Power Duo: Hasted and Hunt Illuminate the Contemporary Photography Market
HASTED HUNT was founded in the Chelsea district of New York City in 2005 by business partners Sarah Hasted and W. M. Hunt. With both a family background and an educational background in the visual arts, Sarah Hasted has been a photography curator and dealer for over 22 years. Coming originally from a background in the performing arts, Bill Hunt has been a photography collector for 35 years and a dealer for 12. Combined, they represent well over 50-years’ experience in the world of fine art photography. Although their gallery exhibits both vintage and contemporary photography, they are especially well known for the large-scale contemporary photograph. In an in-depth “he said, she said” interview, they offer the readers of Focus Magazine a look into the world of the contemporary photography market, covering topics ranging from editions, prices, sizes, and auctions, to framing and archival considerations.
This is the indispensable interview that enables the emerging collector of large-scale contemporary photography to get his or her feet on the ground, which allows the seasoned collector to receive answers to any still dangling questions, and that encourages the inquisitive to satisfy his or her curiosity.
To begin with, thanks to both Sarah Hasted and you for agreeing to do these interviews.
We believe so completely in what we are doing that we want to support any publication, like Focus, which is trying to promote the appreciation and collecting of photography. So, it is our pleasure.
How do you feel about the relative demise of black-and-white photography?
“Relative demise?” I’ve two things to say. The photography market is a field that developed out of an interest in small precious objects; it was a book dealer’s aesthetic and world. For a very long time it was about vintage silver prints. That was what was for sale in the marketplace, both at auction and in galleries. But things began to change. More people got interested in the field. That was one thing.
Then technology changed, and people — artists — could make work in different ways. That was the second thing. People could hardly wait to show you the world’s most dreadful looking, large-scale, color, inkjet prints. With those early digital color prints you’d go, “that looks just awful,” but the color photography market continued to develop and expand.
I do have a real disappointment in so much of the contemporary black-and-white work being produced. I find it really hard to find stuff that’s printed [snap! of the fingers] so it just crackles. I know some people who can do it; they’re really great. Michael Flomen. He is the best. A couple of others. Tom Sandberg. There isn’t much “forward thinking” conceptually either.
It seems like the great black-and-white print now is an antiquity. There are very few practitioners. Larry Fink has a great line about black-and-white prints. He says you want to make a print so good you want to lick it. You don’t see that so much anymore.
One of the ways in which photography can behave is magnetically. With really good photographs, you want to get physically closer. At the same time some can behave in just the opposite way; they push you away like the work of Joel-Peter Witkin. Dramatically that’s what they have going for them. But I think with the really good ones, you want to go like, “oh my god, mmm, good.”
Do you recommend to collectors that they begin a thematic collection?
Here’s my recommendation. I think it’s invaluable to determine your taste, and then to be able to articulate your taste because you can then tell a dealer what it is that you like. You should challenge your taste, too; you should look at other things because if you just keep reinforcing your taste, it will be incredibly redundant. A good collection is stimulating and nurturing. I can think of two instances where I have been in dealers’ residences and they have said, “You know that whole thematic thing, well, it’s just nothing. It’s just silly.”
Here in New York at a dealer’s home, I replied, “Well, what’s the deal on all these little coronas of light in every single photograph in your collection?” It was as if he had never seen his photographs. He loved the little commas of light, little highlights on the photographs.
At a dealer’s home in California, it was the same thing. I said, “What’s the deal with all this deep perspective falling off on the right of the image?” They didn’t know their taste, and that it was amazingly consistent. They didn’t recognize that. That kind of knowledge is a way of having the most fun with a collection. That and when it has some very personal reference.
There’s a very nice man named John Bennette, who’s a collector and an art consultant. I am John Bennette’s “Victor Frankenstein.” He is my monster. I let him loose. It was like Pandora opening the box. I let him loose at an AIPAD panel about 15 years ago. I still could kill him because he completely seduced the audience and took up all my time. I remember the first photograph that he showed: a Sally Gall photograph of a wave. He put this slide up, and he said, “This is about my childhood.” You could hear the audience going like, “Huh? What is this?” And he said, “I was raised in Alabama, and I never thought I would see the ocean.” He was so engaging to the audience because pictures can behave like a diary. With my collection, I can tell you where I was, not necessarily literally to give you the date, but I can tell you where I was psychologically.
They’re very much a record of either something that had taken place, or something that was in the works. Sometimes it was something that I didn’t find out about until later. It was like taking a souvenir from a little period of time. A lot of times it’s just unconscious. You wonder, “Why does this mean so much to me?” And the really strong pictures do that. Sometimes you go, “What was I thinking?” Out of all my pictures, there are surprisingly few that never get out of the box, that haven’t held my interest.
What is your take on why, in the 1970s, large-scale color photographs began to attract collectors who previously had purchased only paintings?
I think that part of the transition had to do with artists like Tina Barney or Sandy Skoglund having the technical possibility of making a color print that could mimic — I think this is a trope from critic Andy Grundberg — that could mimic the way in which paintings behaved, in terms of size, and how they played on the wall. I suppose you could make a case that some of the marketplace was people buying fake paintings.
But I think that the wise people within all of that — and I hope this was the larger percentage — actually were reacting to the work, believing that it was powerful work, and thinking, wasn’t it swell that the photographs behave like paintings — in terms of real estate — taking up more space on the wall? Also, the colors, I think, were remarkable to people. I never hear anyone talk about that, but you look at some of these large color prints from the 70s, and your eye just dances. Look at the early Jan Groover stuff. There’s a delight in those prints because they’re color. And some of those Eggleston pictures where the color transcends the subject matter, like the bathroom, the green bathroom. I’ve got his image of the naked dentist, which is a very red picture. And a dye transfer to boot. The 1970s prints pulse with the color.
The photographers in your gallery do editions of their prints. Do contemporary photographers ever resist the idea of editioning?
Yes and no. The whole editioning thing in photography is at least 30 years old. It goes back to when Washington, D.C., dealer Harry Lunn put together underwriting for printing a set of some of Ansel Adams’s images. It was as if it were written in stone that Ansel Adams wouldn’t print those images anymore after the edition. To photographers, part of the argument in favor of editioning is, why would you want to be in the darkroom for the rest of your life printing this old picture? Don’t you want to go out and be creative and make new pictures? It’s interesting that early on, it didn’t seem to be a serious consideration or issue, and then it was.
It was just dropped in everybody’s lap suddenly. It’s actually a conceit that’s taken from prints. The analogy between the print world and the photography world is not exact because the process is different, but photography seems to have taken the language and the way of doing it. I don’t think the younger photographers know the history of editioning. I think they were just taught: this is what you do, and they do it.
Many of them, I don’t think they’ve ever really broken it down and gone like well, why are we doing this? We — dealers — are enforcing a kind of rarity on this, and the feeling seems to be in favor of simply accepting the convention.
Do you find that most of the photographers who sell the wall-size color prints have other people making them?
So wouldn’t that of itself obviate the argument that a photographer needs to edition in order to get out of the darkroom and create new work?
No. That would be missing a step: how do you deal with a computer file? It’s very complicated and it requires the equivalent of darkroom time. You have to go in and calibrate it and get it to be what you want. I don’t think it’s not as much time as darkroom time, but it involves an investment of time and thought even if it’s instructing someone who’s actually sitting there with a computer mouse. It’s your eye that’s signing off on what that image is going to look like.
So you’re saying that the productive thing for the photographer is, make all the prints in the edition at the same time and then you’re finished with that negative forever and you can spend your time creating new work?
