Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Going for Brake

That vibrations you can feel in the air are the sounds of the Brian Brake industry revving up its engines. Nothing wrong with that: Brake was after all a commercial photographer and he would be more than happy to see his work being made widely accessible to the public. The interesting part is around how the product is described and what is actually being put on offer. 

On the more conventional side there is an auction by Art+Object of Brake prints with a remarkably upmarket catalogue that is both hard bound and cased (when did you last see that for a photo auction – or any auction for that matter?). The auction house describes the prints as 'vintage.' Normally that means they were part of the first printing of the image. In the Brake auction many of the prints were made up to 30 years after they were shot when they were printed up for the 1976 exhibition toured by the Dowse. 

And then there are Te Papa’s “gallery quality Brian Brake prints” authorised by the Brian Brake Estate and produced to accompany its current exhibition. These images are printed from digital scans of the Brake original transparencies. No signature (naturally, Brake died in 1988), different technique (Brake produced Cibachrome and Chromogenic colour prints and for black and white gelatin silver prints) and different sizes (Te Papa offers a range of sizes to select from). 

Many photographers produce digital prints and many institutions produce reproductions. The point of difference with the Te Papa prints is in the pricing. If you went to a high quality commercial lab a print from a digital file producing a 236mm x 355mm image would cost you around $150. Te Papa is charging $1,955 for an unframed print of the same size. For a 410 x 622mm print you're looking at $2,806. These prices speak much more to ‘art’ than reproduction. Even taking into account retail mark-up, you would have to say that most of the difference between the production cost and the sale price is an 'art' value backed by Te Papa and the association (albeit via digital scanning) with the original negatives or transparencies.  To add to the confusion an A4 printed reproduction of Brake's Monsoon Girl is available in Te Papa's shop for $29.99.

However, if people who buy these prints are doing so on the understanding that they are art works that are likely to significantly gain in value, they are risking bitter disappointment. Far smarter to get down to the Art+Object auction where the low estimates indicate you there is a chance to get a photographic print, made when Brake was alive and supervising production, at a better, or similar, price. For example the low estimate for Ming Temple, Western Hill-Beijing, China 1957 (500 x 400mm) is just $2,500.

Image: The Art+Object catalogue showing Ming Temple, Western Hill-Beijing, China 1957 on the left hand page