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Wednesday, 3 March 2010

A Short Interview with Ben Burdett of Atlas Gallery

A Short Interview with Ben Burdett of Atlas Gallery

I came into photography from antiquarian books 20 years ago – books was where the photography market lived 20 years ago because in the seventies and eighties the market was for 19th century photographs and focused on books and albums. Originally, Atlas dealt in rare books but then about 12 years ago we moved exclusively into photography

We go after people whose work we like – at Atlas we have a relatively consensual way of choosing exhibitions. Some of the artists we show I have directly approached and offered a show to, some approach us or sometimes estates of archives will approach us with bodies of work. Increasingly we are showing more contemporary work from both young and older unrepresented photographers. There are a lot of really talented photographers out there who have no platform.

We do buy work at auctions and in the secondary market – but it’s different because you know exactly what you are buying and how it is going to sell. If you are promoting a photographer as a name, you have to work at getting exhibitions and promoting his career.

We get 20 emails and 5 or 6 envelopes a week. A lot of collectors now are going to degree shows and just buying work directly from students who are in the very early stages of their careers.

I prefer low editions of under 10 depending on what it is and how much work goes into it. For a new photographer you can’t be too self-important and make very small editions with prices too high because people are going to say “Who are you?” and not buy the work. You want photographers to be seen to sell – and if they do sell, you can always put their prices up. Nothing locks a photographer in as much as having a particular price and edition that doesn’t sell. At the same time, there are very successful photographers who do really high editions, but they are the exception rather than the rule. We sell to collectors, corporate collections, museums, photographers, we sell to people who fall for individual images, especially well known images people recognize; they sell most easily because when people see them, they know and love them already. The decision has already been made. They don’t have to learn to like them.

The market has changed. There are far fewer casual buys from people wandering in and buying something because they like it and they have a huge amount of money they have just made from some deal. The people we are buying for and selling to seem to be buying more though . The serious buyers are buying more, partly because it’s a good time to be buying and there are some good deals around.

We have some fairly serious and committed buyers and collectors building a collection with a particular theme or period. That’s the interesting thing about photography; you have a vast time span of years so we sell work from early 19th century to contemporary which is different to most fine art galleries.

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