Nostalgia and Nature Dominate Photos Trends: In the Face of a Gritty Reality, Photography Collectors Turn to Traditional Images at Reasonable Price Points

By Prisant, Barden | Art Business News, October 2003 | Go to article overview

Nostalgia and Nature Dominate Photos Trends: In the Face of a Gritty Reality, Photography Collectors Turn to Traditional Images at Reasonable Price Points


Prisant, Barden, Art Business News


Doom and gloom. That seems to be the sum total of what is on television these days. First, we are bombarded by a steady stream of disturbing images of international political turmoil. Then we are treated to footage of boarded-up corporate headquarters. America's geopolitical and economic travails have not exactly put its citizens in a spending mood, and in the photo world, this has taken its toll. According to Alex Novak, the publisher of the E-Photo Newsletter, the photography market is slogging on at levels below those of two to three years ago.

Imagine if there were a way for dealers to improve their bottom lines while simultaneously lifting the public out of the doldrums. Is there really such a solution?

"People are looking to escape the sensory overload and recapture some peace," observed Anita Kirk, a representative of the Canadian publisher Art in Motion. She believes that the "gritty images displayed through the media" have pounded Americans into submission.

To what, then, do they turn for relief? Nostalgia and nature are proving to be two areas of refuge.

A Victory for the Vintage Look

"The latest trends in photography in the open-edition market are focused on simpler times;" said Kirk. By way of example, consider the work entitled "Vintage Typewriter" by one of her firm's new photographers, Tara Wrobel. After a day of watching the markets, an overwrought investor could surely muster at least a wry smile for such an iconic image of the pre-computer age.

One of Art in Motion's other photographers, Richard Gaskins, not only generates vintage-looking images, but he duplicates age-old techniques to do so. In these days when you can squeeze 5-mega-pixel color images into a handheld Canon, he still goes to the effort of designing and building enormous room-size black-and-white cameras to ensure crisp resolution). His piece entitled "Star Magnolia" references the work of Imogen Cunningham. Since her vintage still life photographs can now fetch $50,000 or more, owning works by Gaskins may be as close as most of us can get to such beauty. His originals sell for $1,500 to $2,500 and Art In Motion's prints of his images retail for $12.

While Art in Motion has decided to market vintage-looking images by contemporary photographers, other publishers have decided to go straight to the source and market reprints of vintage images. "Vintage photography comforts us with nostalgic icons," said Allison Dailey of Portal Publications, a poster publisher located in Novato, Calif. Steve Hartman, president of the Contessa Gallery in Cleveland, also sees such iconography as a salve for our daily media trauma. "People think that the past was better, that the grass was greener," he opined. "[It is something to which] they can look back in fondness."

Dailey said, "Romantic photographs, especially those with European influence, rank among Portal's top images." At Contessa Gallery, photographs drawn from LIFE magazine have been very popular because, said Hartman, "people grew up with it." This success is made all the more serendipitous by the fact that he has only recently started carrying photographs.

His supplier for images from the LIFE Picture Collection is iPHOTOART, which calls itself the "nation's leading publisher and distributor of photographic prints to the trade." According to left Linton, the firm's vice president of sales and marketing, Nyack, N.Y.-based photo publisher has found that the appeal of such images has helped the firm "convert fine-art galleries into fine-art and photo galleries." The success of the LIFE photographs lies in the fact that "the images are old, in that you are familiar with them; but new, in that you have never before been able to purchase them as wall art."

Many of the pictures that appeared in LIFE over the years have become part of American iconography: a theatre crowded with viewers wearing 3-D glasses, a sailor and a nurse kissing on V-J Day in Times Square, Babe Ruth standing before the microphones at Yankee Stadium. …

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