You don’t have to do all the prints at once because the computer file will, supposedly, have life. What does happen, though, is that paper changes over time, so there are variables. Also you have to consider the economics of this. Printing is expensive.
So if you want this certain effect on this particular paper, you really had better go forward in the edition before the manufacturer stops making the paper?
I think the hope is you’re going to sell out the edition within three years and the materials will still be available within that time frame. But the old timers always mourn, “They don’t make that paper any more. ” Nothing changes.
When you work with a photographer to recommend an edition — and most of them are very small — like three, five, or ten — how do you come to a decision?
It’s like Goldilocks. Sarah Hasted and I will sit here and we’ll go like — too high? …too low?…just right! If someone is doing something that has a very conventional sense, then you would do an edition in a larger size of ten and a smaller size of twenty. People — collectors — anticipate that. If the work seems a little rarer than that — and who’s saying rare? I don’t know, me or the artist or whoever — let’s say there’s a piece that’s going to be unusually large, for example. We’ll keep that edition very, very small. You know, it’s all fake. It’s just a commercial consideration, which has nothing to do with anything.
What do you recommend about pricing to a young photographer who is just starting out?
I think they have to have two numbers and there are a couple of variables, size being one. You, as the photographer, have to recognize that if you’re working with a gallery it’s going to be a 50/50 split. So if you’re trying to sell stuff as an individual, without any representation, you should make it a real number which, when doubled, won’t exceed $1,500 or $2,000.
If you’re sitting at home with your portfolio of pictures and you go, “Well, these are all $2,500,” I, as a dealer, would just laugh at you. I can’t sell your pictures for $5,000, unless there’s some extraordinary circumstance. You just have to be sensible as to what’s already there in the marketplace. And you do want to sell them, too. I mean, if you are just going to sit there with all your $5,000 photographs, it shows a real sort of blindness as to what might actually be happening in the marketplace. Educate yourself. Get out. Look around. See what’s going on. People see these big pictures at big prices, but pricing is a real artful thing. You price them too high, and you piss people off. Pricing. It’s really hard to do… well, it’s not that hard.
So in terms of a price range within your gallery, the low point would be like a couple of thousand and the high point would be what? $30,000 to $40,000?
For an artist with one or two shows. Yes, but those are exceptional. The higher end contemporary stuff in our gallery is 20 to 30. Erwin Olaf and Bohnchang Koo are higher but they’ve been around longer and have international careers. We don’t present much vintage stuff, and we don’t have an inventory of secondary market. We do have vintage and secondary occasionally, but we’ve either borrowed it or gotten it on consignment and so the price tag might be $100,000 – $250,000.
By secondary, you mean resale of things you’ve sold before?
Yes, or that somebody else owns, and we are the agent for it.
What are your thoughts on color photography in relation to its longevity?
Passion! That’s what should inform the acquisition. The discussion about conservation issues should not dissuade the passion. Collecting involves a question of committing. Part of my frustration with teaching a class on collecting or even going to a lecture on collecting is that there is an emphasis on connoisseurship, which I do think can be distorted and distracting.
Connoisseurship is a real issue, a big issue, when you’re buying something for a half-million dollars. If you’re going to buy a house, you’re going to call an expert and say, “What do you think about this piece of real estate.Should I buy it?” That’s when you call in someone. If you’re buying something that’s under $100,000 and you’ve got the wherewithal to spend $100,000, it’s going to be a very personal purchase. So the emphasis should be — in the decision to buy — the passion. I think often the question of the longevity of color is a reflex that comes up as a reason not to commit. People say it is going to be very fugitive. Well, it is, in fact, fugitive. Your great-great-grandchildren may see a lesser version of this picture. I have a large Cindy Sherman, and I think the color has shifted. Does it bother me? It doesn’t bother me.
What kind of color?
It’s a C-print [Chromogenic print]. It’s funny because Cindy Sherman’s assistant sent me a scan of what the picture is supposed to look like and I went like, oh, mine still pretty much looks like that. I’ve had the picture for 25 years and somebody had it before me. Who’s to say what the shift is or if, actually, there is one?
You know, there’s a conceptual sculptor named Tom Friedman who does stuff with everything — cotton, sugar cubes, chewing gum. The guy is a genius. So, here’s the question. You’re not going to buy the bubble gum piece because it’s going to get brittle in nine months?
Yes, you’re going to buy it because it’s thrilling and terrific. In AIPAD [The Association of International Photography Art Dealers] the dealers are always saying, “Let’s have a color symposium.” I did a color symposium for the dealers. None of them came. So, it behaves like a smoke screen to some extent for me, the color conversation. The symposium was at 9 a.m. on a Sunday, but still.
Do clients ask you that kind of question, specifically?
If they’re a long-time client of mine, they don’t, because we’ve already talked about everything. If clients want to read the literature, I’ll get them the literature. It’s like, say you’re going to buy a couch, and you ask if you should get a fabric that’s been treated with some sort of stain guard or shouldn’t you. I’ll get you the literature, and you can decide. But I guarantee the conversation will be about the photograph and the artist, not it’s longevity. What’s more of an issue, I will say, is face-mounted plexi with color.
What is face-mounted plexi?
Face-mounted Plexiglas. It is Plexiglas that adheres flush to the face of the photograph, as opposed to the print being mounted from behind. It’s been around for the last dozen years. It’s something that you saw initially coming out of Europe. And it’s a real look. It’s like plastic furniture in the ’50s or little white Courreges boots in the ’60s. In 20 years you’ll look at these pictures and you’ll go like, oh, yeah, 1997.
This is completely personal though. Artists who do it, like it. Fine. But it is now much more of an issue than the color process itself — face-mounting — for the museums. Increasingly, American museums will not buy it. Their apprehension is based on not knowing what the chemistry trapped under the Plexiglas will do years from now. For me it is aesthetic. But a big color picture has got to be mounted on something. Mounted from behind on aluminum or Sintra dibond.
What is Sintra?
Sintra is a miracle; I think it’s an incredibly durable plastic. It’s stable, chemically inert. You want something that isn’t going to interact with the chemistry of the picture. Sintra also has the quality that it doesn’t bend much. Aluminum will bend.
What do you advocate for the front of the picture?
Then I just do conventional framing. The picture there is shadowbox framing. [pointing to a very large color photograph by Andreas Gefeller]. It feels like it weighs about 200 pounds, well, actually it’s about 70. It takes two men to lift it into place on the wall.
Is that glass or plexi on the front?
It’s plexi. It doesn’t touch the print. There’s a space. If it were black-and-white, I’d probably advocate for glass, probably Den Glass, which is a brand of glass. I have a brilliant artist I mentioned named Michael Flomen from Montreal who works in black-and-white. He does huge prints and puts non-reflective glass on them so that you see the print. It’s important with him to see the paper. But with the color work and the Plexiglas, it’s OK because there’s going to be a little bit of bounce anyway; the paper’s going to have a little sheen.
Are there any generalizations to be made about the clients who come to you?
No. They tend to have a lovely spirit and open heart, the ones who come to us. I used to think we got risk takers, but I think that people are very sophisticated now about looking and they know what they are doing.
No, I don’t think there’s any general rule at all. You hope like mad that you’re going to have a hard-core group that’s going to buy a couple things within a year. But there’s no generality at all.
How do you see American finances at this moment, in 2009: the combination of the low dollar and a possible recession? Are you at this point beginning to see a powerful impact on people’s purchasing habits?
I see it in traffic in Chelsea. Traffic is down. Part of it is that it is summer, too. A dealer colleague asked me confidentially if summer seemed to have started early this year.
