We are currently inundated by photography, with so many individuals carrying digital cameras around (even in their cellphones!). So how do we make sense of it all, and how do we sift through this visual saturation to uncover the photograph(s) we love and want to hang on our walls?
Photography has been a popular medium for years, and continues to be prominently displayed in homes, in hotel lobbies, on condo walls, and office spaces. Especially fashionable are large, colourful works that exude a sleek and contemporary feel, in line with a modern and cosmopolitan lifestyle. Scenes of urban decay, cinematic dreamscapes or landscapes, beach scenes, and staged photographs are among the popular trends in photography.
As well, many artists are using photography in their artwork, adding to the medium to make their own artist process (making way for "mixed media" artwork).
Things to consider when buying a fine art photograph...
Be aware of the process:
The advent of digital cameras in the 1990s revolutionized photography, and thus the contemporary photography market is dominated by digital prints.
Very few photographs are created in the traditional way these days (i.e. in darkrooms). Thus, it is important to be aware of just what type of photograph you are buying.
Printing processes include:
Chromogenic Print or C-Print (very common when printing colour photography), Inkjet Print/Giclée (computer-controlled prints), Cibachrome Print, Contact Print, Gelatin Silver Print (using old school methods, common when printing black and white photographs).
Be sure to ask questions about the type of process. That should always be a first question with any original fine art you're considering.
Look at the edition quantity:
Make note of the edition quantity. The lower it is (the more limited it is), the better. If the edition quantity is over 100, the photograph should not cost a fortune!
When choosing a frame:
Since photography by nature has a clean surface, with regards to framing it is best to stick to simple frames and white mats. A nice amount of matting is always good with photography as it creates a border of 'negative space' which draws your eye to the image. If you don't like matting, then just mount and set the photograph back in the frame (with a little matboard wall on the inside of the frame) for a more contemporary look. Keep in mind that the photograph face should never touch the glass as over time the emulsion can stick. There are lots of framing options for photography but just keep in mind that simple is always timeless and clean.
An increasingly popular mode of display is the frameless photograph, often achieved through mounting on dibond (an aluminum composite material) with acrylic facemounting on top. An alternative mounting material is aluminum, which provides a sleek look, although is heavier than dibond. In any case, this frameless look caters to a minimal and contemporary aesthetic.
Long gone are the days when dealers would need to defend photography as being in the realm of high art, alongside oil paintings. Major art institutions have entire departments dedicated to the medium, and there are museums that strictly showcase photography, like the International Center of Photography in New York City. There are also a plethora of annual photography festivals that take place all over the world, such as CONTACT in Toronto, which dominates the art scene in the month of May, and Paris Photo, which is one of the more internationally recognized photography fairs. There are also a number of online and print publications, magazines, and books that are devoted to the subject.
At the end of the day, don't be afraid of purchasing a photograph. It is a fine art medium worthy of your time and interest. It can range in price quite a bit depending upon the photographer, the edition size of the piece, and the printing process involved. If you follow the guidelines above and ask the right questions you will have a great collection in no time.