Art Photography in the Arts Market

Issue #2 • 1388

The start of the new millennium has been marked by a heightened interest in photography, which is now priced significantly higher in the world arts market. The most expensive photograph to date is the work of a contemporary German visual artist Andreas Gursky, “Rhein II”, sold at Christie’s in New York for 4.3 million dollars. The 3.6 metres wide picture created in 1999 belongs to a series of six panoramic images of the river Rhine.

In October 2010, a French website published its 2009-2010 report on the situation in the contemporary art market. According to the report, “Photographs took off at auctions fast and loud.” Not as long ago as in 1995 the annual yield of this market was only 1.4 million euros (350 lots). Since then prices for photographs quadrupled, and the number of pictures sold at auctions ranges from three to six thousand a year. Over a ten year period (1998-2008) annual revenue in the sub-sector grew by 1270% (!). In 2009-2010 it reached 7% of the total proceeds (31.1 million euros). In the years of the art boom, prices for contemporary photography rose dramatically and exceeded those for the classic one; in 2009 the market “adjusted” and now yields 40% of the total”. (


[…в 2009 г. этот рынок «скорректировался» и сегодня дает 40% их общего дохода» (]

This is the situation in the countries where arts market has a long tradition. Then what happens to photograph in places where arts market is still evolving? Russia, for instance?

Web review shows that classical photograph is the favourite. According to Sergei Popov, the founder of the pop/off/art gallery, the Russian photography market is divided into three segments: “The first one is for unique old prints with established prices and collections already compiled in the 1980s and 1990s; acquisition and resale of these collections may be of interest to investment funds, among others. The second is a young market of edition photography, which even galleries (Moscow already has seven or eight of them) do not have so many collector clients for; this market is still evolving, and most of the works are kept either by authors, or the heirs. The third segment is the new names of authors whose works can be purchased with the prospect of long-term price increase”. (

Russian investment market responded to the growing interest in photography by establishing an art fund called “Collection. The Photoeffect”. The fund’s assets consist of private photo collections, including rarities such as photographs of the Russian Imperial House, the works of Alexander Rodchenko (the auction price of his photographs reached $200,000), daguerreotypes by Girault de Prangey (collectors are known to purchase his art for one million dollars for a daguerreotype), etc. The founders of the fund believe that investment in art in the Russian market can compete with traditional security asset such as gold ( By the end of 2011, the value of the fund’s assets was estimated at 15.1 billion roubles (

In Uzbekistan, too, where the market for arts is only emerging, interest in photography has grown significantly or, rather, has been reignited with a new vigour. Several years ago the country marked the 125th anniversary of Uzbek photography. The first photographs in the area that is now Uzbekistan were made in the 1870s by European photographers and travellers. The first local photographer was Hudaibergen Divanov, born in 1879. Pictures created by Divanov and those who came after – Keldyushev, Penson and many other famous photographers – help one trace not only the history of photography, but also of the country at large.

With the attainment of independence, the development of photography in the country has reached a new level. The National Institute of Arts and Design named after K. Behzad opened a department for computer graphics and art photography. In 2002, to aid the development of photography, the Tashkent House of Photography (THP) was created. In 2005, following the Cabinet of Ministers Resolution, the THP became part of the institutional system of the Academy of Arts of Uzbekistan (AAU).

The TDF is home for Photography Artists Section founded at the Artists Union of Uzbekistan as early as in 2000. In 2006, the THP opened a creative photography school-studio. The TDF has implemented many large-scale projects; one of the most interesting one is International Photo Biennale held jointly with the “Forum” Foundation and the AAU. All these events and activities are state-sponsored, and the largest photography-related projects are included into government programs.

What is the position of Uzbekistan’s art photography in the market? This is something for the experts to reflect upon.

According to Victor An, art photography could not develop freely in the Soviet times, as all “alien” art movements were criticized, and only Socialist Realism enjoyed official recognition. This artistic method gave the world many famous names and great works of art, yet the consequences of this policy – decades of isolation from global development of arts – are strongly felt in local art photography. Only in the 1960s, during the “thaw” period, photographers began to discover other trends and employ new techniques. Independence has brought progress to Uzbekistan, which is particularly noticeable in the works of young photographers.

