with either a blank stare or a confused look, sometimes with a “No” and only occasionally with a “Yes”.

When I ask them why they do not own any other photographer’s work, on the whole they can’t give me a reasonable response. Many of them clumsily stumble over their words before regrettably admitting they have no good reason for not owning any other photographer’s work. This response has been almost universal.

As a result, it seems to me there is somewhat of a strange “disconnect” between photographers who produce fine art prints and those who actually collect or own any outside of their own work. I want to use an analogy to try and put this into perspective.

Musicians are also by definition artists. And yet, all musicians collect the music of other musicians without exception. They collect what they appreciate and enjoy. They also want to see what their peers are producing.dazed_confused_musicWhy should it be any different for photographers?

I would certainly be keen to hear from other photographers who have had a different experience. It seems reasonable to me that if you produce art, you should share in the ownership of the art of others. It is one thing to peruse it in a book, quite another to live with it in your home. I would argue it is when we live with a piece of art that we truly learn to, not only appreciate it, but also potentially fully understand it. Viewing a print in a gallery is also a very different experience to passing that print in your home a dozen or more times a day.

I do not believe for a second that any of the photographers I have spoken with appreciate only their own art. If this was the case they would not own or purchase so many photography books or they would not enjoy viewing the work of other photographers at galleries, or online.

No; there is something else at work here that is responsible for the “disconnect”. Before I try and dissect what is going on I just want to make a quick comment on photography books at this point.  I love and own many books by many different photographers. I regularly enjoy perusing them and enjoy the photographs immensely. However, they are all, without exception poor facsimiles of the original fine art prints. Offset printing cannot yet match the colors, tonalities and subtleties of an original fine art print. Offset printing is getting better all the time, but realistically it still has a long way to go before it can encapsulate the fine art print.

You are probably thinking to yourself at this point, Do I own any fine art prints from other photographers?

The answer is yes; I do, though my collection still excludes many photographers whose work I greatly admire. However, I am proud to count several well known photographers amongst my art collection and quite a few others whose names are far less well known. These are actual hand signed (sometimes limited edition) fine art photographic prints. My collection also includes fine art prints from photographers I have swapped work with over the years, either through mutual respect and admiration for our work, or because we have visited the same locations and wanted to see each other’s interpretations in a finished print. Indeed, this is one of the great pleasures of making prints for me.

There is no better yardstick to gauge the quality and standard of your own prints than to be able to compare your work with that of other photographers whose work you respect and admire.

So I encourage you – if you like art, and in particular photographic art, then do yourself and the art world a favor – buy a fine art print from a photographer whose work you admire and respect. It doesn’t have to be one of mine and this piece is not in any way intended to promote my own fine art prints. Just find a piece of photographic art you like and start your own collection. Your life will be far richer for the experience.

Addendum:

I have subsequently shown this piece to a good photographer friend of mine whose opinion in these matters I highly value. He has made the following comments which I feel are worthy of inclusion as both a potential explanation and as one experienced individual’s conclusions.

I, too, am “guilty” of not collecting the prints of other photographers. In fact, the ONLY print I have EVER purchased made by another photographer was the one by Brooks Jensen, and I have never hung it on a wall. The truth is I believe it is beautiful art, but the real reason I bought it was that it was inexpensive. And yet, around the same time, I purchased a print (reproduction) of one of  Vettriano’s paintings for around $250, which was proudly hung on the wall in a central position where nobody entering my lounge could miss it. I once said to you that I wished I could take photographs the way he paints. It is the people in his paintings and their actions that holds one’s eye.

So, your article  has forced me to ask myself the same question you have raised. I think it has something to do with the fact that there can be only one painting, but there can be many photographic prints. And yet, that also isn’t quite right, because Vettriamo’s painting in my lounge is just a print, the original having been sold at auction for around $500,0000! You will recall that I also have around 8 of my own photographs on the walls, framed and proudly presented. I know this is also true of you.

I think there are a couple of things happening here:

Firstly, I doubt there are many painters who collect the paintings of other painters, so I don’t believe photographers are unique in this regard. Frankly, I believe all artists, whether they be photographers, painters, or sculptors want to surround themselves with their own work, because it’s their “stuff” and that’s what they want to display to others.