And how long has this been in progress?
Not that long, but it’s a little self-fulfilling because, going back six months, you’re sitting here thinking, “Is this coming, is this coming? It’s not here yet; it’s not here yet.” But, to compensate, the European thing is wild now. In some respects the low dollar has been great because we have lots of European clients who we didn’t used to have, who come to us to buy work by European artists because it’s cheaper here. It is.
So you would say there’s been a real heating up of Europeans coming to you?
Oh, yeah. And South America. We did Art Miami last year. That was great! That was all new “meat” coming into the booth, and they were great. For the most part, there was no fooling around. Just, “Let’s do it.” And now you can Google people to find out who they are. Also in terms of business, Sarah and I work like mad doing outreach to connect with new collectors and possible clients, especially corporate, in spite of perceptions about the U.S. economy.
Is New York still the center of the art world?
Yes. I certainly think it will be the center for a long time because the commercial aspects of it are here. Advertising and magazines. Ultimately, the larger percentage of photographers make their living in the commercial sector. Even if they’re not living here, the agents for their work will be here. Physically, geographically, things are getting distributed because you can be like Dan Winters and live in Austin, Texas.
He doesn’t have to be in New York, with FedEx and email. But if I, as a dealer, want to see new work, I’m often better off not being in New York. Part of it is you just concentrate differently. At the Arles Festival in France, I am definitely working, but I have shorts on and it’s a little different. I just have a little more time to dance around with photographers.
Do you still see Chelsea as the center within New York, in addition to 57th Street? The scene was in SoHo, then Chelsea. Do you foresee it moving to someplace like Dumbo or elsewhere?
I don’t know. It’s a good question. We do have a long-term lease. That is a factor. The Dumbo thing — we had a real estate person show us places and promise us the moon. If I were 25, and building a different kind of business, I’d go there in a heartbeat. Fun. They’ve got trees and a park and the river. It’s a very different place, but I can’t invent a new client base quickly enough to set up a new shop there. And I don’t honestly believe we could get enough of our current clients to go there.
How do you find your photographers?
We look at everything. We no longer look at portfolios submitted directly to the gallery, but we look at books and websites and blogs and go to art fairs and art festivals. If someone is single-minded enough they can get the work in front of me. And I respect that and I think that if they’ve got that much intention, I’ll look. Maybe it’s meant to be. Sarah and I work at the same long desk but we email each other all the time saying, did you see this? It’s so hard to find something.
People bring us stuff, too. Like James Mollison. A publisher brought him to us. Andreas Gefeller — a photo editor brought him to us. Michael Thompson — in September we went to a wedding in his studio and Sarah started talking to him. So that’s how we got him.
Paolo Ventura — he did a blind submission. They were very, very different pictures. At the time he had photographs of mummies in the catacombs of Palermo, kind of grisly. The dead were buried in very fancy clothes — satins and velvets. With new artists we send them to The New Yorker and The New York Times Magazine to see how they fly there. Both magazines published Paolo Ventura.
Luc Delahaye, he’s the only one Sarah and I ever saw in the same instant. We were at the ICP Infinity Awards. They were showing these images from his project on Russia, Winterreise, on the screen, and you would have thought we were watching fireworks at our table because we were making so much noise. I mean we were going like, “Oooohhhh” and “Aaaahhhh.” It was exciting. Those pictures were off the charts brilliant. I’m looking for something that I haven’t seen before. If I could tell you what it looked like, I would. I can tell you what it doesn’t look like. It doesn’t look like something I have already seen. I want to be amazed. It’s like the Diaghilev thing: “Astonish me!” I want that experience where my jaw drops and I go, “Oh, my god.” So that’s one element of it. A second element of it is that it has to be something that I’m excited to talk about. That’s part of what we do here. I want it to be the kind of work that when I get out of bed in the morning, I’m so excited to go downtown to the gallery to promote this work. Sarah and I are blessed with very, very similar responses to work, and we must agree on a photographer.
I used to be an actor, and part of the similarity between show business and being an art dealer is the imagination. This is not brain surgery…I mean, we’re not curing anything here — maybe people’s depression. But the fun for me is, how do I make this happen? How do I get people to come here? How do I get a magazine to print this work? How do we take our excitement and transmit that to other people? That’s great. That’s really fun. You sit here thinking up things to do. OK, the show I’ve got up now, James Mollison, in the course of one day I called the Explorer’s Club, I called the Hard Rock Café corporate headquarters, I called the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the American Museum of Natural History. By “call,” I mean I’m online and I’m going through the masthead of who is there who might be responsive. And it’s different for Mollison than for Paolo Ventura or for Michael Thompson. Here’s a third element regarding new artists. We have a “no sociopath rule.” If you’re nuts, I’m just not interested.
Does that rule apply to clients as well?
Well, with the client thing I’ll go a little further. But with the artists, I’m just not interested. If you’re that hard, I’m not going to be any good for you anyway. I don’t want to argue with you. I want you to be excited to be part of this program. The first sign of temperament: No. No, no, no. I want to work with you. I don’t want to fight with you, and I want to collaborate with you. I’m not going to tell you what to do and you’re not going to tell me. We must have a genuine sympathy and regard for each other.
Do you have special tips for collectors on what to buy? Any suggestions on undervalued pockets of photography or trends in the marketplace?
I think that my tip for a collector is: if you love it, buy it. If you can afford it, buy it, because it’s not going to get cheaper. If you are an imaginative collector, I think there’s a way of shopping around the edge of things. There’s a real excitement in finding work by somebody who may not be on the radar in a very sizeable way. That’s what dealers are looking for, the artist who hasn’t really, really happened yet. Maybe you can get in early and do that. I also think that a collector who is not a shopper, who’s not just a hedge-fund guy with an art buyer who can shop until he’s stupid, but someone who is invested in this personally, will look at the vintage market. Lately the auction catalogues demonstrate that the houses are in pursuit of work that hasn’t been in the mainstream. They are beginning to work somewhat “outside of the box” like dealers.
That’s how you find stuff that’s undervalued, and then it gets to be of greater value, like Erwin Olaf, our guy. You wouldn’t describe it as real vintage work, but he has increasing “size” in the secondary market now. The same with Paolo Ventura. A picture we sold six months ago is on the cover of an Italian auction catalogue. That career will have real size. A place you would find some undervalued artists is the vintage work by female photographers. You’ll find that it’s completely disproportionate and that the female work is undervalued. Look at someone like Florence Henri — very credible work. Dorothea Lange, the Margaret Bourke-White stuff. I don’t know that there’s any consistent sense of what any of that work should be priced at. I don’t know what the prices are, but some of that work is just thrilling.
If you were looking for an MO on how to get in on this stuff, that’s the way I’d look at it. You know, I love when people buy all of somebody. We have a client, Alan Siegel, who went around collecting E. J. Kelty, who did these great circus groups. Alan bought Congress of Clowns, Congress of Freaks, etc. working with Miles Barth. Those pictures are great, and they’re a funny little American anomaly. They’re never going to worth be a million dollars, but man, are they good. And that’s fun for a collector. So Alan bought ’em all and did a book. In regard to trends in photography, and trends anywhere, not only am I not a follower or a joiner…you know the Groucho Marx remark, “I wouldn’t want to belong to a club that would have me….” I think what’s exciting is what’s fresh, what you discover, what you walk into and you say, “Oh my god, this artist is showing me something. I never saw it this way before. I never knew about this. Thank you very much.” That’s what I’m curious to do. It’s so impossible to identify that. If I could tell you what it was, then I’d be ahead of the game.
