Posts Tagged “collecting”

By Ron Cowie, photographer

I’ve attended AIPAD every spring for years and love every minute of it. There is no other place where I can see the entire history of photography under one roof in one afternoon besides AIPAD. Galleries of every stripe show up and showcase their strongest work to sell. That in itself is interesting because I get a snapshot of current market trends. I won’t say the collection is comprehensive but just about every base is covered by one gallery or another.

 AIPAD is the ice cream parlor in the belly of the “Photo World’s” beast. Something sweet for everyone.

It’s fun to make art and not think about money. However, if you plan to have any career in the arts that is based on the selling of said art, you had better see what people are willing to pay for work that is similar to what you are making. That’s right, if you attend AIPAD, you’re going to bump into some work that looks a lot like yours. This is a necessary dose of humility, which frees up some space for making better work. Knowing there is an audience for the work I create saves a lot of energy in the creative process.

I go to be inspired by the work of old masters and new “stars.”  I also get a better idea of which galleries are “right” for my images by seeing what they are showing in their booth. Websites don’t always accomplish this in the same way. It costs a lot more to ship actual photos to New York than it does to upload images to a website. That kind of commitment to an artist speaks volumes.

At AIPAD, I get to talk to people who are just as interested in photography (gallery owners, artists, fellow collectors, curators) as I am. At AIPAD, I get to I introduce myself to a gallery owner or artist, take his/her cards and get in touch later. Some call it speed dating; I call it a lovely way to meet people who share the same interests for the sake of meeting. It beats Facebook hands down.

After all is said and done about social networks and whatnot, making and collecting art comes down to old fashioned face to face relationships. I don’t go to AIPAD to have my suspicions and cynicism confirmed but to have them dispelled. It is nice to know there is a place at the “Photo Industry” table for just about anyone willing to do the work. Galleries play a very important part in promoting photography. The investment they make to participate at AIPAD is not a small one and should be respected.

Also, I like rubbing elbows with the big shots. I know, I’m shallow for thinking that way, but it’s true. It is reassuring to see people I admire hustling as hard (if not harder) than I do. You can’t leave the Park Avenue Armory without a profound respect for the work that is being done in order to get seen there. No one gets off easy in that regard.

Business woes aside, the main reason I go is just to be an audience member for my fellow photographers. I love being able to look at the photos and buy them. I collect photography because I need to be a good viewer in order to be a good photographer. I don’t have the time or budget to make every opening that I want to attend or collect every piece that inspires me. AIPAD allows me to cover a lot of bases in an afternoon or two. Even if I leave empty handed, I’m encouraged by what I see and the people I meet. That’s worth the price of the ticket alone.

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[PRC Summer Interns Chris Maliga and Stephanie Rosario carried out the following email dialogue about the documentary film Other People’s Pictures (2006, directed by Lorca Shepperd and Cabot Philbrick), which is available for viewing at the PRC. Find more information about the film on-line here. The Editor.]


The film was pretty straightforward. It started out talking about snapshots and their interest to people, and sellers asking why anyone would want to collect other people’s photos. They interviewed various individuals who collect different types of photographs. Some people collect photographs showing Nazis in everyday life [what the collector refers to as “the banality of evil.”—Ed.], others collect photos of strong female figures and girls dressed as boys. Some people collect photographs that remind them of their homeland (Hawaii was one example). There is also a collector interested in mutilated photographs. Everyone wants to find something special in anonymous photographs of perfect strangers, whether it’s something they lost or an attempt to view something from another perspective, such as the man who lost his family to the Holocaust. At first I found this sort of odd. However, once they began talking in more depth about the appeal of these snapshots it all seemed to make sense.


That’s a pretty good summary of the film. It mostly took place in the flea markets where the collectors find these snapshots; occasionally the filmmakers went back to their homes to learn more about their personal interest in the photographs. I agree that the whole thing seems pretty odd, then starts to make more sense once we know a little more about the collectors. We all have these memories of our families or our past that we value, and it’s a powerful thing to see these random snapshots of someone else’s personal story and feel a connection to a person we’ve never even met.


The way a person is trying to save his own or even someone else’s personal history is actually quite admirable. You may not know anything about this photograph but you catch a glimpse into a moment in their life. The person taking the photograph may not have been a “photographer” per se but they captured a moment in time, a moment someone else fell in love with and can relate to. This I feel is the whole point of photography, to tell a story, to capture and amaze. Which these snapshots do to some people.


Something else I found interesting is that the film focused so much on the buyers of these snapshots and didn’t talk much about the sellers. The only interaction we really have with them is when a buyer is haggling over something. Sometimes they sell snapshots by the album, but a lot of the time they are willing to break them up so that someone can just buy the individual pictures. It seems like those albums or boxes of pictures are often just a small part of what someone is selling at the flea market. I’m surprised that someone would be so ambivalent about their own family photos that they would just put them in a box to be sold to total strangers, who, as it turns out, find all sorts of meaning in them. Are these sellers trying to get rid of bad memories? Do they have an overabundance of random pictures floating around that they’re trying to manage? How do they go about putting a price on their own memories?