I find your analogy of musicians may not be an accurate one. Of course, musicians collect the works of others  – this is so they can exercise their art by playing the music of others, either to go on exercising their playing skills on their various instruments or simply to listen to music they like and learn from it. This is an auditory thing, involving literally thousands of tunes, whilst our problem is optical, and there is only so much wall space available..At the same time, I bet that if you asked a musician to play you a tune on, say, his piano, he would either play one that he had composed himself (presuming he was a composer and not just a player, a distinction you may want too make in your article). This raises an interesting question in itself –  is a musician an artist who can play well on,say, a piano, or does he have to be a composer? In my humble opinion both are artists, but the composer is the supremo/maestro.

So, when you get behind the lens you are definitely playing at being the maestro – or are you? Because the composition is already there before you and when does the transition take place from your just being a good player to being an actual composer?

The REAL question that has haunted me since I began serious photography in 1984 is why, especially in Australia, photography prints do not seem to be considered as high-end art? I think it has a lot to do with how simply I can go out and buy an excellent print of a  $500,000 painting very well framed for only $250. Given this situation, why should anybody buy a photograph whose value is unknown at, say $600 or a more reasonable $6000, even if they are originals?

In my modest opinion, the real market is the general public (1% are photographers, 99% want something nice to hang on the wall). I just haven’t been able to find a way to convince Australians to consider photographic images as serious, high-end art that they should buy to decorate their walls….

What do you think?

3 thoughts on “Photographers – Do you Collect Music?

  1. I have a number of prints that I have collected over the years. None of them are by anyone famous, rather they are images that have appealed to me at the time. It was this appreciation that drove me to printing my own images, and particularly to printing B&W.

    It strikes me that a framed print is something entirely different to the torrent of images that we see on the web every day. My problem is that I just don’t have enough wall space to hang all the prints that I would like to have.

    I have also joined a print exchange group which gives me quarterly access to a set of excellent prints. I find that this helps me judge the quality of my own work as well as seeing the work of others.

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  2. My excuse for not owning prints is lack of wall space to display them!

    I suppose I could rotate any prints that I might own, changing the image(s) on display a couple of times a year, but then I’d just have the problem of storing those prints that weren’t currently on display. Books on bookshelves is a far more practical solution. To counter this, I do visit photographic exhibitions as often as I can. Any wall space in my home also has to be shared with (non-photographic) prints and other artwork. Concerning the analogy with music, while I can only be listening to one album at a time, storing my hundreds of CDs takes far less space than hundreds of prints would (and with iPods etc. storage of music becomes even less of a problem).

    So my number one reason for not owning photographic prints is purely practical (I’m fortunate enough the cost wouldn’t be the reason). Instead I have many photography books.

    A second reason is possibly the difficulty in having to choose a single image from a photographer, rather than being able to view a selection in book form.

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  3. Interesting article and something I’ve pondered myself from time to time. I would like to make the following observations/comments:

    1) I’m building a house currently, with a dedicated library to house the numerous photographic books (mostly fine-art but a few technical/instructional) I’m in the process of acquiring.

    2) As much as I love to look at fine-art prints, I have no compelling desire to own or display the work of other photographers I admire, nor make any prints of work I’ve created. I’m not sure why this is so.

    3) I plan to display the work of artists who work in other mediums. A nice painting, metal sculpture, or glass blown object moves me more strongly and I feel much more passionate to view these art objects in my local day to day environment than a beautifully created print from a photographer that I truly admire.

    4) I’ve noticed that my photographer friends most often display prints on their walls that are self-produced vs purchased in a ratio of 10:1. They are usually of the ‘fine-art’ variety and only rarely, will be of family, friends, etc. My non-photographer friends who display photos will almost universally be of their family members or self attending events or special occasions. It’s very rare that this group would display a commercially purchased fine-art photographic print.

    5) In a corporate setting, it seems paintings or drawings would outnumber photographic art by a far margin here in north america.

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