So often you’re on the tail end of something. You know, we could talk about the snapshot phenomenon and how this developed and came about…sure, now there are dozens of snapshot shows all over. Where did all of that come from? It kind of came from a few shows and then people said that’s a decent idea, let’s do that.
What is your background?
I am from St. Clair, Michigan. A sweet, little town. I went to prep school, so I had a highfalutin’ East Coast education at Andover. I started business school at the University of Michigan and one day I was sitting in an accounting class. I was two months into the semester and I’m sitting there and I thought, “I don’t have a clue what’s going on.” I was literally copying other people’s homework, and I had no idea what they were talking about. “Get out. Run for your life.” So I changed all my classes to theater and was happy, happy, happy.
How did you start collecting photographs?
The collection, which has a name — Collection Dancing Bear — is now in about its 35th year. It consists of pictures of people — magical, heart-stopping images — in which you cannot see their eyes. That’s it. I was in Sotheby’s and I bought a picture by Imogen Cunningham. It’s called The Dream and it’s a picture of a veiled woman. It wasn’t truly vintage; it’s a later print. I had had this idée fixe that I was going to find a picture of somebody in which I couldn’t see their eyes.
So I bought that and took it home and thought what a strange thing. It was as if I were possessed. Something I don’t hear talked about in collecting — not only at auction, but it’s certainly more evident at auction — is how adrenalizing it is to find a picture that just makes you explode. You see something and you go, “Oh my god, oh my god — eureka!” And stuff goes off in your body. You covet it, you want to consume it, and you want to take it home. And so I had this Cunningham. I started looking around New York, and it used to take you about two hours to see photography. You’d go to Witkin Gallery, you’d go to Light, you’d go to the Museum of Modern Art, go to Marlborough, and you were done. And Robert Miller, eventually. And you could see every photograph in New York in an afternoon. I didn’t have a lot of money. I was an actor and I had some outside income, not any great shakes, but photography didn’t cost a lot of money.
So I’d buy a couple of things here and there and was off in a vacuum. And you know prices have always been a step ahead of my income. I can remember one year announcing with a fair amount of pride that it was a big year because it was the first year I owed money…internationally. But I’m a square client; I pay my bill. I shop to the point where if I’m out of money, that’s it. I’m not meant to have it. First time I ever really stepped up was an Irving Penn, still the cornerstone of the collection — Morocco, 1971, the two veiled women on the cover of the book Worlds in a Small Room. This was it for me. Christie’s had a print of it. And I said to myself, “The hope of scoring a bargain on that was not going to happen.” Was I prepared to do it? And I DID it, and it was GREAT. That was the first time I ever went, “I cannot afford this picture…I almost cannot afford this picture.” For the real collector, can you afford not to have it?
How did you select the name Collection Dancing Bear?
It’s a story that’s not all that interesting, but I’m happy to tell it to you. I went to Africa for my 40th birthday. Somebody said, “Oh, you’re an interesting guy. Do you have your card?” I said, “I’m an actor. I’m in Africa. I don’t have a business card.” I came back to New York, and I had a credit at a stationery store. So I went in to get them made.
I was choosing the design of the business card and that upper-left hand corner kind of blinked at me where you put “real estate broker” or whatever. Well, “out-of-work actor?” How would that look? In the end I put “Dancing Bear.” The history of Dancing Bear is that I had developed a script with someone based on Randy Newman’s songs. The script was a two-person musical titled The Story of a Man Named John and a Woman Named Mary, Sometimes Called Marie, Told Through the Words and Music of Randy Newman, or You and Me. In that, there’s a song that’s great called “Simon Smith and the Amazing Dancing Bear.” In the piece I was the “Dancing Bear.” It was a very good fit for me. So I took to being this strange, surrealist collector, scouring the galleries of Manhattan and signing the guest book, “D. Bear.” Having “Dancing Bear” on a business card proved to be an incredible litmus test meeting new people. It was easy to find the humorless ones.
So over a 35-year period, about how many pictures entered this collection?
It breaks down in two ways. There are probably about 700–800 authored images for which I could tell you the names of the photographers. Then there are probably another 500 pictures that are either vernacular or anonymous. So maybe it’s like 800 hard-core pictures and 500 less hard-core. Now there are a lot of snapshots. Part of what happens to a collector is you never really lose the addiction, but lots of things happen: you’re distracted, your interest changes. Within the collection you can see different interests. In the last five or seven years, the pictures that have come into the collection have almost nothing to do with “no eyes” except for the fact that they’re abstractions. If I say it’s part of the collection, it is. You might wonder if the Miguel Rio Branco picture of a colored hoop is about “no eyes”? And I would say it’s a face. I see a face. He sees a face; Miguel sees a face.
Another interest: there was a whole period of my life when I liked pictures of people flying, but what’s that got to do with “no eyes”? First of all, they’re not looking at the camera. But it’s like existential distancing, which seems to be a part of the collection, a sense of alienation, aloneness. Those are different ways and directions that the collection has taken over a period of time. Then one day I saw a Bill Brandt photograph of Dubuffet in a show at the Met, and I went like, “Oh, my god! Oh, my god!” This whole interview seems to be me going. “Oh, my god! Oh, my god!” It was one of those situations when I was all by myself, and I just wanted to grab some tourist and go like, “Look at this picture. This is a great picture. Did you see this picture?” Then to myself I am thinking how exciting the picture is. “I’ve got to have this picture!” And then I realize, of course, that this is a picture of somebody with his eye wide open. It took a little while to find a print of the picture to purchase, but it was emblematic that I was done. End of the road.
Tell us about the book being made of Collection Dancing Bear.
I was invited to show the collection at the Arles Festival in France and we edited it down to 380 pictures. The French, in their delicious perversity, loved my show. It was totally the “dark horse” show. The word of mouth was great. And I would go and look at it and I would see people come back to it. That was so much fun. I would just sit there in a chair in the exhibition looking at people looking at the show. And I would find curators coming back to look at it a second time, which was a huge compliment. So the show’s up and about six weeks later I get a message from Thomas Neurath, the publisher of Thames & Hudson. And it says, “Mr. Hunt, I’ve seen your show at Arles and thought that it was incredibly personal.” The letter was sort of an encomium to the collection that I never would have written out of modesty. It was thrilling, this letter. All this stuff about how great it was and surprising and, “Wouldn’t it make a great book, don’t you think?” Of course it would make a great book, but I always thought I would have to go pitch it someplace.
So here this really good publisher comes to me and I go, “OK, good. That’s great.” And then he, over the course of some conversation, indicates to me that he’s going to delegate his sister, who’s the long-time art director, as the producer. Her name’s Constance Kaine. So Connie Kaine and I agree to have a rendezvous in Arles in September, when the show is going to close. So we made arrangements to meet and I stood her up because I didn’t want to watch the show with her. I wanted her to do it all by herself. When we did finally meet, she was, understandably, steamed. I explained my reasoning. She understood that completely, and revealed that she was working part-time at Thames & Hudson because she had gone back to school to become a Jungian analyst. She understands this collection better than I do. I just adore this woman.
She is my editor and she has more style than anybody I ever met. She is funny, bright, totally on the same page about these pictures. So, I’m at this company, where I know the publisher and his sister, and the book should come out this fall or in the spring of 2009 with the title The Unseen Eye: A Life in Photographs. Now there’s a new collection. I’ve been buying pictures of groups of people. I’m no longer alone out there. I am intrigued by American groups before 1955 and I like pictures that look like — I describe them as looking like musical scores, meaning the blacks and the whites have some unusual and strong graphic energy.
