B.6 Systems of Value: Creating a Market for Photography

Wed Oct 20 / 11:30 – 13:00 PDT
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chairs /

  • Molly Kalkstein, University of Arizona
  • Tal-Or K. Ben-Choreen, Concordia University

Until the 1950s, very few spaces existed in the United States or Canada for exhibiting and, in particular, selling photographs. Throughout that decade, however, dedicated photography galleries began to open in New York, San Francisco, Boston, and elsewhere. Over the next thirty years, photography gradually emerged as a dynamic and eventually lucrative force in the market, culminating in the so-called Photo Boom of the 1970s. At the same time, photography became increasingly pervasive in often divergent ways within the contemporary art market at large. Key to these developments was an array of institutions, individuals, strategies, and systems dedicated to cultivating new audiences and promoting photography as a medium worthy of collection. These included museum and university departments, auctions, galleries, publications, and symposia, and the activities of collectors, curators, dealers, critics, educators, and photographers. This panel invites papers that explore the evolution of the market for photographs, including its impact on establishing systems of power and prestige that continue to operate to this day.

Molly Kalkstein is a doctoral candidate in Art History at the University of Arizona, where she focuses on the history of photography. Her dissertation looks at the advent of the American market for photographs in the 1970s and has been supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, the Getty Research Institute, and the Association of Historians of American Art. Her work has appeared in photographies and the Rutgers Art Review.

Dr. Tal-Or K. Ben-Choreen is an artist and curator specializing in photography. Her doctoral studies, supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council and Fulbright, focus on the institutionalization of photography education in Canadian and American schools between 1960 and 1989. Her work has been published in Afterimage Online, Canadian Jewish Studies, and the Contemporary Review of the Middle East.

B.6.1 The Market and the School: Contextualizing the History of the UMBC

Beth Saunders, University of Maryland, Baltimore County

This paper focuses on the founding of the photography collections at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, arguing that its history presents an ideal case study for examining the intersection of the burgeoning market for photographs in the 1970s and developments in photographic education during the latter half of the 20th century. Inaugurated in 1973 with a donation of Alfred Stieglitz's 1889 Sun Rays–Paula, Berlin and the purchase of over 5,000 Lewis Hine photographs from the National Child Labor Committee, the photography collections were formed primarily as a teaching resource for students in the university's visual arts department.

Among the key figures guiding the curatorial vision was photography professor Jaromir Stephany whose education in Rochester, New York under Beaumont Newhall and Minor White shaped his views on the medium and contributed to the development of a collection with the ambitious goal of comprehensively charting its artistic, social, and technical history. Along with curatorial staff in the Special Collections Department, Stephany built a collection remarkable for a university library with particular strengths in US photography of the Civil War, nineteenth-century photographs of and by African Americans, and mid-twentieth century American modernism. These purchases were enabled by proximity to important photography dealers Harry Lunn, based in Washington DC, and Ronald Rooks in Baltimore, Maryland. This investigation of a university collection that could not have been compiled at any other historical moment demonstrates how the histories of the photographic market, the school, and the collection were inextricably intertwined.

Beth Saunders is Curator and Head of Special Collections at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. She holds a PhD and MPhil in Art History from The Graduate Center, CUNY and a BFA in Studio Art from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. A specialist of early Italian photography, her dissertation research on the subject was generously supported by grants and fellowships from the American Academy in Rome, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, among others. Previously, Beth served as Assistant Curator in the Department of Photographs at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Her writing has appeared in CAA.Reviews, Journal of the American Institute for Conservation, Exposure, Photography and Culture, and Rivista di Studi di Fotografia. She is co-author of the exhibition catalogue Apollo's Muse: The Moon in the Age of Photography (The Met, 2019).

B.6.2 Golden West: Photography and the Importance of the American West in the Photo Boom

James R. Swensen, Brigham Young University

From roughly 1965 to 1980, photography in the United States experienced a new golden age. Buoyed up by unprecedented growth, a cadre of photographers benefited from a newfound enthusiasm for the medium and its history. A key component of photography's rise was the American West, both as place and image. Indeed, the West played an oversized role in the Photo Boom. Long an important subject in American photography and a popular genre, western images were safe at a time when there was a risk in calling a photograph a work of art. Upstart galleries benefited from the popularity and marketability of western imagery from new and old masters like Ansel Adams and Timothy O' Sullivan. Moreover, at a time in which major museums were just beginning to collect and show photographs, the success of exhibitions like Era of Exploration made the medium more palpable for leery audiences. Other significant exhibitions such as New Topographics: Photographs of a Man Altered Landscape and Second View, a survey of the work of the Rephotographic Survey Project, demonstrated the viability of the West as a space for ongoing exploration for young photographers. Other conceptually driven photographers like John Pfahl, Michael Bishop, Roger Minick, and Kenneth Josephson were also key in engaging western places in their art. Many of these projects and individuals benefited from corporate sponsorship and grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation, which generously supported investigations into the West. This paper, therefore, explores the ways in which the American West and its image proved to be a critical, if neglected, aspect of the Photo Boom. Furthermore, it investigates the ways in which a focus on the West unified many of the institutions, individuals, strategies, and systems that were essential to the growth of the photographic medium at this important period of its history.

