Now that every cellphone is also a camera and social media bombards us constantly, photography is part of daily life. So what makes the difference between a snapshot and a collectible artwork?
“There is a distinction between commercial photos for business purposes, photojournalism for documentation and reporting purposes, and fine art,” says Amy Miller, executive director of Atlanta Celebrates Photography, the nation’s largest annual community-based photography festival. “Fine art” implies that photographers chose the subject, composition, message, and process with intention. Their work is “a tool for artistic expression, learning, healing, sharing, and capturing memories,” Miller says.
Anna Walker Skillman of Buckhead’s Jackson Fine Art, which has represented the world’s most iconic photographers for more than 25 years, says, “What I love about photography is it forces us to stop and see through someone else’s eyes. A good photograph can create a visceral experience, ignite our senses, elicit past memories, and inspire us.” She adds, “I am also obsessed with the craft. Print quality and overall presentation are key.”
Often considered a gateway medium, the genre can be more approachable and affordable than other art forms. That is one reason why, according to Miller, it is enjoying a “seemingly endless explosion in popularity.”
Thanks to the ACP festival (launched in 1998 and held every October) and a supportive community of galleries and museums, Atlanta has built a reputation as a “photography city.”
We asked some local experts for tips on collecting:
Buy what you love. This mantra is as true for photography as it is for any other art form. If a piece increases in value, that is a bonus. If you’re truly looking for investments, stick to blue-chip, established artists, says Susan Bridges, owner of Whitespace gallery.
Narrow your focus. Select a theme, advises Robert Yellowlees, owner of Lumière. Examples include early-20th-century work, Southern heritage, portraiture, the American West, or abstractions.
Don’t follow the crowd. “Stay away from trends,” says art consultant Jane Cofer of Art Matters. “Look for the images that speak to and engage you, the images that will never cease to amaze and inspire.”
Get to know the dealers. “Find a dealer you can trust,” advises Skillman. “Today’s technology has made everyone a photographer. Navigating this landscape is challenging for a novice collector.”
Do a little digging. “Galleries love to educate their clientele,” says Miller. “They have lots of things in drawers that are not on display that they will be happy to show you. It’s like a treasure hunt!” Even at the High Museum of Art, patrons can visit the study room to view works that are not currently on display. There are more than 6,000 photographs that can be seen by appointment, notes Brett Abbott, the High’s former curator of photography, who helped build a program “that is simultaneously internationally significant and regionally relevant.”
Jackson Fine Art
Founder Jane Jackson put her gallery on the international map when she opened in 1990. After she left to become director of the prestigious Sir Elton John Photography Collection, Anna Walker Skillman took over and continues to feature work by icons such as Horst P. Horst, Walker Evans, Alfred Eisenstaedt, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Harry Callahan, and Angela West. 3115 East Shadowlawn Avenue, 404-233-3739
Founder Robert Yellowlees’s own passion for photography led him to create this showcase for 75-plus established photographers, which offers exhibitions, lectures, film screenings, and publications. The Galleries of Peachtree Hills, 425 Peachtree Hills Avenue, 404-261-6100
Arnika Dawkins Gallery
Dawkins focuses on inspiring and provocative work by and of African Americans. Artists shown here include Jim Alexander, Gordon Parks, and Atlantans Allen Cooley, Eric Waters, and Shoccara Marcus. 4600 Cascade Road, 404-333-0312
Atlanta Photography Group
Established in 1987, APG hosts exhibitions curated by experts as well as critiques, discussions, and meetings to promote the art form. 75 Bennett Street, 404-605-0605
Galleries that specialize in photography and other media
Owner/director Susan Bridges says out of her stable of about 40 artists, about one-third are photographers, with about the same ratio of shows that focus on or include photography. 814 Edgewood Avenue, 404-688-1892
Kai Lin Art
This lively Westside gallery exhibits contemporary art, which includes photography and photography-based work by artists such as Patrick Heagney, Greg Noblin, and Todd Anderson. 999 Brady Avenue, 404-408-4248
Mason Fine Art
Features a wide range of art and seasonal group shows that include works by photographers like Sheila Pree Bright, Lucinda Bunnen, Pam Moxley, Douglas Stratton, and Joshua Rashaad McFadden. 415 Plasters Avenue, 404-879-1500
Alan Avery Art Company
The longest-running contemporary art gallery in Atlanta, AAAC shows art in a range of media by emerging, mid-career, and established artists, including photographers Gabriel Benzur, Harriet Leibowitz, and Phil Borges. 656 Miami Circle, 404-237-0370
Cutting-edge artists include four notable photographers—Deborah Llewellyn, Kelly Breedlove, John Folsom, and Jared Martin—who incorporate their photos into lush mixed-media compositions. 887 Howell Mill Road, 470-428-2061
Besharat Gallery and Besharat Contemporary
Fine art photography is an essential part of these galleries’ offerings. Besharat has the largest permanent exhibition of photos by Steve McCurry, photographer of the famous Afghan Girl image, in its permanent collection. 163–175 Peters Street, 404-524-4781
Marcia Wood Gallery
Known for her wide range of contemporary art in various media—jewelry, ceramics, paintings, sculpture, and photography—Wood has shown the work of internationally known Atlanta photographer Lucinda Bunnen. 037 Monroe Drive and 263 Walker Street (by appointment), 404-827-0030
A sampling of local artists
Patrick Heagney* Manipulating light, dioramas, and Photoshop, Heagney plays with the notion of perception. $450–$2,000.
Kelly Kristin Jones Winner of the 2015–2016 Forward Arts Foundation Emerging Artist Award, Jones uses her latest series, Gray Space, to explore Atlanta’s building mania through abstract compositions. $500–$3,500.
Phil Bekker Bekker’s photographic work is grouped into several series, from abstract to painterly; he’s particularly known for his innovative Polaroid transfers. $1,500–$8,000.
Beth Lilly Versatile in style and format, Lilly’s photographs are narratives reflecting the interplay of reality and dreams. $450–$1,800.
Dorothy O’Connor This Georgia State and Creative Circus grad makes images and installations that tell
Douglas Stratton Pristine views of nature are Stratton’s specialty. $600–$10,000.
Parish Kohanim This established photographer produces fine art prints in a wide array of categories. $1,500–$12,500 for limited editions.
Anthony-Masterson* The husband-and-wife team are commercial photographers and Emmy-winning filmmakers who recently began offering affordable prints on Etsy. From $15.
*Contributors to Atlanta magazine