Also I am fascinated by how groups behave in space. I’m not so interested in the authorship in this collection. I tend to buy much of this on eBay. I never read this about collecting, but for a really, really good active collector, the stuff finds YOU. You’re sitting there, and the phone rings, and it’s the photograph. And I think that’s great.
Could you tell us about your personal background?
I went to school at the College of Santa Fe and originally began my studies in painting and printmaking. I discovered photography with the help of my teacher and mentor, David Scheinbaum, who worked with historian and photographer Beaumont Newhall. David also happened to own a gallery with his wife Janet Russek, who was working with color photographer Eliot Porter at the time. I did an internship at the gallery while attending the College of Santa Fe studying for my Bachelor of Fine Arts degree, specializing in photography.
After graduating I worked with Schein-baum and Russek Gallery as well as curated for a private collector. To keep my hand in the production side of the medium, I worked with a photographer named Joan Myers, whom I adore. I did everything from assisting with the platinum and palladium printing to printing silver prints for her many publications. All of that was so rewarding. After working in Santa Fe for five years, I was antsy to move to New York. I was hired by Howard Greenberg and worked with his gallery for two years until Bill Hunt called me when the former director of Ricco Maresca Gallery resigned.
They were building a new photography department and wanted Bill and me to design the programming and find the artists. The two of us worked very hard to get that department up and running. We did that for ten years. Eventually Ricco Maresca asked us to be partners with them, but Bill and I felt strongly that we would not be able to do anything new with them that we hadn’t already done and we decided that a clean break would have more clarity. I’ve been working in photography now for about 23 years, ever since college, and I’ve known Bill Hunt forever.
When did you and Bill begin this gallery in New York, HASTED HUNT?
We started this gallery in 2005. We kept the roster of artists we built while we were in our other incarnation, but parted ways with a few over time and added a number of new artists whose work was in keeping with our current programming. We are going into our third year. It’s been terrific.
Is your specialty the wall-size contemporary color photograph?
Not necessarily. Bill and I do specialize — we say that we’re a contemporary art gallery specializing in photography — and I think that’s because there’s still that sort of goofy question that comes up, “Is photography art?” I am always still surprised that it comes up in this day and age, but it does. My background is predominantly vintage photography. Over the years I have represented work by such artists as Paul Strand, Alfred Stieglitz, Aaron Siskind, Ralph Eugene Meatyard, Beaumont Newhall, Eliot Porter, Ansel Adams, Henri Cartier-Bresson, and so many more. I have placed the works of all these people in prestigious collections throughout the years. A lot of vintage photography passed through that gallery and also through Howard Greenberg, of course. So I have great reverence and respect for vintage photography and I have a history with it — as well as that great love of the past.
When Bill and I opened our own gallery, we wanted to be able to show photography we loved. I had always loved Aaron Siskind’s series “The Pleasures and Terrors of Levitation” and I wanted to show that work. That was a great goal of mine, so we showed it this last fall with Lisette Model’s portfolio. It was just a beautiful show that I was ecstatic with.
We’ve exhibited work by Erich Salomon at the same time as Chris Morris, because Salomon could be considered the first political photographer and Chris Morris is a contemporary photographer on staff with George W. Bush; we liked the comparison. We usually try to show two people at the same time to demonstrate aesthetic and compositional relationships. We curated a Joel-Peter Witkin vintage show — his greatest hits — and sold everything. It took me three years to gather that work. We represent Eugene Richards and we decided to go all the way back and start with “Dorchester Days,” the work he did in the ’60s and ’70s.
However, predominantly what we represent are emerging and established contemporary photographers like Erwin Olaf, Martin Schoeller, Lynne Cohen, Paolo Ventura, Andreas Gefeller, Gerald Slota, and Julian Faulhaber, who do large-scale, color work. We find work that we are connected to, instantly. Bill and I always say that we represent the thing that we’ve never seen before. It’s exciting for us to have diverse programming and a diverse roster and we take a great deal of time to make those selections. The programming of HASTED HUNT is very deliberate.
Do you have a personal collection and if so, what kinds of things do you collect?
When I moved to New York I started collecting formally. I thought, “Wouldn’t it be great if I collected some vintage works of New York by some of the great New York photographers.” Then that changed when I married my husband, Mark W. Mann, who is an artist.
We started buying things together and the collection became more than just photography; it became about images, paintings, drawings, and photographs that both of us loved. It’s not a huge collection like Bill Hunt’s. I don’t think it ever will be. We don’t have the room to handle it, but I do think the pictures we collect are pictures that inspire us — something that brings us great joy when we look at it. The most recent photograph Mark and I have acquired is a Vik Muniz of Mr. Rogers.
About how many photographs do you own at this point?
I probably have 200. That’s about as much as I can handle. Actually that is way more than I can possibly hang at one time, so we rotate the images about once a year or whenever we get a new one….
Do you find that the people who buy the large-scale color photographs also buy vintage?
Sometimes. There are people who collect only contemporary photography, but a lot of people who have collected vintage in the past are now moving into contemporary photography as well. There is a crossover, but when someone is extremely drawn to vintage photography, very rarely will they understand the larger scale Andreas Gursky photo. It seems to bewilder them. We were just having that conversation with a museum curator. He said sometimes large photos become pretty wallpaper and I understand that. I think that artwork in general should give you an immediate response when you look at it, that you should just be really thrilled that it’s part of your life. Some people buy for investment. They see it, they buy it, it goes into storage, and it comes up at auction a couple years later.
Does that happen with the large color photographs?
Absolutely. Flipping it right away could be beneficial, but it could also damage the artist if you put it up for auction and it doesn’t sell. That would end up doing both the artwork and the career of the artist a disservice. But I think there’s nothing wrong with buying it for investment, if you hang onto it for a couple years. I would prefer it if the client brought it back to me so I could find the perfect home for it.
If a photograph is sold out, there’s usually a wish list of people who want it. I call these people and say, this person would like to sell it, would you like to buy it? And in that case everybody’s happy. Also that way Bill and I can navigate the career of the artist a little more strategically instead of having random pieces going up for auction. I think that what’s very different now from when I first started in the business is the artists are much more deliberate about the trajectory of their career.
What is a typical edition for your artists, someone like Paolo Ventura?
An edition is usually around ten. I teach one day a week and I tell my students editioning is a very good thing, or at least numbering your pictures, but I would definitely encourage editioning because it allows you to move on artistically from that picture. You’re not continually printing that photograph again and again and again.
But what I encourage the artist to do is to hang on to one of the pictures for museum shows, for exhibitions. They have artist’s proofs and they can display those, but I think the editioning is valuable because it allows the artist to create other images that are more current. Also it allows collectors to know there’s only ten out there. Clients love limited editions.
John Szarkowski once said that the average photographer has a creative flowering of about ten years. If one were to play devil’s advocate, one could say, well, the poor artist needs to capitalize on that 10-year period by making prints from that group of negatives forever in order to support himself for the rest of his life.
Right, right, there are different arguments. Well, I do see the point of that. If you look at someone like André Kertész, whose career really took off toward the end of his life, he was finally reaping the benefits of all the hard work he had done up until that point. But the market is just so different, even from when I started. In the beginning there was no fine art print market for people like Eliot Porter, Beaumont Newhall, or André Kertész, so there was no need to make limited editions. Recently, we had an Eliot Porter show in conjunction with one of our contemporary artists, Bohnchang Koo.
