The photographer’s art

June 21, 2013

For this post I’d like to focus on one area which I am conscious I have rather neglected in the past: the photograph. A visit to The London Photograph Fair at The Holiday Inn, Bloomsbury last Sunday prompted reflection on my somewhat ambiguous relationship with this all-conquering medium.


People often ask me if I deal in photographs alongside my traditional prints. I never have (though I do own the odd real photographic post card). It’s a fair enough question; major collections often group prints and photographs together into image archives, and they are often both sold by the same dealerships and auctioneers.

In the final analysis, developing a photograph is just another form of printmaking.

The majority of my stock pre-dates the advent of photographic processes in the 1840s and 1850s. The photograph market is frankly not one I understand and I am happy to leave it to the specialists.

I suppose if I’m honest I’ve always slightly looked down my nose at photographs. I tend to extoll the virtues of the labour-intensive craftsmanship that produced the hand-tooled engraving, and the dashing artistry of the master draughtsman who drew his design upon the limestone block. At a distance the photographer’s art seemed to me all too simply, and automatically, produced.

Over recent years I have come to a greater appreciation of the skill of the photographer, particularly during photography’s infancy. Apart from the technical accomplishment and compositional ability evident in the sepia images I saw last week, there is an undeniable art to capturing a moment in time which encapsulates the spirit of an age – and resonates down the decades to the modern viewer.

The impact of photography on printmaking, and consequently on the art world more generally – and indeed upon society at large – was and remains incalculably huge. The photographic image continues to inform our view of the world more than any other visual medium.

Within a relatively few short years, the advent of commercial photography supplanted the reproductive, illustrative ‘report’ function of the hand-tooled print, which for centuries had been the only means of mass visual communication. Printmakers were forced to seek other ways to make their craft relevant in this new photographic age – and the ramifications of that are impacting upon artists to this day.