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.
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.
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.
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?”.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
PJ: Thank you Anna-patricia.
APK: It’s my pleasure. Thank you for getting in touch.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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