Next weekend a new photography fair debuts, called photo-London. Billed as "London's first major photography fair", it testifies to the new maturity of photography as a valid art form - and also to its rise in collectability.
It seems a bit tardy that, some 180 years after the photograph was invented, it is finally gathering a proper collector's market. "Yes, but the time does seem right at the moment," says Daniel Newburg, director of photo- London. "New York and Paris have photography fairs, and as London is a leading world city, it needed one as well. The market has grown: a few years ago, one could have pointed to three or four galleries doing photography. Here we have 50 galleries exhibiting photography, including a lot of art galleries showing photography as well."
The medium has broken through the traditional problem of playing Cinderella to the more significant "fine art", adds Mr Newburg. "In many ways, photography is much bigger than art. Here in photo- London you can see reportage, fashion and industrial/commercial photography as well as the kinds of contemporary photographic art that you might see in galleries." Prices range from "a few hundred to hundreds of thousands. There'll be plenty of things in the low hundreds: things like fashion prints from the 1960s, that are still undervalued."
Kate Stevens of HackelBury, a London photography gallery that is participating, is equally confident about the rise of the photography market. "It shows that there's enough demand just for a photography fair," she says, adding that HackelBury has set up a collectors club on its website. "We've had an incredible response to it," she says. "People can choose work that's just right for them." The gallery's biggest seller is the venerable photo- journalist Henri Cartier-Bresson, whose work retails in the thousands, but Ms Stevens says there are many other photographers on sale at prices starting from about pounds 400.
It is still possible for almost anyone to become a collector, according to Gerry Badger, the author of Collecting Photo- graphy (Mitchell Beazley, pounds 25). "The great thing about collecting photography is that there are so many great people and themes yet to be discovered," says Mr Badger. "Consider what dealers do. When Man Ray [the key surrealist photographer] became too expensive, they moved on to other photographers from the 1920s. That's how it works." And that's what entry-point collectors should also do, he reckons. The top end is becoming rarer and is expensive, adds Mr Badger, but there's still a big middle and lower ground. A little ingenuity and a collection can be yours.
Another fair organiser who has seen interest in photography go up is Will Ramsay of the Affordable Art Fair. "We tried to put up a photography exhibition five years ago and it was a disaster," he says. "Now we have several photographic galleries in the fair." Mr Ramsay thinks that his buyers, who are mostly interested in domestic enhancement, are more in tune with photography than they were. "Interior architecture is changing, and a lot of people like clean cut modern spaces where traditional painting looks wrong," he says.
There are also specialist collectors, who plug into hobbies and interests. For instance, Guy White of Snap Galleries is a dealer in rock photography who gave up accountancy six months ago to set up his Northamptonshire gallery. "I made a decision to specialise, because I've been a fan of music photography for years," he says. Mr White started with the big Sixties names then moved through the decades, and now has photographs of Coldplay alongside ones of Jimi Hendrix. Abbey Road pictures by Iain McMillan cost pounds 2,100 each, while a photograph of Altamont 69 by Ethan Russell costs pounds 1,650. The clientele includes a large proportion of company directors in their fifties, and White thinks their investments will hold. …