When watching the film, I never really thought about the people who sell these photos. Obviously, they find something magical about these photos as well. At first, I didn’t understand the concept of buying and selling snapshots. The mere idea of owning a stranger’s photograph and hanging it on my wall made me feel rather uncomfortable. However, for these people it’s something more. It can be seen as a way for them to preserve a history. You might even argue that it’s a way for someone to fill a void that they have in their own lives. I also found myself wondering, why someone would just discard their past?

[The dealers are in most cases not selling their own visual histories, but albums and images they’ve acquired from other sources, sometimes the families and sometimes less connected sources.—Ed.]


I also wonder if they realize how important it is to the buyers that they do have these photos available. Obtaining them is such a catharsis for the people interviewed, such as the man whose mother joined a cult when he was little or the guy who buys almost any homoerotic snapshot he finds because he feels the need to preserve that history. There was also Mr. “Banality of Evil,” the man who bought up all the pictures he could find of Nazis going about their everyday lives. More than just exploring his own family’s history of being in concentration camps, he sees what he is doing as making a sort of commentary on human nature. If people can go about living ordinary lives while committing unspeakable atrocities, then is it really possible to fully trust anyone?


A portrait of a family can be the most beautiful thing or the most painful. It reveals a small moment of someone’s life and history. I think about all the photographs, especially those of people, I’ve seen in my life and how dear some of them have become to me and I think to myself, is that any different? There is something comforting about looking into someone else’s life. It’s almost surreal, almost as if this person only existed in the time this photograph was taken.

I wonder, too, about the people in the photos and what they are doing now. Do they know their photograph is being sold at flea markets to people willing to spend hundreds of dollars for them? Probably not. These snapshots are not only filled with people and their memories but also with a sense of hope and fulfillment for those buying the photographs.

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The time is here… Get your tickets and bids in now and come out and support the PRC in its largest and most important fundraiser of the year.

This is an elegant and fun event – the food by East meets West is excellent and plentiful, it includes all refreshments, dessert, coffee, and even parking (just rsvp before). And of course you also get fantastic company, a beautiful art deco space, and the opportunity to walk home with an amazing photograph (and did we mention all of them come framed?). Ticket info is below.

Preview the catalogue by clicking above or here and see pics from last year’s gala event here. For those not in town, absentee bids can be taken on any item, live or silent. The PRC staff will have their pencils ready! See you Saturday.

TICKETS: $50 per individual ticket, $40 per non-member.

This includes one copy of the auction catalogue, one paddle, buffet from East Meets West, beverages, and parking with advance reservations. Contact Caleb Cole at 617.975.0600 for tickets, reservations, and bids. Mastercard, Visa, checks, cash accepted.

AUCTION: Saturday, October 24, 2009
808 Gallery at 808 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston

Reception and silent auction begins at 5:30pm; Live auction begins at 7:00pm. The silent will close in increments after the close of the live auction.

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Please join the Photographic Resource Center for the last in our series of “Behind the Scenes” special events. This event is open to a limited number of people on a first come, first served basis. Space is limited for this event, so please call 617.975.0600 to reserve your place today.

The third and last “Behind the Scenes” Event
A Private Collection Becomes Public
Thursday, June 12, 2008, 6:30 – 8:30pm
745 Boylston Street
Boston, MA 02116
ISM, a travel and leisure marketing company, is allowing a limited number of visitors to view their never-seen-before corporate collection. Guests will be treated to a guided tour with ISM’s President and CEO, Gary Leopold, and enjoy cocktails and hors d’oeuvres on its roof-deck, with a spectacular view of the Back Bay. Gary has been an avid collector of photography and a member of the PRC Board of Directors. The price of the event is $100 per person. RSVP by June 9th.

Shown above is an image from the ISM corporate photography collection. “Anamika Bhatnager and Dennis Willette, BBC News & Access Hollywood, Thursday, October 2nd, 2003, 7-8pm.” by Matthew Pillsbury.

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Cindy Sherman, Untitled #21, 1985

No, the PRC is not planning a full-blown existential dilemma (well, not all of us anyway). But we are thrilled to host a lecture by the person who helped define contemporary photography during its rise to super-stardom in those quirky postmodern years. This Thursday night (Thursday, March 20, 7 p.m.) Andy Grundberg-critic, writer, curator, educator-will deliver the second presentation in the Photographic Resource Center’s Spring Lecture Series. The talk is titled “Collecting Photographs, Collecting the World” and will address the notion of collecting as a theme in contemporary photography, along with other prevalent trends in the art world. The image above (Cindy Sherman, Untitled #21, 1985) was used on the front jacket cover of Grundberg’s book Crisis of the Real.

Click here for more information on Mr. Grundberg and his upcoming lecture.

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