With the arrival of phone cameras and social media sites, it seems everyone is a photographer nowadays. Investors who enjoy photography and want to add a new hard asset to their portfolios, however, might want to consider purchasing historic, collectible photos or contemporary photos taken with standalone cameras.
Like other fine art markets, it’s misleading to speak of a single photography market, because there are multiple submarkets.
Denise Bethel, head of the photographs department at Sotheby’s in New York, notes that classic photos — the equivalents of blue-chip stocks — are a major category. Several of these photos, often dating from the early 20th century, each have sold for more than $1 million at auction.
There’s also a thriving market in contemporary photography, says Bethel, and the top photos in that category can command seven figures.
The variety of categories gives collectors considerable choice.
“We do have collectors who collect across the board,” says Bethel. “So, for instance, collectors who start with Daguerreotypes and go all the way to contemporary photography.
“And, we also have collectors who specialize so there are collectors who only collect, let’s say, American modernist photography from the first half of the 20thCentury or European 19th-Century photography or contemporary photography,” she explains. “So, we’ve got people who collect every decade of photography and then we have people who are more specialized.”
In addition to numerous periods and types, photo prices cover the spectrum. Consider Sotheby’s early October auction in New York. Sales totaled over $5 million, but a large number of the lots sold for less than $10,000.
Apart from the auction houses, online galleries such as PurePhoto.com also offer collectible photos at a wide range of prices.