Creation and promotion of visual art has become an all-around activity in the world arts market. To sell a photograph at an auction for millions of dollars requires an effort of a large team of specialists: photographer, engineer, art manager, art critic/curator, decorators, set designers, lighting technicians, extras, etc. Without them, a photographer’s name cannot be a brand. Besides, large companies invest in art, helping to promote authors’ names and their works in the art scene. A merely talented photograph will not make it to the auction. Success at an auction is not an indication of a genius work.

Lyudmila Kodzaeva, art critic and honoured worker of culture of Uzbekistan holds that the art market in the country is still developing, and until this process is completed, one cannot speak about proper social protection for artists and photographers. In Tashkent, their works are sold only in two or three art shops. The situation is better with the marketing of traditional arts and crafts: at the regularly organized fairs masters can show-case their products and make deals. So far, no selling exhibitions of fine arts, including photography, have been held.

It was the “Forum” Foundation that started to develop auctioning. Specifically, auctions take place as part of the Art Week Project. For example, in 2011, in cooperation with the Islamic Art Section of CHRISTIE’S (UK), the world’s largest auction house, the traditional auction of the “MEROS” Antiquaries Association of Uzbekistan was held. So far, primary lots are the items of Uzbekistan’s traditional and decorative/applied arts.

Today’s demand is primarily for socially oriented and consumer photography, and many gifted art photographers can realize their talent only through exhibitions. Contemporary photograph on a historical theme becomes part of albums, but does not yet reach museum collections, while the introduction of visual art works into museum collections has always reflected the artist’s status in terms of his professionalism and relevance.

The main buyers of art in the country are well-to-do people and foreigners who, taking advantage of the market situation, buy items at prices below their actual value. Experts argue that the majority of businessmen have not yet come to realize the value of creating art collections.

In the opinion of art photographer Ernest Kurtveliev, in Uzbekistan’s market photography is divided into “consumer” and “auteur”. The demand for these two kinds is very different. Consumer photograph is made to order for a specific, often utilitarian, purpose. Art photography values the author’s creativity: originally, it has nothing to do with the client.

Popular today is custom-made photograph for nuptials, advertising, family album, portfolio, and mass media. Jobs in magazines and newspapers can be very exciting. E. Kurtveliev works for a magazine that keeps him busy with a very wide range of tasks. Unlike utilitarian photography, when a photographer can keep applying successful techniques for decades, work in a magazine requires continuous self-improvement to keep up with new trends. However, in the market environment not all media outlets can secure high fees for photographers.

Auteur pieces not made to order seldom find their buyer. When photographers run exhibitions to show-case their art, they have to put resources in logistics, and these expenses do not pay off.

Bukhara school of photography is a special phenomenon in the photographic art of Uzbekistan. According to photographer Sh. Boltaev, one of the representatives of this school, photography in Bukhara began to flourish in 2000. Bukharans exhibited their works in the United States, Germany, Denmark, Russia, Iran, China, Japan and other countries; their photographs were published in many foreign titles dedicated the art of photography.

Bukhara, being one of the ancient cities located on the Silk Road, has more or less developed arts market. The main customers are tourists. Boltaev says that besides traditional arts and crafts they purchase items of fine art, including photographs – mostly historical and genre.

Today, when almost everyone has a camera, and Internet offers thousands of shots on any subject, to sell an art photograph one has to amaze the society by offering something extraordinary, believes Sh. Karimbabaeva, director of the «Art & Fact» gallery. None of this is new. Rodchenko, for instance, impressed by the frame structure and experimented with the presentation of the material.

Photograph excites interest as an item of interior design. Basically, everyone wants to buy old pictures, while contemporary ones appear to be less appealing.

Photographer has to understand what the consumer wants. If the photographer works for his desk drawer, he shouldn’t be surprised that nobody asks for him. Among the authors whose art photos are purchased both at home and abroad, Karimbabaeva mentioned Alexander Barkovsky and Anzor Salijanov. Incidentally, both have a formal art education.

Local museums do not acquire contemporary photographs for their assets, despite the fact that over time they will also become a rarity.

Painting and photography sell well, when there is a tradition to use fine art for interior decoration, holds photographer V. Zhirnov. For example, London has about 300 art galleries offering items for interior design, including photographs. We are talking about contemporary art photography: landscape, still life, photographs rated as actual art…

A tradition to decorate interiors with photographs cannot develop overnight. As the demand is weak, so is supply.

