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Tuesday, 2 March 2010

A Short Interview with Michael Diemar of Diemar and Noble

A Short Interview with Michael Diemar of Diemar and Noble

I opened Diemar and Noble on May 6th 2009 with Laura Noble. We had both been interested in the whole canon of photography as a historical medium, Laura from working in books at The Photographers’ Gallery and myself from collecting, and we felt that there was so much contemporary photography which was too difficult for most galleries to show. Three of our early shows were by Jennie Gunhammar, Maeve Berry and Jonathan Olley and they dealt with illness, death and violence. It was difficult work for some people, but it is work we believe in. The interesting thing is we are connecting with museums and collectors and developing the careers of our photographers through exposure to a wider audience.

When I first became aware of the Castles of Ulster I thought this was one of the great post-war projects. We phoned Jonathan Olley up and asked him to have a show with us and he said yes – nobody had ever done this to him before. Sometimes we contact people, but Laura and I go to university shows, portfolio reviews and art fairs.

On a daily basis we get 3 or 4 calls for representation. But you really have to believe in something to represent it and really feel something is first rate – so it’s difficult because we are constantly saying no to people. It’s not always the immediate commercial element that appeals – we are willing to work at being proactive at getting work in exhibitions or in books (Laura has a lot of experience in publishing). We get together with a photographer we believe in and say how we can build on their work, what we can do next to help them progress.

We show people from the 19th century to the present day, and once people understand what we have brought in from the history of photography, that signals the quality of the contemporary work we have chosen.

With regard to pricing and editioning, it depends on where people come from. If the photographers come from a fine art tradition, like Emily Allchurch and Lisa Holden, low editions of 3 are the thing. For documentary photographers, the edition is more likely to be between 10 and 15. We need to compare the prices to the rest of the market, to see where other comparable work is selling and how much it is selling for. We do have a policy of pricing to sell.

My background is a collector. I started buying Mapplethorpe, the first picture I bought was a Mapplethorpe flower, and gradually I worked myself backwards in time until I was buying 19th century Gustave Le Gray prints. You need a background either as a collector or working in an auction house to have a gallery that deals with the whole of the history of photography. You need a real feel for the photograph as an object.

We get experienced collectors and if you are a collector, you buy no matter what. During the recession of the early 1990s, everything in the art market collapsed except for photography. That was because there was that hard core of collectors. It is the same now. There are changes because from being a strange collecting thing, photography suddenly became a hot medium and as a result, the vintage became scarcer and colour photography came in. When the present recession hit, those who would just drop into a gallery and drop a hideous amount of money have disappeared. The others who have disappeared are lower-end buyers in the £250-£500 market. Work priced at that level is more difficult to sell than it was. But if you think something is good, you stick with it and eventually it will sell either for the name or what the picture is about.

I’m not that keen on running what’s been done before, with running greatest hits shows. So for the George Rodger show I worked with his widow, had access to his papers and diaries and showed new work in a way that showed more than just a greatest hits show.

We have an upcoming show by Lisa Holden. She was adopted as a child, she worked in performance and her work is grounded in these two things and her feelings of alienation. So there is a personal investment in the image-making. It’s not just about getting an idea and photographing it. It’s about being part of the idea and feeling it – and making something people can believe in.

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