Camerarts, the art of photographing art
THE PHOTOGRAPHIC DOCUMENTATION OF WORKS OF ART IS A CRUCIAL ELEMENT FOR COLLECTORS, GALLERIES, ART HISTORIANS AND DEALERS, VIRTUALLY EVERYONE IN THE ART WORLD.
FOR MANY YEARS, PAINTINGS, SCULPTURE, WORKS ON PAPER AND PHOTOGRAPHY WERE INTRODUCED TO A POTENTIAL CLIENT IN THE FORM OF A TRANSPARENCY (4 x 5 or 8 x 10) AND MAILED TO THE CLIENT WITH A COVER LETTER. HAPPILY, THOSE DAYS ARE LONG GONE AND JPEGS AND EMAILS CONTAINING IMAGES AND INFO ARE THE STANDARD FORM OF COMMUNICATION WHETHER IT IS A $40m PICASSO OR A $40,000 PHOTOGRAPH. I HAVE WORKED WITH ALI ELAI OF CAMERARTS SINCE I FOUNDED LESLIE RANKOW FINE ARTS AND SINCE WE ARE NEIGHBORS, I OFTEN SEE ALI AND HIS ASSISTANTS LUGGING TRIPODS AND EQUIPMENT TO A GALLERY OR THE HOME OF A COLLECTOR.
I RECENTLY HAD THE PLEASURE OF FULFILLING A REQUEST FROM MoMA FOR A DIGITAL IMAGE OF A SIGMAR POLKE BELONGING TO CLIENTS OF MINE THAT WILL BE INCLUDED IN THE EXTRAORDINARY RETROSPECTIVE THAT KATHY HALBREICH IS CURATING. I SUGGESTED TO THE MUSEUM REGISTRAR THAT I WOULD SEEK OUT THE ASSISTANCE OF CAMERARTS. HE SAID GREAT!…. WHICH BEST EXPLAINS THE REPUTATION AND SCOPE OF ALI’S COMPANY, CAMERARTS. Telephone: 212-517-3982 ; email: firstname.lastname@example.org
ALI VERY GENEROUSLY HAS AGREED TO INFORM US ABOUT HIS PROFESSIONAL BACKGROUND, THE HISTORY OF FINE ART PHOTOGRAPHY, ITS CURRENT TECHNICAL CHARACTER AND ITS FUTURE.
HOW DID YOU FIRST DECIDE TO BECOME A PHOTOGRAPHER OF FINE ARTS AND COLLECTIBLES? WERE YOU AN ASSISTANT TO ANOTHER PHOTOGRAPHER?
I was working on my Master’s Degree in Mass Media and Communications at CUNY Graduate Center when I took a summer job as a gallery photographer’s assistant posted on the school bulletin board. The gallery was Knoedler& Co./ Hammer Gallery in NYC. I also received a Graduate Certificate in Photo Journalism from The Polytechnic University in New York during the same period. I often took part time and gopher positions in the area of film and television productions to supplement income while going to school. At first, it appeared to be just another temporary work but it soon lead into more serious thinking on my part when I realized the high demand for fine art photography. After all, I already had a Bachelor’s Degree In Film and TV production with courses taken in both photography and cinematography. Upon graduation I was referred to Columbia Pictures personnel office by my school’s placement services. I never considered the base salary they offered me at Columbia Pictures since it would hardly be sufficient to get by with. Instead, after three months of working stressfully at the gallery I decided to go on my own and do freelance work for other galleries, collectors and dealers as well as both Hammer and Knoedler galleries. Within a month my first museum job from The Jewish Museum came about. This followed by The Museum of the City of New York. I then quickly hired an assistant to help me out. By the end of the first year I had three people on my payroll. Through word of mouth and hard work I was swamped with work from all over shooting for catalogues and publications all of which included photo credit to my name. The operation became a success so I decided to expand my studio work by hiring yet two more assistant and errand persons. I purchased a house in Forest Hills Garden and utilized the entire basement of it as darkroom for full day processing and printing. The long hours of carrying equipment from site to site, several times a day and into the evening were paying off. My first son was born at the start of my business and the second one a year later. They find it funny to know that their names were registered as the officers (legal requirements) of Camerarts, Inc. when I formed the corporation at the time they were toddlers. They are now attorneys at law.
WHAT WAS THE CHARACTER OF THE ART MARKET AND THE GALLERIES AT THE TIME THAT YOU OPENED CAMERARTS? HOW HAVE YOU SEEN IT DEVELOP AND CHANGE?
Well, the change that jumps out at me is the method by which the art is presented and moved from the artist’s studio to the dealer’s racks and finally to its destination on the collector’s walls or the bins of the storage houses. I remember when some of my clients first started using fax machines, which were always displayed at the front of the office, indicating their prestige. Faxes indeed facilitated a much faster delivery than post offices could provide back then. Overnight couriers closed the gap further by enabling both the paperwork and the transparencies to be sent together with equally convenient speed. The period of such modest advances is now far behind us. Email is a part of everyday life and has become one of the preferred methods for transporting images and other documents. Technology has pushed things forward and likely will continue to do so.
IN OUR NEXT LRFA BLOG, ALI WILL SHARE HIS ASTUTE OBSERVATIONS ON THE NATURE OF ART PHOTOGRAPHY, ITS EVOLUTION AND TECHNICAL AND AESTHETIC ADVANCEMENTS.
I WELCOME ALL COMMENTS AND QUESTIONS SO PLEASE CONTRIBUTE TO THE LRFA BLOG AS WELL! I”D ALSO BE VERY HAPPY TO SEEK OUT EXPERTS ON TOPICS THAT YOU WOULD FIND PRODUCTIVE AND INFORMATIVE.