the art and maintenance of photobook auctions: past and present

Photo-eye Auctions in New York started to sell photobooks in september 2003. The first photobook sold was Other Americas by Sebastaio Salgado at 16:16 to ‘Charlie’ for $225, close to the estimated value ($250-$300).  By the end of 2004 The Photobook: A History Volume I (2004) edited by Martin Parr and Garry Badger was the point of reference for serious collectors. Worldwide we talk about 40 tot 50 people, at most, I understand from the Dutch bookseller and choreographer of photobook auctions at Pierre Berge & Ass. in Paris and Bruxelles: Dirk Bakker. Martin Parr and Garry Badger are since quoted each time a seminal photobook from their reference books is offered on Photo-Eye. And they sell: ‘reserve met’. The Photobook of 101 Books. Seminal Photographic Books of the Twentieth Century (2001) by Andrew Roth becomes second in place. And people bid: 22 times on the first edition of The Bikeriders (1968) by Danny Lyon on March 23 2005.  Not even two months later the hardbound edition went for twice as much: $1.230 to ‘darksun371’. Prices sweep up, post auction sales flourish. Then the amount of bidders and prices drop some in 2005-2006. By the time Parr\Badger’s The Photobook: A History Volume II  (2007) is published prices rise again. Bidders like ‘bostonbean’ and ‘sophiec’ [Sophie Calle] are frequent bidders and buyers. By the end of 2008 the hype is over. The Bikeriders was sold for $275 to ‘zephyr’ on December 2nd. Reference books on photobooks start to become collectors items: The Photobook of 101 Books was sold at Photo-Eye for $385 on April 11th 2010.  10 bits per item is high these days. Now the recession lingers on, prices are in general lower, much lower. ‘Vallola’ was lucky to buy Roth’s reference work for $230 on April 19 2011.

Despite the worldwide financial crisis, on this side of the Atlantic Ocean, in the Netherlands, two booksellers are active and create their niches in the market. Dirk Bakker is present at  ground breaking photobook festivals in Europe focussing on high-end and emerging practices such as Fotoforum Kassel, Offprint in Paris, RIP in Arles, and meanwhile auctions of large photobook collections from institutions (Rijksmuseum) and private collectors (aslo mine) at auction house Pierre Berge & Ass. New and uncommon in the world of art auctioneering, in particular when it concerns books, is that since spring 2011 PBA catalogue shows lots consisting of a considerable number of both rare and contemporary books. These are categorized according to theme or in series of books by the same author-photographer. And this is what is interesting, causing a shift in the overall conservative world of selling rare photobooks: offering upcoming and established photobook collectors coherent and state of the art selections of books in lots. The upcoming auction in Bruxelles curated by Dirk Bakker and taking place Tuesday October 25 is an excellent example of this new and promising approach. The full colour lush Artists & Photographs PBA catalogue is a reference book in itself. Books, presented in lots, from the French private collector and art historian Philippe Nolde are imbedded in a broader cultural historical context (Tatcher years / Baader- Meinhof Group). At the same time lots are compiled that can be considered as emblematic for the re-contextualization of artists books by BECHER; RUSCHA, BALDESSARI and BOLTANSKI. Also the price per lot is quite encouraging. Offering a larger public access to author photographers / artists which consistently have been distributing their work through photobooks. May this concept also be an encouragement to the Dutch bookseller Olaf Grim, since a few years curating photobook sales for auction house Botterweg in Amsterdam. Botterweg should give priority to the discipline, claim a niche in ‘the golden age of photobooks’. Make an event, provide an online and paper catalogue. Why make the sale of ‘photography items’  and ‘nudes photography items’ (not an enticing heading in itself) subordinate to ’20th century applied art’ (candle holders, sweet boxes, wrist watches AND a set of Mendini vases with a dazzling starting price of 69.500 EUR)?  Why such a miscellaneous choice? Botterweg live auction‘photography items’ starts at October 19 at 19:00PM. Starting with lot 778. Prices are average. Olaf Grim: “The reasoning for combining photography and photobooks with applied art is economical in nature and because in time cross-fertilization between collectors in both disciplines takes place. Selling photography in the Netherlands through auction houses has been so far quite a difficult undertaking.

PBA cat 25112011

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