Emerging Photography: A Market Perspective

In a world in constant change and driven by an incessant digital revolution and evolution, technologies become more and more democratic and accessible to the masses.


In this kind of modern world, the possibility to freeze an image forever is within the reach of anyone, at any time, in any place.


Today, more than the total amount of photographs produced in the whole XIX Century are shot in two minutes.


Modern society is steadily bombed by images and photographs. Surrounded by selfies, Instagram friendly pictures taken with our smartphones, new contents on social networks, online platforms, magazines and advertising, our eye is now trained to passively store this huge number of images as a natural gesture part of ordinary life.

For this reason, photography and its true and original nature become “invisible” and embedded in everyday reality.

The democratization of the photographic medium has had an incisive impact on the perception of photography as a fine art genre and on its market.

Given the turbulent path that photography had to face before being accepted by the critics as a fine art genre, it is no surprise that its entry into the art market has come later and not without obstacles. However, the photography market is currently an integral part of the art ecosystem, its value never ceased to increase since the Nineties and is currently evolving.

The art market - and in a more accentuated way the photography one, as it is even younger, more immature and still green - is fueled by a dense network of complex and unpredictable relationships in which various actors (including artists, critics, gallery owners, auction houses and collectors) juggle. The market is constantly changing and evolving.

It is the market that consecrates artists and their work, that elevates them. Through their investments, collectors and buyers decide what is worth buying and at what value. They also discard what does not attract their attention and the interest of their elitist group.

What are the criteria to consider and what are the factors that influence critics and decide what is worth to be consecrated to the market?

The answer is not univocal. Some discriminating factors are the exposition that an artist and his works have through galleries, major collections and exhibitions. Entering the right network and impressing a relevant public thanks to the concept and idea embedded in an artwork is another key factor.

In a world that keeps changing, the emerging artist has to stand out of the crowd, become a “myth” and conquer the interest of the critics and the public. The artist has to be able to stimulate constant interest, debate, provocation and critique.

Entering the photography market is even more challenging for emerging photographers. Photography has only recently been acknowledged as a proper fine art genre. Its market is currently dominated by big names of classic photography, historically relevant documentary images, fashion icons and transgressive, controversial and powerful images.

Nevertheless, the potential of the photography market is extremely wide and in continuous growth. Everyday, talented photographers manage to create incisive and powerful shots that stand out of the chaos of images we are constantly bombed with.

The strength of these photographers and their works is that they are able to keep up with the constant change and evolution of the photographic medium and of the reality it represents.

Photography has become a new and independent language that portrays the real world without filters.

Emerging photographers that will reach the market and manage to break its barriers are the ones that have a strong message to share with us. The greatest strength of photography is to always be able to keep up with the times, to offer the most real and raw representation of reality without denying the possibility of including a personal interpretation of our contemporaneity.

To be incisive, blunt, new and noteworthy in a market monopolized by a classic imaginary, photography must put itself in antithesis with the concept of “modern”, proposing a new solution of a formal and conceptual nature.

Photography is the only form of art capable of reproducing reality exactly as it is, as it appears in front of our eyes, without veils. While painting, sculpture and many other mediums are an elaborated and filtered copy of the real world, photography is the exact portrait of it printed on photographic paper, thanks to a technical medium, light and chemical substances.

Emerging photographers that are interesting for the market are able to underline this specific trait of the photographic medium. The line to be crossed in order to make a significant photograph for the public is the one worth capturing and bringing to the attention and reflection of an audience. The talent of a photographer is hidden in this “simple” decision.

In this sense, the analysis of urban landscapes and architectural constructions is extremely intriguing and catchy. The artist drives our attention on subjects that we are not used to gaze on.

In particular, the view of Britain’s inter-war architecture becomes extremely incisive when represented in photographic masterpieces of bright colors, lights and formal structures such as the works of Philip Butler.

Fig. 1. Philip Butler, Bromley, from the series Odeon Relics, 2019.

Fig. 2. Philip Butler, Black Cat Garage, Devon, from the series Filling Station Closed.

Photography is a great experimental tool for younger photographers, they have the power to create an intersection between a “pure” and uncontaminated kind of photography and a more conceptual and performative typology of contemporary art. There are a lot of international artists that managed to make good use out of this hybrid of contemporary art/photography and to gain the respect of the critics and a significant presence in the market.

A representative example of this trend in contemporary photography is the London based Chinese photographer Sine Zheng. Through her conceptual artistic works, enriched by her original photographic techniques and printing processes, she manages to provide us with a strong cultural commentary that stimulates our mind while observing her stunning works. The relationship between man and nature, ecology and urban life and the fleeting boundaries existing between all of these themes are central in her project Wild Dwelling.

Her powerful message and the special and non-foregone printing processes Sine adopts, make her works extremely interesting and appealing for a new generation of collectors who are starting to approach the art market through photography.

Fig. 3. Sine Zheng, Bathtub, from the series Wild Dwelling, 2019.

A whole new generation of young collectors in currently knocking at the doors of the art market for the first time.

Photography, thanks to its immediacy, incisiveness, cheaper prices and variety in forms, techniques and subjects, is usually the first and most appealing genre that new collectors feel safe to approach as a first investment in the art world.

Emerging photographers that stand out of the crowd thanks to their artistic vision and talent, will be the ones in which the new generation of collectors will invest.

Author, Francesca Pinardi - LinkedIn; Instagram

Photographers featured in this Article

Philip Butler - Personal Website

Sine Zheng - Personal Website