A couple of clients asked, why didn’t Porter edition? I said because nobody bought these pictures then. I mean, if he got them on a Sierra Club calendar or in a book he was ecstatic, but that was the extent of it. The market started at the end of his life. However, I think that the collectors nowadays are so shrewd, so savvy, that for them, a contemporary artist who does not do editions is somebody who is likely to flood the market over time. I think everybody wants to know that the photographer is going to have a long career and that what they’re buying is worth something.
When you do the editions, do you do them in several different sizes?
Well, with some of them. With Paolo Ventura for example, it’s two sizes: editions of five and ten. Five in the large size, ten in the medium size. Andreas Gefeller does editions of eight, one size only; each picture has its own size. They really have chosen those edition sizes. I think that if you edition five and ten and then you have maybe 25 images in that particular series, that’s a lot of pictures. You can have a pretty substantial career.
My job is to sell not just one image but all of them. People respond to different images, so you’re hoping that the one that proves to be most popular isn’t going to be the only one that sells. Typically that’s not the case. Some people will buy an image because they see it will re-sell. And some people will buy because it’s the picture they like.
What is the size of this Paolo Ventura on the wall and what is his smaller size?
This is 40 x 50 inches, the smaller size is 30 x 40 inches.
What is the typical number of APs [Artist’s Proofs]?
I would say two. Three is pushing it. Two is enough, so if you want to sell one to a museum at the beginning of your career to get yourself started, and if you also want to hang on to one for insurance down the line, then you have the second one five years later when the MoMA has finally discovered you. But two is good. But, again, from the very beginning you have to declare it.
You have to say I’m making an edition of five with two or three APs. It is a declaration and it’s very, very important that you say that up front. There have been instances in the past where the photographer did not declare the APs and everything sold out and then the APs showed up. It’s completely unethical. The clients that purchased the works prior to the APs being printed should be very upset, because little did they know there’s an AP. So the photographer undermines his or her own market.
Collectors track this that closely?
They absolutely do. I had a collector come to me about a month or two ago who said, “How many APs does so-and-so do?” It was an artist I no longer represent. I said two. And he said, well I just saw a third one. And I said bad, bad, bad. So I cannot tell you how informed and educated collectors are and I think it’s terrific because they really know what they’re buying. There’s not any mystery there. If they have any questions…and if you function with integrity and you function with honesty…there’s nothing to hide.
Would you handle a contemporary artist who did not edition?
Probably not. I think it’s so unusual in this day and age that somebody would work that way.
So what happens now? When you take him on, do you say, “OK, you’re editioning now?”
That’s exactly what we do. We encouraged Eugene Richards to do an edition. He picked the size. He does an edition similar to James Nachtwey, an edition of 30, and you can get one either 16×20 inches or 20×24 inches. Eugene’s got great records as all artists should. But he never had a huge selling record prior to our representation so this was not difficult. I think it would be very hard to do that with somebody who had already sold a lot of pictures. It would be very tedious to retrace all of that information.
With my artists, I always ask, what is that you’re hoping for? What are your dreams and aspirations for a career? Some artists want to be famous. Other artists want to sell a lot of artwork. Some artists want to show only in museums. It depends on what those goals are. If an artist’s goal is to sell lots of pictures without editioning, just to flood the market and that’s their idea of success, I say more power to them. I don’t want to represent them, but I think it’s perfectly fine if that’s what makes them happy.
But I think that it hurts a career and hurts the marketplace when the artist is too prolific. When he floods the market it’s a disaster. It may make him happy, but I think he’s killing his secondary market. It’s not that I think an artist should be consumed with the secondary market — auctions — but they are important to the longevity of a career. Bill and I like to say we represent the past, present, and the future, of our artists — that we are all-encompassing. We put a lot of time and effort into an artist’s career, into an artist’s life. We really are in a relationship and a partnership with the artist, and we want to help him or her create a long career.
Does it ever happen, five years down the line that a photographer says, “You know I’m sold out completely on this picture and I don’t want to be sold out. I’d like to create an edition in another size.” Is that permissible within the gallery world today?
No. That is the cardinal rule that you never break. If an artist did that, we would not touch him with a ten-foot pole. He is committing career suicide. Because my reputation, his or her reputation, the market’s reputation, are shattered.
When you are selling a photograph and the client says OK there are only five of these in this size and you say yes, you are honor-bound to keep the integrity of that edition. There have been instances over the past 23 years when an artist has come to me and said I would like to do another size of this image because it is sold out. It was just a total battle, but guess who won. The gallery. Yes, because I think there are two things you never do as an artist or dealer: One is you never decrease your prices. That’s just completely unethical and completely wrong. Second, you have to declare your edition size from the get-go. You have to function with honor throughout your whole career. Within the photography world, going outside your edition is one of the most unethical things you can do.
But they have to be people with considerable sums of money?
Not necessarily. I mean we have a lot of collectors who are just getting started. It’s the first photograph they have ever bought.
But if it’s $20,000, that’s a brave beginning.
Yes, it is. I would say the new, just emerging photography collector is probably spending more like $5,000. Yes, $20,000 would be a little bit brave, but the funny thing is that it happens. The range is unbelievable. There are the photography collectors who want to start a collection but they don’t have lots of money, so they buy a photograph that’s maybe $4,000 to $5,000. And then you have somebody who’s been collecting photography for five years who is willing to spend tens of thousands of dollars in an afternoon.
Is there an average price of a photograph in your gallery?
I don’t know if there is an average price. There’s probably a range from $4,000 to $75,000. A couple of our contemporary artists have a resale market up to $100,000. I don’t know if there’s an average price…maybe it’s $10,000 to $20,000.
This also relates to the question of longevity of photographs. When people are spending this kind of money, do they ask questions about longevity of color?
Almost never. We definitely will get the question once in a while from someone who is just beginning to collect, as opposed to the seasoned collector who’s been buying for years. There are so many processes that are so archival now…the inkjet, even the Epson print. According to articles by expert Henry Wilhelm depending on the color process you select, the longevity of color photographs could vary from 100 to 300 years. A lot of photographers used to take photographs to New Mexico and stick them in the sun and do some tests. The “archivalness” of 99% of the processes now is very high in the quality of the inks and so on. Some people are still making Cibachromes and the “archivalness” of a Cibachrome is still great, but it’s very expensive to make the prints.
We still have very few collectors who will purchase Epson prints. They’re gorgeous, they’re beautiful, there’s nothing wrong with them; it’s just a mindset the collector’s in. Collectors like the C-print. Of course nobody calls them C-prints anymore. Now they’re called Digital C-prints.
What are Chromogenic prints?
Same thing. I think the question that comes up is, what does that mean? Because some artists will say Chromogenic, some people will say Digital C-prints, some will say, C-prints, Lightjet prints. The vocabulary is so eclectic now. I really do think the printer you’re using determines the quality of the print. Our artists work with reputable labs, so I trust them because I know their machines and I know what they’re doing. That is important. The question will come up, if this color photograph has direct sun, is that a bad thing?
And of course it is. No photograph should have direct sun. If you did have direct sun and you couldn’t avoid it, the only protection that would work is UV3 Plexiglas over the front of that photograph. That is the only thing that will block 99% of the light. So if it gets a ray of sunlight once a day for 15 minutes… as long as you have UV3 protection on that, it’s fine. I took a conservation seminar at the Metropolitan Museum of Art to make certain I was well informed and educated. We did tests for the glazing on photographs. UV3 was the only thing that blocked the rays. So even on black-and-white photographs, it’s not a bad idea.
Does museum glass incorporate UV3?
I do believe it incorporates some sort of protection, but not as much as UV3 plexi. It’s extremely expensive, as much as the photograph. Museum glass is great because it has non-glare. If you hang a photograph in your home and it’s not going to get direct sun, museum glass is great. But if you live in California and you’ve got nothing but skylights and open windows…
Bill said there was an issue with face-mounted Plexiglas on photographs.
