#896. Anna-Patricia Kahn interview: amateurs can be artists.

By pascaljappy | Art & Creativity

Aug 30

CLAIRbyKahn photo gallery director Anna-Patricia Kahn has kindly agreed to discuss with us the differences between the professional artist photographer’s life and the talented amateur’s approach. Between her gallery in Zurich, a mixed media exhibition in the South of France, a huge retrospective in preparation in New York and regular trips to Dublin where the National Gallery of Ireland has just acquired a vast collection of photographs through the gallery, Anna-Patricia has a very busy schedule and I thank her sincerely for taking the time to talk to me so patiently. All photographs on this page are from artists represented by CLAIRbyKahn, used with permission from the gallery.

En Route, Netherlands, 1969 © Erich Hartmann / Magnum Photos / courtesyCLAIRbyKahn

Pascal Jappy: To start this off, would you say there is a fundamental difference between a talented amateur photographer and an artist?

Anna-Patricia Kahn: Yes, there are several. I regularly get approached by amateurs who want to me to help them build a catalog or to represent them and, so far, few of them have shown real art to me.

AUSTRIA, 2010. Vienna International Airport © Chien-Chi Chang / MagnumPhotos / courtesy CLAIRbyKahn

PJ: What do you think the differences are?

APK: Well there’s a big difference in attitude, for a start. Amateurs are very laid back, life is easy for them. At least from a photographic point of view. You can tell that, for amateurs, photography is purely recreational. An artist has a burning interior drive. Artists have to work very, very hard. They never stop. And they have to be able endure to worst feedback from outside observers and from the market. It’s a very challenging life, and yet they won’t stop.

The Turin Automobile show, 1961 © Erich Lessing Estate / Magnum Photos / courtesyCLAIRbyKahn

PJ: So the artist with a beret and a huge loft in Montmartre, that’s a cliché?

APK: Many talented artists have difficulty making ends meet. Their photographs are in renowned museums but they still struggle. It’s very difficult to fund their projects. It isn’t the case for all, but making a living as a photographer is tremendously difficult today. And yet, the question artists ask isn’t “how am I going to pay the rent?” but “how am I going to continue making photographs?” and “what am I going to work on next?”.

from series “Wolf with Emerald Heart” © Petr Lovigin / CLAIRbyKahn

PJ: How does that translate into photographs? What separates an ordinary amateur photograph from an art photograph?

APK: That’s simple. Emotion. Artists plan ahead. Unlike most amateurs, they work in projects. 99% of the photograph’s value comes from the thought process that happens long before the shutter is pressed. But after that, artists work very hard to transform an emotion into a strong photograph. Their photographs communicate a lot of meaning and emotion. A good photograph makes your head and heart work very hard. Most amateur photographs are pretty and stop there. They do not challenge you or transform you in any way.

Leaves, 2014 © Vera Mercer / CLAIRbyKahn

PJ: How can amateurs cultivate change in their own photography?

APK: The first thing would be to stop thinking about themselves. Not all amateurs are self centered, of course, but there can be a lot of narcissism in our community. A real collector, much like a real artist will be stopped dead in his tracks by a good photograph and will look at it for hours, over and over again. Amateurs who want to bring some artistry in their photography can buy prints, any prints they like, not necessarily expensive ones, and look at them a lot. They can also buy photo books, and read a lot, letting the meaning and emotions sink in. It’s all about the meaning and the emotions, and learning photography isn’t purely visual. The words around photography are also very interesting and important.

Shinjuku Crush 3 ©Tomasz Lazar / CLAIRbyKahn

PJ: So it’s not about studying at a fancy art school?

APK: Absolutely not. Very few of the masters went to an art school or specifically studied photography. They did however study design, or music or some other art-related topic. Photography is at the crossroads of so many artforms. It’s what makes it so rich. It’s also a weakness in the art market compared to other artforms for which there are more dedicated academic teachings. Successful artists and collectors are very educated and have great culture about the topics that interest them.

