A short interview with Tim Jeffries of Hamiltons Gallery
When we started Hamiltons in 1984, we decided that to have a fighting chance of getting noticed we needed some heavyweights like Norman Parkinson, David Bailey and Don McCullin. Later we got Robert Maplethorpe and Irving Penn. When we started, late 20th century photography wasn’t collectable. It was early 20th century photographers like Man Ray, Edward Steichen , Stieglitz, Weston and Atget who were selling.
We need to keep an eye on young, developing artists. Often they come to me or are brought to me. They send in their portfolio or a link, but to be honest, the bigger the name of the photographer, the more likely we are going to go for them.
If you’re dealing with someone of Penn’s stature, the price and editioning is done for you. We don’t decide. In the case of a younger photographer, I would have a great hand in the pricing of a work. One needs to know what is going on in the auction world, you need to place the artist in comparable company in terms of price. The big danger is pricing them out of the market, because there is nothing worse than having a show where nothing sells and there’s nothing better than a sellout show. As a golden rule of thumb, if you’re not sure of a price, put it on the low side – because you can always put a price up, but lowering a price always looks really bad.
When I first met Robert Mapplethorpe I was relatively new to the business. I was so excited by being in his presence, I didn’t think of asking the price of his prints. Then I found out they were going for US $1,500. This was in 1987 when our other most expensive prints were US $1,000. I thought I was going to have trouble selling them, but they flew out of the door. It was a turning point because if you have the opportunity to work with a truly international superstar it brings a new market with new collectors and a new inspiration.
We have a solid group of regular collectors. But for me a real collector is almost obsessive – collecting is like a sickness where somebody simply has to have a picture. They have nowhere to put it, but they have to have it. Many people today are not collectors, they are decorators. They have a room with wall space and they need something to fill that space, something that will go with the rest of the room.
Photography is very accessible. We must be aware of how photography has informed our generation. We are all, in some way, visually literate – so there is a less of a barrier between a photograph and, for example, a pickled shark. In the next 50 years, tastes will change. Look at how photography has changed in the last 10 years – now traditional film photography looks backward. So today’s photography has made yesterday’s more valuable. In the same way, the photography of the future will make today's photography more valuable.