google ad sense 728 x 90

Photojournalism: Value Keeps On Rising

Above is Robert Doisneau's most well-known photo

Art Market Insight [Feb 2007]
Art investment
Photojournalism - Collective memory and photography [Feb 07]

The above graph is from

The photojournalism market is booming.
Turnover at auction has risen by more than 250% in 10 years, and the trend is strong in the USA, France and the UK. For many years photojournalism was considered a secondary form of art, much like scientific or ethnographic photography. Since the 1950s however it has become well established, partly thanks to World Press Photo, with its annual contest celebrating the year’s best journalistic photographs, and a number of exhibitions underlining the news photo’s dual role as documentary testimony and aesthetic artefact.

The great names of photojournalism, Cecil BEATON, Henri CARTIER-BRESSON, Robert CAPA, Raymond DEPARDON, Robert DOISNEAU, Walker EVANS, Dorothea LANGE and Marc RIBOUD, all documented their times through sensitive images of undeniable cultural significance. Many of these are now finding their way into cultural institutions, prized for a combination of the iconic value of the shots and the photographers’ commitment, as well as aesthetic considerations (definition of the image, framing, etc.).

In the 1930s, Walker Evans and Dorothea Lange were hired by the US Farm Security Administration and produced a magisterial record of rural poverty during the New Deal. Their index has outstripped that of the French photographers in an astonishing rally: Walker Evans’s index has more than doubled since 2005 and Lange’s has tripled since 2004.

Dorothea Lange's White Angel Breadline

The highest priced photojournalism picture ever is White Angel Bread Line by Lange (see above image), which captures the depth of America’s crisis between the wars. On October 11, 2005, Sotheby’s NY knocked down the print for USD 720,000 (nearly EUR 600,000).

Another print of the same subject was offered at New York’s Phillips, de Pury & Company sale on October 19, but this one, from around 1955, failed to command the same interest and sold for its high estimate of USD 45,000 (EUR 35,897). Prior to that, the highest price paid at auction for a photograph was a relatively modest USD 120,000 for Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California (October 22, 2002, Christie’s NY).

Despite these record sales, though, around half the Lange and Evans pictures that come up are later prints and can be bought for less than EUR 5,000.

The above photo by Robert Capa is one of his most famous (Picasso and Francoise Gilot)

Naturalised American Robert Capa, joint-founder of the Magnum agency along with Cartier-Bresson, David Seymour and George Rodger, carried his camera through the Spanish civil war in 1936. There, he captured live the Death of a Republican Soldier, an image that was picked up and reprinted worldwide and came to symbolise this war in the collective memory. Despite the picture’s fame, subsequent prints are often bought in. Photojournalism collectors are highly selective and would rather pay EUR 5,000 or EUR 10,000 for a contemporary print than bid up a print from a later historical period than its subject.

Two years after that, Capa reported on the second Sino-Japanese war for Life, before going on to record the allied landings in Normandy on June 6, 1944. Mingling with the soldiers, he took 119 pictures of which 108 were accidentally destroyed by an unfortunate Life lab worker. Auction houses regularly put up D-Day images printed between 1960 and 1990.

These tend to find buyers for an average EUR 3,000 to EUR 7,000. Oddly, Capa’s records at auction were not set by images stemming from his committed journalism but by two self-portraits taken around 1938 that went for three times their estimate at EUR 15,000 to EUR 17,000 in April 2003 (at Phillips, De Pury & Luxembourg, April 25, 2003, New York).

The above photo by Henri Cartier-Bresson now sells for roughly $15,000.00

Cartier-Bresson prices have risen sharply since his death in 2004. Enthusiasts rushed to buy his pictures and the rate of bought-in prints fell from 50% in 2002 to 10% in 2004.

While the majority of transactions range between EUR 1,000 and EUR 5,000, his work generated record sales at auctions in 2005. Christie’s sold On the banks of the Marne for USD 110,000 on October 10, 2005 (EUR 90,827). The photo depicts a picturesque picnic scene along the Marne River and shows the changing French society of the 1930s. It dates from 1938, just two years after the French won the right to annual holidays. The print itself is a later version (1955), and collectors – who are demanding about print dates – tend to prefer vintage prints dating from between 1930 and 1950. Prices fall steeply for 1970s and 1980s reprints to between EUR 4,000 and EUR 7,000.

The Luxembourg-born American emigrant Edward Steichen was director of aerial photography for the allied forces during World War I. However, he spent most of his career working on portraits of well-known figures (Garbo, Churchill, etc.) and genre scenes. He is popular among Americans, and most of his works were selling for between EUR 1,000 and EUR 10,000 even before his index began a spectacular rally in 2005 (+240%). On February 14, 2006, his photo of Rodin’s Balzac reached USD 550,000 (EUR 462,330) setting a new record at Sotheby’s New York. Steichen's photo engravings are less popular. Collectors can buy a “piece of history” for less than EUR 1,000.

Today, the boundaries between photo-reportage and art photography are becoming blurred, as visual artists such as Sophie Ristelhueber, Paul Seawright and Jean-Luc Moulène move onto what was previously considered journalistic territory.

Please donate

C'mon people, it's only a dollar.