Last year I went to the house of a client to give him in hands a portrait I did of him – that he commissioned me, and for the occasion he decided to invite some friends to a social/cultural gathering-dinner with the excuse to show the new portrait. Apart from having known some quite interesting people – some of them who became later my clients, I came back home digesting some interesting talks and also digesting a surprise. He’s basically an art collector of paintings from the age of impressionism, movement that to be honest I’ve never been fond of. Anyway, for my surprise he had at one of the walls of his living room, an original oil by Egon Schiele; a painted drawing by Jean Cocteau – two artists that I love, and another original oil by Degas with his famous ballet dancers. Between these first and last one and over the Jean Cocteau he had a photograph by me, one of my self-portraits from the Oneness series (an artist’s proof). No need to say that I stared between the Schiele, the Cocteau and the Bénard.
At this gathering few conversations and things happened that made me think. First, one of his friends who became my client, looking at my Oneness book, and to some small Artist’s Proofs that I took with me to show something to my client, ordered me one of the photographs under one condition. I always do 1 Artist’s Proof (the A/P are usually bought by art collectors as they’re more unique) and a limited edition of 5/5. And his condition was that “even if he had to pay the whole limited editions” he wanted me to print that specific photo as original 1/1 and give him a warranty that he would be the only one to own it. In the case of that photo I only had in fact the first Artist’s Proof, so it was easy to accept it, as there was not any limited edition printed/sold yet. And so he purchased the original 1/1.
First thought to digest was this: what is and what is not an original in photography? Usually art photographers/dealers/collectors see a limited edition of 5/5 as original, even though most of the art collectors prefer the Artist’s Proof as it is the most original even if it’s not perfect – reason why it’s an A/P and not the final edition.
In several places and cultures, a photograph is still seen as not original as it can be printed more times, so it’s not easy to a collector to purchase what is supposed to be an original and go to another place (museum, gallery, another art collector) and see the “same” photo. In fact there are not 2 same photos. Even if I use always the same paper, the best in market, I moved to Paris so I work with another lab, which is as good as my last one in Lisbon or the one in Barcelona. But maybe the day I did one print I felt the photograph to be more light or darker. Or I decided to change a small detail last hour. So they all end up being different and unique, as I do them all, author. Maybe details that you can’t notice but I know them well. And sometimes doing a prove of author in smaller size we’re not aware of the whole in the original size, so when we do the edition 2/5 I end up correcting something I was not 100% happy in the 1/5. In fact, I have a client who only buys the number 2/5 of each photograph no matter the author. And he is right; usually the 2/5 is even better than the 1/5, although, most people want the 1/5 edition.
In this gathering I ended up with few more commissioned portraits, which is always good. However, most of these commissioned creative portraits are done after a “secret” contract, in which I sign giving my word that the original files will be destroyed and I’ll never show them to any one else. Which I do, of course. I’m very demanding on this. Not that I think the client is always right, but it’s a matter of being professional and of keeping my word, so usually when I deliver the commissioned creative portrait and after being paid (also very important), I delete the file, or I give the original file to the client. It’s an agreement, and if you don’t agree you shouldn’t sign it. If you do: you should respect and keep the word.
I confirmed also that art collectors like to know and socialize with the artist, no matter if he does photography, painting or sculpture. It’s important for the art collector to “smell” the artist, to tell their friends they know that artist and that he’s nuts, a good reason for an artists to be good. We all know that some dose of craziness sells the artist, and what sells the artist, sells his artwork. Usually they are very conservative people who feel more out of the line, or breaking the rules by purchasing, sponsoring or even owning an artist’s work. Others are that they don’t even care and the only thing they do is art-market. And here there was other thing that made me think: the different meanings of an art collection.
In the article “Notes on a visit to Paris Photo and NoFound Photo fair 2012” I talk also about fine-art vs. market.
One of my client’s friend there, was very interesting in one of my artworks, he stared at it and kept asking questions and more questions about it all night long. He was deeply interested in that photograph, no doubt. I must say for those who don’t know my work in real that my photographs of the Oneness series are printed in 80x80cm (31.49x 31.49 inches), so they’re not that small.
(As a side note, some of my series are smaller: 50x50cm (19.68×19.68inches), like the case of the “Conversations around the Table” or even the “Moi, le Beau et la Bête“.)
So the client was really interested and money was definitely not an issue for him. Also he was with some other art collectors who were buying my work, right in front of the wall with Schiele, Cocteau, me and Degas. So he had will, money and “market warranty” as investment. There was when an issue I never thought came out as a conversation between art collectors: for some it didn’t make much sense if they buy an artwork to keep it safe in a locker. For others, they didn’t care much, as once in a while they could change place and new home decoration.
I know that there are art-collectors who only buy as investment and they didn’t even see the artwork itself, as they have curators dealing with the art galleries for example. But some others do prefer to buy less and better and enjoy the artworks at their houses, to enjoy, sharing with friends and guests. They’re building a collection based in personal taste, not only investment/value, etc. And this client wanted the photograph but was not sure if he could hang it on at one of his walls… if he would dare to show and share, so for him it wouldn’t make sense to purchase to keep it in a drawer to look at it once in a while. In fact the photograph he liked the most would probably be the strongest one of the Oneness series. And as I said, they do create impact.
I have a small collection of photography; in fact couple weeks ago I received a photograph that I was dreaming to have in my collection, a wonderful print by Ross B. Lewis, the “Shore Leave, NYC 2009″ (above). Of course that as an art-photographer I value each art-photograph. I would love to have some more, special or specific ones, that one day I’ll be able to purchase. It’s curious also the dimension, sometimes we see the photograph on a website and we don’t have the idea of the real size. In fact there are some photographs that can come out well both in large and smaller size, but that only depends on the author’s vision of it. But coming back to this last issue as art collector, I would purchase some photographs that I really like, or have some special meaning or value, even if I wouldn’t hang them on the walls, maybe some are to be kept safe “in a drawer” and share just with some people, or even for me to look at them once in a while whenever I want. Like a good book, some you have in the living room, some others equally sacred as pillow’s book.
Not to everyone.
Would you invest in art just to keep it and not to be shared?
Would you mind if a client purchase an artwork of yours to keep it in a drawer?
For any other contact about 2HeadS or my Photographic Work, from Art Galleries, Curators, Art Collectors, etc, please use the GBénard/2HeadS email. Thank you.
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