James R. Swensen is an associate professor of art history and the history of photography at Brigham Young University. His research interests include documentary photography, American photography, and the visual representation of the American West. He is the author of several articles which have appeared in History of Photography, TransAtlantica: Revue d'Études Américaines, American Indian Quarterly, Utah Historical Quarterly, and The European Journal of American Culture among others. He is also the author of two books: Picturing Migrants: The Grapes of Wrath and New Deal Documentary Photography (University of Oklahoma Press, 2015), and In a Rugged Land: Ansel Adams, Dorothea Lange, and the Three Mormon Towns Collaboration, 1953–1954 (University of Utah Press, 2018).

B.6.3 Lewis Baltz: Artist/Photographer

Emilia Mickevicius, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

In 1972, Lewis Baltz performed the rather peculiar gesture of interviewing himself. At one point, as the interviewer, he observes: "You keep saying 'artist.' Do you mean 'photographer'?" Baltz-the-interviewee answers that he uses the terms "interchangeably," a striking response given that in later decades, he preferred to be known as the former.

This paper examines what was at stake for Baltz (and, by extension, his contemporaries) in identifying as one or the other in the period that marked the Photo Boom. Drawing from Baltz's archive at the Getty Research Institute, I reconstruct the network Baltz forged beginning in the early 1970s in order to nimbly straddle the photography and broader art worlds, which became increasingly enmeshed. A SoCal native influenced more by Ed Ruscha than Ansel Adams, Baltz resented what he perceived as the insularity and conservatism of the photography world, especially on the West Coast. A master of the photographic print craft, he nevertheless pursued his MFA from the Claremont Graduate School, which did not have a photography program, in order to forge a decidedly non-photographic intellectual circle. While he sought the company of other photographers and photo curators such as William Jenkins and his peers in New Topographics, his network also included curator Walter Hopps of the Pomona College Museum of Art, Hal Glicksman of the Otis Art Institute, Irving Blum of LA's Ferus Gallery, and gallerist Leo Castelli in New York, among other key players. This remarkably heterogeneous constellation of people and institutions who conferred value upon Baltz and his work created the conditions for him to attain a broader, more porous audience and legacy. In the restless figure of Baltz navigating the market, models, and identifications that were available to him in the 1970s, we glimpse what the Photo Boom felt like on the ground.

Dr. Emilia Mickevicius is an art historian who specializes in photography and works as a curatorial assistant in the Photography Department at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA). In May 2019, she received her doctoral degree from Brown University, where she completed a dissertation on the reception of the 1975 George Eastman Museum exhibition New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape. Her research has been supported by the Henry Luce Foundation/American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS), the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, the Getty Research Institute, and the Center for Creative Photography.

B.6.4 Grete Stern's Sueños

Marina Dumont-Gauthier, University of Toronto

German-born photographer Grete Stern emigrated to Argentina in 1935, shortly after her studio was shut down by the Nazi Party. What followed was the production of an incredible body of work dealing with exile, displacement, and the changing gender predicaments in mid-twentieth century Argentine society. One of her best-known works is her series of 140 photomontages titled Sueños (Dreams). Produced between 1948 and 1951 for the column "El Psicoanálisis le Ayudará" ("Psychoanalysis Will Help You") in the popular weekly women's magazine Idilio, each photomontage accompanied a psychoanalytic interpretation of a female reader's dream. Though they were published on a weekly basis for almost three years, it would take almost four decades for the series to resurface in Argentina. Since then, the photomontages have become increasingly sought after by museums, galleries, and collectors throughout North America and Europe. In this presentation, I plan to explore the conditions that led to their resurgence. I am particularly interested in discussing how the rising value of photography on the art market shifted both the appreciation of the series and the ways in which it was reintroduced to the public. To this day, the Sueños are overwhelmingly exhibited next to one another outside of their original context. And while we can thank photography's rise in value for the resurgence of the series, which ultimately led to the breakthrough of Stern's oeuvre in North America and Europe, ridding the Sueños of their initial home not only fails to convey their full subversive nature and the impact they had their mid-century Argentine women readers, but also the role played by Stern as a precursor of feminism in Argentina.

Marina Dumont-Gauthier is a PhD Candidate in Art History at the University of Toronto. Her research looks at the transatlantic connections that shaped the impact of female photographers in Latin America. She was part of the curatorial team of the Department of Photography at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and of the Department of Photographs at the J. Paul Getty Museum.