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“How much is this photograph worth?”


Thierry Maindrault’s Monthly Chronicle

At the beginning of my short career as a professional photographer, in the 1960s, at each first meeting with an artistic director of that time and after his quick glance at my “book”, the same question arose: how much for taking this picture ? Faced with such a question, a true creator always remains very hesitant. Indeed, if the working time, the perspiration, and the sides expenses are evaluated quite easily, it is not the same music for the ranting of the small gray cells. At this stage, the needle of the evaluation dial should be positioned between shyness and pride. Except that, to find work, I had largely forgotten the gaze of the third party and his interest in my work. My search for clients was quickly unlocked when one of the “popes” of advertising said about my quote, “… you immediately multiply your price by ten… otherwise no orders… if you do not, you are not credible…”. I had just become aware of this famous so-called psychological price. Then, my order book remained overloaded until I left professional photography to devote myself to creation in all its forms, in the professional field.

We were swimming at the end of the glorious thirty years of Western economies.

Some of you lived through this period and strive to bear witness to it. Many of you have been trained and educated by those who were active in this period. A great many of you only heard snippets, often limited to anecdotes, from those you classify as veterans, outdated and doting. But all of them live with a truth that builds the history of Photography.

The World evolves, it traces its way for its own history. On the other hand, on the side of evolution, it would be ludicrous to affirm that humans have won the slightest progression in their behaviour. Technological developments, idleness, globalization, dematerialization and many other facets of our environment have drastically changed the rules and relationships inside society. Today, the smallest young person full of talents but, without a godfather offering him a name, has almost no chance of living from his intelligence and his work with photography. To survive, she, or he, must put herself under the yoke of a virtual pimp who sparingly distributes work on the Internet network under conditions of absolute submission. The same procurers adorn themselves with the virtues of lifeguard of the photographic race: a joke, is it not? All rights are stripped, all artworks are pirated, all agreements are shattered. Without forgetting the egocentric, with the balloon head , who are able to accept a prostitution with loss, in the hope of engraving their name into an immediate History (unconscious of the antinomy). We have all met these flamboyant creators who offer you their absolute masterpiece for a price lower than the purchase price of the paper or the print. All of this irreparably destroys the creation and know-how essential to all photographic activities. It is very far from being a solace; but this phenomenon is found among our friends musicians, graphic designers, architects, etc.

Before discussing the intrinsic value of a photograph that you may like, we must remember certain basic rules that many seem to have forgotten. This is especially the case with soup vendors (with or without sour cream). It is accepted that a photographic work with artistic pretensions (this pompous qualifier will remain to be verified in a short century!) should not generate more than thirty copies in all formats, all colours, all media combined. Each of these final individual prints must be made by the author himself during his lifetime, or possibly under his direct control. To attest to this, the author will have signed during his lifetime each of the prints, on which appear the number of the print and the total number of all prints. A certificate, attached to the work by a secure link, signed by the author, is optional, but highly desirable. Outside from this rule, legalized in some countries, we only acquire a decorative image (may be very beautiful) or a photographic print (with a sometimes anecdotal past) which have no creative value in the strict sense. . This does not prevent a number of new photographic galleries and cultural hypermarkets from telling you that you are acquiring a work of art with the print number. 1254 out of three thousand prints of one well known shot by an academician photographer. Even though this image is also alluring and pretty, it is a decorative image worth the price of the frame, if it exists, and nothing more.

It is funny to see unrealistic sales of prints made decades after an original shooting (sometimes after the death of the author) and without any guarantee of origin or number, being negotiated at astronomical prices without any other characteristic that can justify it. It is even more amusing to find some gogos who pay extravagant sums of money for these pseudo vintages, without any interest.

How to acquire and encourage an authentic artwork of creation, from the design to the photographic realization?

Unless you are a stock market and financial market genius, you must be interested and passionate about an artwork that pleases to you. It turns out to be essential to feel this little vibration in the chest in front of an image. It is also important to know if the asking price is compatible with your own possibilities (personally I would like a painting by Van Gogh in my house, … I gave up a long time ago). It is wise to check that the number of print proofs does not stray beyond ten (fewer is always better) for numbers and that the total is really and definitively limited. It is often interesting to know the author to discuss everything and nothing, it is rarely useful to know his life and the why, in detail, concerning the work you covet. If you need an explanation before your acquisition, I am not really sure this artwork is for you. The link with the author generally makes it possible to find a fair price between the parties. It is useless to pull the price towards a minimum. If you walk away with your photograph shouting from the rooftops that you have made the deal of the century, I am not convinced this artwork was for you. It is obvious that there is no obligation to pay for your choice three times its price, even after having checked that the lasting quality of your acquisition is perfect.

Moreover, you can have great confidence in real gallery owners who could help you for a good choice and will show you your acquisition in detail before  using your credit card. This is absolutely not the case in regard to the myriad of virtual and invasive sites that promise you the absolute investment. And then, whether it’ is for 50 euros or 50,000 euros, who is the crazy man who can buy creative artwork on a computer screen as fantastic as it is?

The fundamental value is that of your personal expertise (philosophical, emotional, intellectual, heritage, etc.) and that of your adherence, without restraint, to the discourse of the image. That has no price !

Thierry Maindrault, March 11, 2022

your comments about this chronicle and its photography are always welcome to

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