Well, there isn’t really an issue with it. It’s perfectly archival and perfectly fine. In museums it becomes a little bit of an archival problem because they have to store it. It’s already quote-unquote “framed.” So if it’s face-mounted to the Plexiglas, it is an entity.
You cannot separate it — the Plexiglas — from that piece. You can’t unframe it and maybe tuck the frame away and store it flat. So it becomes a little bit of an archival pain in the behind for them because it becomes a little more bulky, and they don’t always have tons of room. And if you want to travel it, it can be a problem.
How does the artist get it to adhere?
There’s an archival adhesive. Andreas Gursky does it, for example. There are so many artists who use face-mounted plexi.
Is that on the wane?
I would say yes. It’s a beautiful presentation and perfectly fine and I think in a residence it looks amazing, but if you have kids and you’re going to put it in a high-traffic area, it’s probably not so great. If somebody walks by and they brush against it with a little backpack the whole piece is ruined. One of our artists, Erwin Olaf, did a series of work presented on face-mounted plexi, which we showed. The pieces looked amazing. They sort of float off the wall and the mounting really enhances the color. He printed the work so that when the Plexiglas was on it, it would really pop the color out. We tried to put one in a frame and it looked ridiculous.
Bill’s collection travels quite a bit, so if a piece goes from Arles to Switzerland to Amsterdam, chances are it’s going to come back with a scratch on it. So then that piece would have to be replaced. If you are going to travel the artwork then it’s probably best to get it framed.
You used the word “replaced” while discussing the possibility of a work getting scratched while traveling. Did you mean that the artist would actually provide a new one?
He can replace it, if he’s willing to do it. I usually leave it up to the artist. Most artists will do it if the client pays the expenses. The client obviously would not pay the full retail. For example, you cannot replace a dye transfer print if it is damaged.
With dye transfer, do you really mean that you could never find anyone on the face of the planet who could do it?
The chemicals and paper are no longer made. I know of one man who bought up the last of the chemicals, but he uses them for himself and one other well-known photographer. It is the most archival color process because it’s dye on paper, three layers of dye.
It’s not taught in schools and only a handful of people know how to do it. I can give another example of a modern but unavailable process. I have a collector friend who recently bought a Richard Misrach photograph. It is gorgeous, but it is a laminated process that is no longer being done, so if she wants that piece replaced, she could never have it done exactly the way it was. If he did replace it, it would be a different look. So that changes the way the collector interprets that photograph.
Where and with what are the large-scale color photographs signed?
Nowadays, since most contemporary photographs are large, they are mounted to a rigid material, either aluminum, Plexiglas, Dibond, or Sintra. Our artists have studio stickers that have all of the print information and their signature on the back. I usually encourage the sticker because it’s a piece of paper. And it’s signed with archival ink. Some people will sign with a Sharpie on the back of the aluminum itself, which is perfectly fine too. It will never come off.
What Martin Schoeller uses is sort of a debossing stamp and he signs over the debossing. Michael Thompson does that also. I encourage that as well because I think that ‘s impossible to mimic or replicate. So there’s a nice level of insurance there.
Do you think there’s much technical possibility of forgery with a wall-size color photograph?
I don’t think so. I think it would be impossible and horribly expensive.
What would be the qualities that said “forgery” to you?
If it is an artist you represent, it should be obvious. Everyone prints differently. Signatures are necessary with contemporary work, one should know each artist’s signature and studio stamp. I truly can’t imagine anyone trying to replicate an Andreas Gefeller — it would be insane! I always encourage everybody to do his or her research. Buy it from a reputable dealer, somebody that you know.
If you’re buying at auction, then I would research the artist to see if he or she has representation and if there is an edition number. I know the location of the work and where it goes — if it comes up for auction. This is why galleries are so important, because we can decipher the signatures and the original print quality. In the case of vintage photographs, you should always work with someone who knows what they are doing. Having knowledge of the history of photography is crucial.
In regard to charity auctions, let’s say an artist has two or three artists’ proofs and he can do whatever he wants to with them. A charity says please give us this for an auction, and he does. And the piece goes for a thousand dollars but his retail is $30,000. What, if any, impact does that have on the marketplace?
Usually the charity is for a good cause. If the person got the piece for a thousand dollars, kudos, they got a great deal. But if the work retails for $30,000, chances are that it wouldn’t be donated to a charity event, and if it were, a reserve would be set. It must sell at the reserve — at least — otherwise it doesn’t benefit the organization. It’s important that the auction be beneficial to the organization, to the artist, and to the person who did the bidding. Chances are the piece is not actually an AP. Usually I don’t encourage the artist to donate an AP, because those are the pieces that are going to have a nest-egg quality.
Let’s speak of major auction houses like Sotheby’s and Christie’s. If a Paolo Ventura piece selling for, let’s say, $20,000 were put up at a major auction house and it went for $5,000, would your collectors get hysterical?
Yes. This is something that I have to control. The work must have a reserve, which is typically a realistic amount; in the above case it would not be $5,000. We try to pay attention to the artworks that are coming up at auction and we call the clients who are interested. If it’s a work that’s sold out, and I don’t have it for sale any more, I am calling the people on my wish list who wanted it and saying, it’s coming up for sale at Sotheby’s, you should get it. Usually there’s more than one person so those two end up duking it out and it ends up selling for more. Resale at auction doesn’t benefit me financially, but it benefits the auction house and it benefits the person who is purchasing the work. It also benefits the artist because it sells. So it’s very, very important that I know that the art works are coming up. So we work very closely with the auction houses in that regard. I like and respect all of them. I think that they do a really tough job.
How do you see the marketplace at the time of this interview, in relation to the weak dollar and what is being called a recession?
It’s a question I’ve been getting a lot. I have to say, knock on wood, “We’re doing great.” I think the reason our gallery in particular seems to be weathering any storm is that we have a clientele that is perhaps not being affected as much by the economy as some other sectors. As well, at HASTED HUNT, we sort of think outside the box — we just curated a show for Beijing, for example. It will be shown in conjunction with the Olympics and it just so happens that the entire show was purchased. So that saves any kind of slow summer traffic. The art fairs are also a great way to sell work. We have had a real nice, consistent influx of clients and new clients and, thank God, everything seems to be fine with our gallery and with our colleagues. We hope it continues. Bill Hunt and I are not aggressive sales people and I think our clients appreciate that, and we sell artists who have nice careers and everything is pretty solid.
Speaking of the vintage market, or even the contemporary market, are there pockets that you think are undervalued financially and that you might advise the collector to consider purchasing?
More genres than anything else. I would say fashion photography is still undervalued, underrated, both contemporary and vintage. Somebody like Lillian Bassman is just fantastic. She is a terrific photographer. A lot of people still don’t know who she is. A contemporary who’s up-and-coming, for example, is Michael Thompson, who was Irving Penn’s assistant for a few years and is now a hugely successful photographer represented commercially by Jed Root. HASTED HUNT debuted his work at our gallery earlier this year. He is terrific. His work has been influenced by the fashion industry but I wouldn’t say it is fashion photography. The other pocket that I think of is photojournalism. Because we started the gallery with a show by the photographers from the Agency VII, some people thought that we were a photojournalism gallery. And I said, “No, no, no, no.” Photojournalism is a very small part of our programming. Bill Hunt and I think that a great photograph is a great photograph, no matter what genre or style.
What has changed over the years?
