Focus on Photography
Expert Deborah Bell talks photography as fine art and how to collect it
When Andreas Gursky’s Rhein IIsold at Christie’s New York for a record-breaking $4.3 million in 2011, it was clear photography had finally earned its place in the world of fine art. Some of the best-known experts in the field will be in Dallas May 15 to talk about what the future will bring at “Take the Lens Cap Off: Trends in Photography,” presented by the Contemporary Arts Dealers of Dallas.
Moderated by Jeffrey Grove, the Dallas Museum of Art’s Hoffman senior curator of contemporary art, the panel — documentary photography/journalist Kael Alford, UNT photography professor Dornith Doherty, FotoFest co-founder Wendy Watriss and Christie’s Deborah Bell — promises a discussion that will inspire collectors and artists alike.
Photography is having a moment, particularly at auctions, where works by the likes of Cindy Sherman are sold by dealers who don’t typically represent photography.
Bell was a private dealer for more than two decades before joining Christie’s as vice president and head of the photographs department two years ago. She says that imagery that was once “taken for granted” is having a moment, particularly at auctions, where works by the likes of Gursky and Cindy Sherman are sold by dealers who don’t typically represent photography.
“It took a long time for it to be considered an art form,” Bell says. “It was considered commercial work and a mechanical reproduction and thought to be so much easier than making a painting or sculpture. There were very few photographers who worked as artists.”
Significant events like William Eggleston’s 1976 exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art and the establishment of the Getty Museum’s photography collection in the mid-’80s “kicked the doors wide open.” But it wasn’t until the 21st century that photography joined the multimillion-dollar frenzy happening at contemporary art auctions.
This means, for collectors both aspiring and seasoned, it is still a relatively affordable medium. Trends in the auction world may lean toward imagery from the 1970s and conceptual photography, but the aspiring collector should “learn, study, look” and follow their instincts to buy what they love.
“You don’t have to buy anything for the first year,” Bell says. “You should watch an artists’ career and see how they develop and grow. I had a collector who taught me a very important phrase. She said, ‘One is better than 10.’ She would rather buy one really great thing for a lot of money than 10 things that are just okay.”
For the aspiring photographer, Bell has another bit of sage advice: “Show your work in any way that makes sense to you, but have it out there physically. If you don’t get a show right away, just believe in your own work and keep trying to get it out there.”
“Take the Lens Cap Off: Trends in Photography” takes place May 15, 7 pm, at Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts. Panel discussion is $5 or free for students with photo I.D. RSVP to email@example.com.