The fine art of collecting photography…is it an art? What makes anything art? How does a work of art, or fine art photography become collectible? I had these questions and many others when all this started in 2002. What ensued was a strange and winding tour through an unfamiliar landscape. Though I had a certain vested interest in learning about certain types of photography, I sought a general understanding to more easily facilitate other collectors of photography.
Well-known collectors have to start somewhere. They may learn about art through their profession. They often go to photography schools or art schools and keep learning in related jobs afterwards. The goal of this blog is to share information through my own learning journey that can help others who would also like to learn about collecting photography. Welcome to my adventure. Why did I embarked on it? What was I looking for? As I learn, I will build this site into a compilation of resources for collectors of photography and an outlet for fine art photography news. I will not update this blog as often as Landscape Photography Blogger, but I will add to it gradually over time.
The story begins just after my mother, self-trained naturalist Ardis Hyde, passed on. For a few months some relatives of ours cared for my 81-year-old, recently blind father, fine art landscape photographer Philip Hyde. Take a look at his work and read about him if you have not already. It is well worth the time. I had all along intended to at least move closer to Dad, if not act as caregiver myself to be sure he had the best available. When the relatives’ care providing did not work out, I had already left a solid high-paying job in Upstate New York and I was able to move back into my childhood home in Northeastern California to help my dad.
Dad had lost his eyesight in 1999-2000. This made photographing impossible and operating a photography business nearly as implausible. However, Dad used to say, “The difficult we do immediately, the impossible takes a little time.” Dad had never cooked much and was even confused getting around the house. I hadn’t realized it yet at the time, but something else was slipping besides just his eyes. I started helping him with his photography business, with his finances, with organizing his clothes and many other day to day tasks.
Besides what I picked up about photography watching him during my upbringing, listening to him talk about his work throughout my life, and now explaining without the aid of demonstration dye transfer printing, Cibachrome printing and black and white silver print making, print sales, the stock business and all other aspects of fine art landscape photography; I would quickly have to get up to speed to help field requests for his photographs from magazines, book publishers, environmental groups, and many other people licensing the work. Then on top of suddenly taking on the co-management of my father’s house, business, finances, health care and social engagements, he told me that it would be my job to sell the prints that were left. He had been engaged in a lot of printing in his 70s when he began to lose his eyesight due to Macular Degeneration. Within a little more than a year, he was completely blind. I said the prints ought to be in museums. In his usual humble way he said he didn’t know what to do with them. When I suggested a few options, he said, “It’s up to you.”
If you are unfamiliar with my father, Philip Hyde, and his major contribution to photography, how his work helped establish many of America’s national parks and wilderness areas and the central role of his work in the beginnings of modern environmentalism, I encourage you to read his Short Bio and Artist’s Statement, as well as the other tabs under INFO, and the PORTFOLIOS at Philip Hyde Photography. He was a student of Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, Minor White, Imogen Cunningham, Dorothea Lange, Lisette Model and others. As a student to the originators, he was around during the early development of the West Coast tradition of photography. Besides pioneering activist photography, he helped bring the color to landscape photography. His work is in many permanent collections including the Museum of Modern Art New York, Eastman Kodak House, The International Center of Photography New York, The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and many others. After reading about him and seeing his wilderness photographs, you will perhaps understand the importance of carrying on his conservation work and sharing his fine art photography with future generations. I have owned several businesses and have done much better financially than I will probably ever do by representing Dad’s photography, especially taking into consideration the significant resources I have poured into it. I have invested in proper care and preservation of my portion of the collection as well as defending contracts that allow access to the portions of the collections in others care. I have had to work tirelessly to prevent institutional negligence, that contrary to my father’s written wishes, could destroy the work or at best allow it to die in a vault where only a few scholars would see it each year.
Starting in 2002, I began to learn the best practices for caring and representing photography. Besides being raised around my mother’s good taste for art and my father’s beautiful landscapes, I did not think I knew much of the art world or the realm of photography. I started reading about photography and talking to people who were successful in the field. As I helped dial the phone so Dad could talk to many of his friends who are famous photographers, I started asking them questions too. I read Ansel Adam’s Biography. I started reading Beaumont Newhall and Nancy Newhall. I read about Alfred Stieglitz and Georgia O’Keeffe. I read a book called The Art of Selling Art by Zella Jackson. Her guidance proved very helpful, especially when she said that if I planned to be an art dealer I needed to learn everything I could about art and the history of art. I wrote to Lorraine Anne Davis, Black and White Magazine columnist and well-known appraiser. I asked her how best to represent Dad’s work. I studied the history of art and the history of photography. I still have much, much more to learn, but has been a powerful journey so far.
Besides the enjoyment that has increased the more I have learned, the driving purpose behind my quest for knowledge was the question: What is the best way to perpetuate Philip Hyde’s photography through future generations? Other questions also drive my study of the medium: How can I ensure that Dad’s work continues to live and be seen? How can I help spark interest in conservation photography? How is it that Ansel Adams is the most known name in all of photography and his prints are highly sought after, yet landscape photography in general is of less interest to galleries, museums and collectors? How can I get the art establishment to recognize the contribution of Dad and other photographers of the natural scene whose work helped preserve our national heritage of parks, wilderness areas and other scenic treasures? Why do some of the most talented photographers and artists remain obscure? How does any artist become a recognized name? What makes a painting by Pablo Picasso worth more than one by Joe the painter? What makes the difference in quality of work and vision that distinguishes semi- famous photographers from the most famous photographers? There is obviously more to it than technique, or even composition, talent, skill or creative aptitude….and so the journey goes…