Snap decisions: Collecting photography

Someone recently asked me: “Are photographic prints collectable? Can collecting photography be an investment the same way as art?”

My answer is absolutely! And right now is a very good time to start collecting, right here in Vietnam.

Across the world, 19th, 20th and 21st century photography have occasionally sold for millions of dollars at Sotheby’s and Christie’s auction rooms, and interesting prints regularly sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars. Now it’s considered to be a very exciting time to invest in Fine Art photography because it’s still new. There was a time when Impressionist, Cubist and Expressionist paintings were considered to be offensive and not to be taken seriously but now the works of artists who experimented with these intellectual ideas are amongst the most collectible and expensive in the world.

Which photography or photographer to collect? As with any form of art, choose the subject you enjoy, whether it’s landscapes, black and whites, social commentaries, portraits or a time period. Read about the famous and not-so-famous artists and look online for galleries and websites that sell them. The same as with artists, you should ask about their biography, what their background is, where they work, what kind of photography they specialize in, where they have exhibited and where their works have been published. The more that a photographer is recognized by their peers for the work they do, the more collectable it is likely to become.

You should find out if the image is from a limited edition and how big the edition is. Does the image belong to a particular collection or body of work? What kind of paper or other surface has the image been printed on? How do you look after it? Will you receive a certificate of authenticity signed by the photographer? The smaller the edition, the better the quality or rarity of the paper and the larger the image, the more expensive and more collectable it is likely to be.

In Vietnam, today, there are many professional photographers producing excellent work in their different genres. Some are known for their landscapes, portraits, urban scenes and some for their study of everyday life. However, most earn their income from teaching, wedding and commercial photography or photographic tours; few concentrate on making a living solely from their own photographic projects.

There are some, however, whose work is recognized internationally. The acclaimed Long Thanh has a gallery in Nha Trang where his images can be seen in black and white. Art Vietnam Gallery in Hanoi has shown the work of French photographer Sebastien Laval and Vietnamese artist Phan Quang’s photographs were exhibited as part of his installation project at San Art in Saigon.

French photographer Rehahn now lives and works in Vietnam. His work about people, customs and costume can be seen at his gallery in Hoi An and his Saigon debut exhibition will be held next month at VinGallery in District 2. The buzz is that there will be one huge photograph on exhibition for US$10,000. Number one of a limited edition of only three, it is printed on Kodak Endura metallic paper which, apparently, has to be seen to be believed.

When the young, well-educated Vietnamese start to take a greater interest in their own cultural heritage and wake up to the fact that it is being undervalued by their parents’ generation, the works of the photographers and artists who captured its passing will take on new meaning and acquire greater value.

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