That’s also important for an amateur. As is the will to work hard and stop at nothing to make your photographs engaging. Otherwise, they are just pretty pictures like so many others. Why would anyone buy those, since they can make their own?

6 by 9, 2011 © Gundula Friese / CLAIRbyKahn

PJ: Speaking of collectors, what do you think motivates people to buy and collect art? How do you help them?

APK: In general, interesting collectors are both passionate and highly educated about art and the artists they follow. They are always coming back for more to expand their collection, which they build over a lifetime. Those collectors are amateurs in the real sense. Passionate. Even obsessed. They often focus on past masters but can also be interested in living artists that fit into their collection. With that collection, they are telling their own story, where they are from, what their values are, what they want to be known for. I often go to their homes knowing what they already own and the meaning each photograph has to them, how it fits in the global story they are telling, and help them source new pieces that fit into that narrative and complete it.

Jenny Holzer´s Hands, Leipzig, 1996 © Oliver Mark / CLAIRbyKahn

PJ: So you have an intimate relationship with collectors?

APK: Oh yes. Intimate and very long term. We work together over years or decades. It’s the same with artists. We have a very close relationship.

from series: Beyond Sochi, 2012 © Thomas Dworzak / Magnum Photos / courtesy CLAIRbyKahn

PJ: And what about photographs that keep breaking record after record at auctions?

APK: Investment can be a motivation in art as well. But I don’t think a record sale means a lot. It is a picture of a market at a given point in time and in a given context. I don’t think you should use it as a barometer for the art market in general. Things change fast.

Hong Kong 1987. Kowloon, “The Walled City” © Patrick Zachmann / Magnum Photos / courtesyCLAIRbyKahn

PJ: Thank you Anna-patricia.

APK: It’s my pleasure. Thank you for getting in touch.

Winter NYC, 2008 © Klavdij Sluban / courtesy CLAIRbyKahn

About CLAIRbyKahn: CLAIR Gallery is devoted to the mesmerizing art of photography.

In order to enhance its role as a profoundly human medium for understanding and interpreting the world, we represent the archives of some of history’s most acclaimed photographers along with a carefully curated selection of highly significant or promising contemporary photographers.

Kimono #2, 1963 (c) Eikoh Hosoe / courtesy CLAIRbyKahn

Our mission is to act as advocates on behalf of photographic art while fostering close bonds between the artists, the archives, the institutions, and the collectors that comprise this unique artistic domain. We believe that collecting photography is far more than purchasing a work of art; it is a personal and intimate process that requires time, trust, knowledge, and discretion.

In order to represent the broader interests of photography and the specific interests of collectors, we are dedicated to providing perfect provenance for all of our images. This is part of the gallery’s enduring commitment to safeguard the past, present, and future of photographic art.

Riumka, Moscow, 2005 © Boris Savelev / courtesy CLAIRbyKahn

CLAIRbyKahn was founded in 2008 in Munich, Germany. The gallery represents some of the most notable photographers of the 20th and 21st century including Philippe Halsman, Jacques Henri Lartigue, Alvin Langdon Coburn, and Lee Miller. While closely working with photographers from Magnum Photos Agency, it also represents important contemporary photographers such as Vera Mercer, Tomasz Lazar, and Petr Lovigin.

Bibi au restaurant d´Eden Roc, 1920 © Jacques Henri Lartigue / Ministère de la Culture, France/AAJHL/All rights reserved / courtesy CLAIRbyKahn

Gallery director Anna-Patricia Kahn has curated major photography exhibitions on three continents and has served as a consulting editor on the publication of more than a dozen renowned photography folios. She offers a personal, worldwide curating service to collectors and selects and procures individual prints or portfolios upon request.

Window Washers. NYC. 1956 © Inge Morath Estate/ MagnumPhotos / courtesy CLAIRbyKahn


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  • Sean says:

    Wow! There’s some very good guidance contained within this article. I particularly like the bit on being an artist“… Unlike most amateurs, they work in projects. 99% of the photograph’s value comes from the thought process that happens long before the shutter is pressed. But after that, artists work very hard to transform an emotion into a strong photograph. Their photographs communicate a lot of meaning and emotion. A good photograph makes your head and heart work very hard…”
    You’ve posted a very good sounding board – to refer back to – that goes a long way to explain and clarify differences, Pascal. Excellent!

