Exhibitors aim to level field in San Francisco

Exhibit: Photo San Francisco, Fort Mason, San Francisco, Calif. 21-24 July 2005

By MARTIN TAYLOR
Contributing Editor

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. (Fotophile.com) —Photo San Francisco 2005 is officially over. So what was the event like? As a mere mortal without the collecting budget of Elton John I offer this perspective.

The venue itself at Fort Mason was well laid out, lit and had an uncluttered feel despite the throng of exhibitors and dealers. The experience of seeing framed prints hanging on the wall of a museum is, however, altogether different compared to that of seeing the said same prints hanging on the wall of a dealer’s booth. The thing that makes all the difference is that little sticker on the wall next to the print; the one that tells you how out-of-your-league that master print really is.

A nice Berenice Abbott was going for $5,000; a decent size Diane Arbus or Andre Kertesz started at around $14,000. I saw three different prints of Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico going for $10,000 and up (many times up) depending upon how much Ansel Adams had to do with the specific print. A tiny but unique William Eggleston print could’ve been yours for $9,500; apparently I should really consider buying now before I’m priced out of the market next year (I didn’t dare ask how much the large print of Morton, Mississippi [man on bed with gun] which I really liked was). It didn’t take much effort to find prints offered on the wrong side of $100,000.

After a while of walking round the booths one Cartier-Bresson starts to look like another and you grow accustomed to being sized up by dealers who can quickly work out if you are serious, or a serious waste of their time. Among all the business, however, there were several highlights of which the following are but three:

The View From Here is an organization thatrepresents visual art by artists who are visually impaired and blind. A strap line like that sounds like a novelty but a few moments in their booth and you knew that their artist’s work could stand alone without any gimmick. Michael Richard, one of the photographers represented, was on hand and more than happy to discuss his work with visitors. Legally blind, he uses various magnification aids and a slow, dedicated work flow to produce high contrast, architectural pictures. Beyond the stark beauty of his work, there is the added depth of Richard trying to share with his audience his unique vision.

Lumas Editions Gallery was one of the few exhibitors not to inspire severe sticker shock. At first their large booth looked liked any of the other galleries specializing in contemporary photographers, but when you examined the prices it did cause a double-take. After seeing similar looking prints commanding four- and five-figure prices, $600 for a large, signed print ready to hang looked like a printing error. Lumas is a German company trying to fill the void between reproductions from a museum store and the single, or very limited, edition prints carried by established galleries. Lumas represents 50-plus photographers and has hundreds of different prints available in both open editions and limited editions of 75 to 150. Browsing through their catalogues you recognize many Aperturealumni as well as a smattering of classics. Lumas should be applauded for attempting to take the elitism out of owning good photography by making impactful prints affordable to many more photography enthusiasts.

Instituto TerraSebastião Salgado has to be admired, not only for his work, but for putting his money where his mouth is. While many artists talk about trying to change the world through their work, Salgado has actively sought out practical ways in which he can do just that. With his wife Lélia he set up the Instituto Terra to restore a part of the rain forest and to promote ecological restoration and environmental issues.

Photo San Francisco 2005 should be praised for promoting and making a beneficiary of the event such a topical and relevant cause.