I think that what’s changed in the past ten years is that the collector is almost as invested in the artist’s career as in the artwork. I’ve noticed over the past ten years that the collectors enjoy the dynamic of seeing the artist succeed. Not because they want to sell their picture, but because of the participation aspect. That’s fun for me because the relationship between the artist and the client is what brings true joy to the job, and reminds you of why you do it. It’s not just selling pictures. It’s an experience we’re all going through together.
What are some of the main pitfalls you’ve seen collectors fall into?
I think a pitfall that collectors might fall into is buying pictures that they don’t love. If you’re buying it for investment and you say OK, I don’t really love this picture but I know it’s going to sell for $300,000 down the road one day, then you should get it. That represents your business savvy and it’s something you think is a wise investment. But if you’re going to live with the picture, I think you should always buy the work that makes you happy, even if it means that it’s an artist who’s never going to have a huge career. That’s very, very important and I think that people don’t put as much value on that as they should. A picture doesn’t have to cost a lot to be important to you.
When a new artist is coming to you and you’re advising him on things like editioning, how do you calculate a beginning price?
Well, there is a thing called “fair market value.” So you base it on the artist’s contemporaries, someone represented by my gallery or another gallery, someone with a comparable career. I teach and I always tell my students you should get it out there into the world. No one knows who you are, so you need to declare your editions, figure out the cost of making the work, double that price, and just get it out there. Sell it to your aunt. But try to get it out there.
I think students make huge mistakes by overpricing their work right out of the gate. It is really, really important that people start to know who you are, because somebody will see it at a friend’s house and they’ll call you and say I love this picture, do you have more? Then you start to sell more. So you have to promote yourself.
In a gallery like this, how many core collectors do you have?
That is hard to say — this is a whole different ball game. The clients we have range from some of the most important photography collectors in the U.S. to some of the famous contemporary art collectors in the world. Even the client who is just beginning is part of our core. Every client is important to our gallery and I have spent 23 years consulting — building collections, placing works in museums — I consider all of it crucial and integral to the success of any gallery.
Now, the large color pictures have been a major trend for how long — 20 years?
Not as long as 20 years. Maybe more like ten. Fifteen maximum.
Do you see other trends emerging?
That question comes up periodically. I don’t. I think there was a trend for a while of people photographing their family. That was a genre for a lot of photographers who were coming out of Yale; it was an aesthetic. I think it’s still going on, but it’s not as evident. I don’t see any trends on the horizon.
Is it possible to pinpoint a moment when this type of extremely large picture became a big thing on the marketplace?
I can’t say when it started. The pictures just kept getting bigger and bigger and bigger. I do tell my students that it’s not necessary for the photograph to be big to be great. The size of the picture needs to match the aesthetic of the work. If they’re just making big pictures to make big pictures, I’m with that curator I mentioned earlier: I think it’s pretty wallpaper.
It doesn’t mean that it isn’t well done or accomplished, it just means that it doesn’t hold enough weight for me. But I don’t know when the large size started. I think that photographers like Richard Prince had a lot to do with the big color picture. Jeff Koons, Thomas Struth, Cindy Sherman — definitely Cindy Sherman. She went from the film stills to the self-portrait. They’re not huge; her photographs aren’t big compared to the contemporary work of Andreas Gursky. But they were big-ger compared to many earlier photographs. Andres Serrano also had a lot to do with big color pictures.
On the subject of provenance, it sounds as if the marketplace, combined with the internet, is making it very easy to track the provenance of the contemporary photographers.
Yes, provenance is really crucial. I really think it’s important to know where the artwork is coming from. Someone was sort of bemoaning the fact that they bought a piece that turned out to be a reproduction, and I said you should have done the research. Where did it come from?Make a couple of phone calls. Provenance is really, really important. Sometimes I’m asked for a letter of provenance or authentication and I’m happy to give it to the client. It says this is produced by the artist and sold by our gallery, signed by both owners. It’s a piece of paper that is honored. In this business if you don’t function with integrity and honor you shouldn’t be in it.
What would you say are the differences among European collectors and Latin American collectors and American collectors? What does each group gravitate toward?
That is a tough one. It’s across the board. I think it used to be more predictable that Europeans would buy something more striking, fashion-y, something a little sleeker. But I don’t think that’s the case anymore. You know there are huge art markets in Europe right now: Berlin in Germany; Italy’s up and coming. I think that they’re a very sophisticated audience. It is the same as in America.
Is New York still the center of the art world, particularly the photography world?
Absolutely. I would say that if you’re an artist and you want to be a successful artist — I mean successful in that you want to have a grand career — you must have a career in New York. I wouldn’t have said that before I moved here. Maybe I would have said it without much believing it, but it is definitely the case. It is a competitive art market, it is a savvy art market, it is a tough art market to penetrate, but if you can you will have a distinct advantage. It is without a doubt the one to conquer. Owning an art gallery in New York also presents unique challenges, but I would not have my own gallery anywhere else.
What are some of the challenges?
The challenges are you want to stay current, interesting and noticed, you want to get attention, and you want to sell. There are so many artists in such a small space and so many galleries, you have to be good.
Sometimes you and Bill have slightly contradictory answers, which is healthy.
I do think that contradiction is healthy. I think that sometimes Bill will come at a question with the collector’s mind and I’ll come at it with the gallerist’s mind. Those don’t always connect. The funny thing is, with the face-mounted plexi, I don’t think it’s as much of an archival pain in the behind as he does. I think it has a certain aesthetic. As a collector, if I traveled my collection, then I would see it as a nightmare, but since the pictures stay on my wall, I’m fine with it.
Also I don’t think Bill has as much technical insight about processes and how things are produced because he wasn’t trained as a photographer. I think that he says, I love that picture. Great, I don’t really care about the technical aspects. So he approaches it from a strictly aesthetic point of view. Meanwhile I’m saying, well, that print is a little green for me and maybe the whites could be whiter; maybe it should be reprinted. So I’m looking at the quality of the printing and he has this gut reaction to the image. I am heavy-duty quality control. And he is, too, but I don’t think he knows how to verbalize it. For the most part, the interesting thing about us is that we agree on so many things. When we curate a show, maybe there’s a difference of one or two pictures.
Do the photographers listen to you?
Absolutely. I never tell an artist how to make a picture. I would never go down that road. The artist will bring the images to me and I might say I think this one is stronger or I need time for this one to grow on me. I will be honest if something isn’t working. I will tell them that their printing process is too dull, that it’s not as good as it could be. I will say I think you should try a different process, you know, maybe a C-print would be better, etc. So you are a little bit of a mentor and it’s a relationship and it’s really important to keep an open mind when you’re dealing with things like this. I would like the artist to figure out the framing.
The final presentation should be in the forefront of his or her mind, because it’s going to be the longevity of this piece. Maybe it gets changed but this is how the artist prefers it. In a perfect world I would love for those decisions to be made without me. If I think it’s something that could be better, I will make a suggestion. So there are different considerations, but the artists do listen to me. We are on this journey together.
What do you think are the qualities that make HASTED HUNT stand out?
I think HASTED HUNT is unique in many ways. First, Bill Hunt and I truly enjoy what we do: the quality of our business and our lives is a priority. We want to be friendly, helpful, and knowledgeable — as well as successful.
The programming at HASTED HUNT definitely reflects our personal taste, which will always make a gallery unique. Bill and I don’t feel the need to represent every trend or style of photography. We want to represent and build the careers of artists we believe in and who will be in the art world for a very long time.
Our collectors and clients value our opinions so it is our obligation to be experts in our field. With our combined experience and background, I believe that we are.