Powered by Jasper Roberts - Blog

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Interview: Photography Gallerist Peter Fetterman On the State of the Market, Collecting, and What to Buy Next

"One of the wonderful things about photography is that it is still possible to build up a significant collection for relatively small sums of money, if you go about it in a smart way," says Peter Fetterman.

The impassioned collector turned dealer displays images in an intimate salon-style atmosphere at his popular Peter Fetterman Gallery, where visitors can see carefully curated shows by both master and lesser known photographers.

We spoke with the congenial Fetterman at his gallery in Santa Monica.

Peter Fetterman at his gallery in Santa Monica

What is the state of the photography market today?

I think classic photography is strong. Cutting edge art is in trouble.


There was so much hype. The buying was purely speculative. Kids were coming out of art schools that dealers grabbed and put extraordinary prices on untried work. These days are over.

This isn’t a bad thing, is it?
No it is good that a saner environment will now prevail. Hopefully real
artists – people with genuine, unique insight and original vision – will now
emerge instead of “wannabes” expecting to be treated like rock stars.

Which photographers are you talking about here?

I’m not naming names! We deal in a lot of blue chip, classic photography. A lot of the artists we work with are in their 80s and 90s. These people have spent 40-50 years practicing their craft.

What are people buying today?

Our clients are buying images that move them, that have a haunting quality that they can connect to.

Sebastian Salgado

Who's in vogue now?

We represent the foremost photo journalist in the world, Sebastiao Salgado… What he’s been working for the last 30-40 years is bringing people together. (He believes that) we in the first world can’t ignore the third world… The images have great humanity and great beauty; they’re inspirational and humbling at the same time.

Willy Ronis, Amoureux de la Bastille, Paris, 1957
Who should we be buying now?

Sadly, one of our great photographers died a few weeks ago, Willy Ronis. He was 99 years old and undervalued.

Next year MoMA in New York is doing a major Cartier-Bresson retrospective. He’s Rembrandt. I know that show is going to change the perception of him and also change his market.

So this would be a good time to be collecting Cartier-Bresson?

I think it’s a very good time, because I think he’s undervalued.


If a Robert Frank is selling for $220,000 and a Cartier-Bresson is selling for $20,000… those prices seem to be out of sync. As a collector, you want to buy not only something that moves you… but also something that is somewhat undervalued.

Who else is undervalued?

I think Salgado is. I think Willy Ronis now is. Also Andre Kertesz and any of the master blue chip photographers.

My impression is that those are expensive, established names and already command high prices.

The prices, they are not as high as they’re going to go. As the contemporary market decompresses, people go back to the masters. The recent successful auctions have been the Old Master painters and classic Impressionists. People have been going back to those tried and true names. Everything else seems unstable. The hype that was going on about Chinese and Indian art!

Jeffrey Conley, Snow Covered Reflections, 2005

Great collectors always have an eye for new talent? Who should they be watching today?

Jeffrey Conley. My eye tells me that he is a master American photographer in the Ansel Adams tradition, but with his own originality and voice. This is the first young photographer we’ve taken on in many years. We’re putting a lot of time and energy to promote him. I believe in the work. I think it’s special… I’m not a landscape person, but I’m very moved by these images. I’m very inspired by them.

Lillian Bassman, for years no one ever heard of her. She was a contemporary of Irving Penn (who just died) and Richard Avedon. But because she was a woman in the 1950s bringing up her children, she wasn’t into her career as those guys were. Now she’s having a major renaissance. Fortunately, we’re a big part of that.

Lillian Bassman, Fantasy on the Dance Floor: Barbara Mullen, Paris, 1949. The ball gown is by Dior.

Tell us about your new show, "Faces of Fashion."

We’re doing a major show of fashion images. We’re also doing a one-woman show to celebrate Lillian Bassman’s new book.

Who else will be in the fashion show?

You’ll see great Irving Penns, great Horsts, a wonderful French photographer Georges Dambier, who was a photographer for French Elle in the 1950s. This will be his debut West-coast showing.

There will be a lot of beautiful surprises. Fashion photography as a genre seems to be one of the most expanding sectors of the market. When you pick up the newspapers in the morning, it’s depressing. So it’s great to look at these beautiful images.

How do you decide whom to show in your gallery?

The question I ask myself before I write a check is, in 500 years time, will this image have any significance in the history of photography?

You have great confidence in your judgment, because you won’t be around to find out! Does the photography market mirror the art market in general?

The status of photography has changed; it’s no longer the poor relative.

What shows over the next year should we be looking for?

In April the Museum of Modern Art in New York is hosting the biggest Cartier-Bresson retrospective ever. Robert Frank’s The Americans has just opened at the Metropolitan Museum in New York. Those will be two significant, great shows.

What is your favorite luxury item? What items give you the greatest pleasure?

I’m not materialistic. I’m not interested in cars. I value peace of mind, serenity, clean air and being away from the computer!

"Faces of Fashion" is on view through February at Peter Fetterman Gallery, 2525 Michigan Ave., Santa Monica. Call (310) 453-6463 for exhibition hours.

For an appreciation of Irving Penn, who died earlier this week at the age of 92, please click here.

No comments :

Post a Comment