Many fail to see the difference between a glamorous photo that looks rather kitch and a true work of art. One objective of the photographic biennale and other international exhibitions organized by the Academy of Arts in the last decade is to introduce the public to the work of prominent masters from all over the world. These exhibitions are very important as they demonstrate the structure of expositions arranged competently and in an accomplished way.

The scope of applying photographer’s skill is not large: mass media, advertising, and nuptials photography – the synthesis of the utilitarian and the glamorous. Nuptials photography is a big business. However, with the arrival of digital technology, dumping began. Seemingly easy to use equipment makes one think of it as an easy job; thus, according to V. Zhirnov, the nuptials photography market has been seeing a strong competition among non-professionals.

Boris Golender, photography historian, argues that today the country has no market for art photography, even though it is an essential element of the press.

Since there is no market, there is no price either. People decide among themselves what should be the price they are willing to buy and sell a photograph for. In the countries that hold auctions and issue catalogues, prices are calculated in line with an established procedure. At the same time, an old photograph, one that is fifty to a hundred year old, is now priced as in the West. This is true for the works of Divanov, Kudoyarov, Borshchevskiy, Penson, Pankratiev, Petrovskiy, and other photographers of that calibre. There is a certain price for the pictures of statesmen and movie stars, especially with an autograph.

Old family photos do not have much value today. The first photo shop in Uzbekistan was created in 1873. Until 1917, Tashkent alone had 20 shops, and each of them produced about 10,000 photographs, which were mounted on a beautiful mat ornamented with an embossed design and the like. As these photographs exist in great number, they are not particularly interesting, unless it is a picture of a celebrity.

Web-posted colour photographs made by Sergei Prokudin-Gorsky* in Asia, drew attention to old photographs of the region. Prior to that, Europe only knew pictures made by French travellers Paul Nadar and Henri Moser, who came here in the late XIX century with expeditions and published interesting photo albums, while pictures taken by local pre-revolutionary photographers were unknown. The works of masters such as Kudoyarov, Penson, and Shaikhet ended up in international currency due to the fact that these authors published their photographs in a propaganda magazine called “USSR at Construction Site”. Another well-known master, Zelma, made a lot of pictures of Uzbekistan before and after World War II.

According to B. Golender, photography as art has not been claimed here yet. However, the situation is improving with the help of major national and international photo exhibitions run by the “Forum” Foundation, the Tashkent House of Photography, and «Art & Fact» gallery. Our photographers take part and win in international photo contests in Germany, Japan and other countries.

What, in the expert opinion, is required for the art photography market to evolve in the country? The development of photography schools and other education institutions, as well as master classes delivered by famous photographers would help photographers to master the language of contemporary photography and use it to express their ideas and emotions.

In the absence of art critics, art develops blindly, by guess-work. Publishing an analytical journal on photography, and training art historians and critics specializing in photography would help the country to establish contemporary creative photography and promote it in the art scene. A powerful stimulus for an art market to form would be an enhanced capacity of museums and galleries to purchase works of fine art, including photography, as well as social contracting.

For people to be willing to acquire art photographs, their interest in photography as art should be cultivated through the help of a greater number of exhibitions of local and foreign photographers. These exhibitions should be held not only in galleries, but also in the subway, in departure lounges of railway stations and airports, in major supermarkets, and in the streets; photo contests should be organized more frequently. From school age, children’s interest in attending photo shows and galleries should be cultivated. There have to be seminars on photographic art delivered by photography masters and art critics; photographers’ albums, exhibition reviews, postcards, posters, etc. should be published.

The formation of Uzbekistan’s art market could be helped by developing a legal framework for auctioning and protecting intellectual property. Today, along with the market for good, services, real estate, etc., the country sees the development of the market for arts, including art photography. Confidence in its bright future comes from the glorious history of Uzbek photography, government support for its development, the efforts of those who dedicated their life to photography, and the evolving tradition among the well-to-do to create private collections of art. And, most importantly, our land is known to have the potential to produce its own Bressons and Pensons!

* Sergei Prokudin-Gorsky (1863-1944), Russian photographer, chemist, pioneer of colour photography in Russia.

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