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The extent of the reversal is worth dwelling on.
In 2011, two important photographs by Goldblatt fetched middling sums at Strauss & Co auctions. A 1980 photo of a Boksburg couple dancing under the watchful eye of a dance instructor fetched R77,980, while a 1985 photo of a fifteen-year-old detainee with both his arms in plaster casts achieved only R38,990. Both photos were vintage prints, a crucial factor in determining a photo’s value.
Images courtesy of Goldblatt. Supplied by Strauss & Co.
Local collectors finally warmed to Goldblatt, who in 1998 became the first South African to hold a solo exhibition at MOMA, New York.
Other local beneficiaries of the upswing
Image: The Night of the Long Knives III by Athi-Patra Ruga. Supplied by Aspire Art Auctions
Persuading local collectors to get behind photography has been the undoing of dealers.
In 2009 Warren Siebrits closed his adventurous gallery space on Jan Smuts Avenue in Johannesburg, citing a lack of interest in photography as major reason.Solo shows for photographers Santu Mofokeng and Jo Ractliffe had generated negligible sales. Six extremely rare prints by Roger Ballen offered by Siebrits at an art fair in Johannesburg also failed to attract buyers.
This run of events led Siebrits to conclude that local collectors were “prejudiced against photography,” possibly due to their unfamiliarity with the medium and its rich history.
“Photography is largely succeeding abroad,” said Siebrits.
"South Africans have a very limited view of how extraordinary the realm of photography is, never mind how many extraordinary photographers they have in their midst," said Stevenson at the time.
The issue of price
"Photography is not associated with status, even though the prices are not what would appeal to an entry-level collector," said Federica Angelucci, a director and specialist in photography at Stevenson.
Lack of scarcity makes collectors cautious
Both the Goodman Gallery and Stevenson confirmed that the majority of their local clients collect broadly and include photography in their scope of choices. Specialist photo collectors, though, are a rarity. “You can count them on one hand,” said Tony East, a director at Goodman Gallery.
About the author
Sean is a Cape Town-based journalist and editor. He's also a contributor to Investec Focus content for the Investec Cape Town Art Fair. He holds separate degrees in English literature, law, and creative writing.
• Billy Monk Collection • THK Gallery • Sitor Senghor • Goodman Gallery
- Investec Cape Town Art Fair