    • pascaljappy says:

      Thanks Sean. Anna-Patricia’s insights were fascinating to hear. I hope we can do more like this.

      • Sean says:

        The interview reveals insight and advise a subject matter expert can provide that both resonates with, and whispers in the ear of, an intended audience.

  • Pascal, what a great insightful interview and some extraordinary photos many thanks for sharing. My primary takeaway is firstly to conceive a photographic project and complete it and then obtain honest and open feedback from persons I respect and trust.

  • pascaljappy says:

    Thank you Dallas, I’m glad it spoke to you. Yes, I think we should do more thinking ahead. In fact, it almost feels like a form of self analysis which then guides you through evrything you see. Good feedback is hard but probably essential. That’s the part I’m trying to work on at the moment at DS. Cheers.

  • philberphoto says:

    One of the finest posts to appear on DearSusan. Kudos and thanks, Anna-Patricia! And the pics, too… pure photo lust…

  • Kristian Wannebo says:

    To the “management” of the arts (including – of course – photography) in society:
    There is a need for many more like Anna-Patricia Kahn to make the relation of art and society work better.

    In the official management of the arts there is to much of what Jacques Barzun criticizes in his “The House of Intellect” (1959).
    [ In short: That those who _officially_ run or organize or finance culture/ science/ education are generally not the most competent to do so, because of how this is organized.]
    ( Btw., it’s a really good read.)

    To the position of the arts in society:
    Consider what Olle Holmberg says in “286 sätt att tänka” (~”286 ways of thinking”):

    ‘I give you stones instead of bread, said the sculptor. …’
    ‘I give you pictures instead of bread, said the painter. Beauty itself in colours, …’
    ‘I give you books instead of bread, said the author. …’
    ‘Excellent, you three, said the people. We’ll give you fame instead of bread.’ ”

    ( Approximately from memory, my translation from Swedish.)
    – * –

    Thanks Pascal for publishing this interview!

    • pascaljappy says:

      Excellent Kristian, thank you. That’s a very astute and interesting quote. I’ll check whether a translation of this book into English exists. Otherwise, I shall have to come and pester you for reading and translation. I promise not to sit on your knees 😀

      • Kristian Wannebo says:

        No Pascal,
        No translation of “286 …” according to a Stockholm international bookstore.
        Shall I try to get a Swedish copy plus a dictionary?
        [ While you consider this, why not have a go at Barzun’s book, 😉 ?]

        • pascaljappy says:

          Oh well. I’ll pass on the dictionnary, thank you 😉 Maybe someone will translate it one day? The Barzun book would make me very dispondent. I have his “Use and Abuse of Art” and can’t imagine how irritated (at the system he decries) “The House of Intellect” would make me.

          It could be interesting to post short book reviews, now that I think of it 🙂 Maybe I’ll try the Use and Abuse of Art. The idea that what started with the renaissance is ending today is really interesting for a blog such as DS.

  • Georg says:

    This is a great interview, thank you. Advice like this never is found easy, very serious and useful. And photos inspiring. Excellent.

  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    Can’t decide which says more – the pictures or the words. The photos range from emotionally explosive to mind shredding – very powerful images. And Anna-Patricia’s comments carve a Grand Canyon between “nice” photographs and “great” photographs!

    • pascaljappy says:

      Thanks Jean Pierre. The word “powerful” probably sums it all up here. This is what we need to strive for individually: powerful images. Challenge accepted 😉 Cheers

  • Kristian Wannebo says:

    The risk of art – and the power of art?

    Or perhaps a reflection on *some* “photo” (or, for that matter, other) “discussions” on the ‘net…


    Of course, in the world of art it’s more(?) often a sheer lack of understanding…

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