Stephen Wilkes, Coney Island, Day To Night, 2011

Whether you’re seeking that perfect print by Diane Arbus (you know the one, the identical twin girls in pinafores) or something new from a contemporary photographer, such as a multimedia wall relief made of LED lights by Jim Campbell, you’ll likely find what you’re looking for at the annual photography fair organized by the Association of International Photography Art Dealers, better known as AIPAD. Now in its 32nd year, AIPAD will be held at the Park Avenue Armory from March 29 through April 1, with offerings ranging from rare 19th-century material to the latest works by today’s digital artists.

“AIPAD has been evolving as the market for photography has evolved,” says its president, Stephen Bulger, a photo dealer from Toronto, noting the show’s recent inclusion of contemporary art galleries in addition to traditional photography dealers. This year, for the first time, renowned contemporary art dealer David Zwirner will participate in the fair, with a booth devoted to the work of Philip-Lorca diCorcia, whose prints are priced at up to $45,000. “Photography can be a gateway to collecting on a larger scale,” says Zwirner’s director of sales, Justine Durrett, who underscores that the gallery represents many artists working in photo-based media including Gordon Matta-Clark, Stan Douglas, Thomas Ruff, and Christopher Williams.

That gallerists like Zwirner are coming to AIPAD shows the genre’s dynamism as well as its inconsistencies. For most of the 20th century, photography was considered the stepchild of fine art, largely because multiples were regarded as less significant than unique paintings and sculptures. That changed in the 1980s, when artists such as Cindy Sherman and Richard Prince made works in photo-based mediums in much smaller editions at much higher prices. Andreas Gursky, for example, produced mural-size prints, including a rather famous photograph of Jackson Pollock’s One: Number 31 (1950). These works were eye-catching and highly conceptual, not at all like pictures from Life Magazine or the silver-gelatin prints found in photo galleries, no matter how precious or rare the image.

With almost every contemporary art gallery now representing one or more photo-based artists—Jeff Wall at Marian Goodman, Nan Goldin at Matthew Marks—art photography has seen a great uptick in prices in recent years. But some of the strongest images of the 20th century, by such photographers as Ansel Adams, Walker Evans, or Arbus, frequently sell for a quarter of the price of a Prince or Sherman. Many other well-known photographers— Edward Steichen, Edward Weston, Helen Levitt, Henri Cartier-Bresson, and Margaret Bourke-White—are considered masters of the medium, but since they’re not shown at art galleries, their works can be had for well under $100,000. A lot of this makes no sense, but for the collector it provides pockets of opportunity for acquiring underpriced works presented by the traditional photo galleries and dealers you’ll find at AIPAD.

For example, the top price point at AIPAD this year will be at the booth of Hans P. Kraus Jr., who specializes in rare 19th-century prints by photography’s Old Masters such as William Henry Fox Talbot, Roger Fenton, and Frederick Evans. He will be bringing three historic photographs by Julia Margaret Cameron, starting at $75,000, who photographed such notables as Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Alfred, Lord Tennyson.

Portraiture is the theme of many booths at AIPAD this year, with subjects ranging from celebrities to unknown protestors. Unsurprisingly, as fame has become such a central feature of American culture, the interest in celebrity portraiture has risen, with collectors gravitating to icons of the past. At Bonni Benrubi’s booth, there will be intimate pictures of rock stars from the 1960s and ’70s—including a rare image of John Lennon and Paul McCartney at the sound board at Apple Records, taken by Linda McCartney, priced at $4,500. “There’s a color print of John Lennon against a pink background that no one had seen, not even Yoko,” says Benrubi. (Yoko Ono has since purchased the print from the dealer.) Bert Stern’s infamous images of Marilyn Monroe at her last sitting in 1962 will be available at Staley-Wise Gallery. Hollywood stars will be transformed into monsters and antiheros by contemporary photographer Alex Prager at Yancey Richardson’s booth. Prager, a kind of art star of her own making, was featured in the Museum of Modern Art’s “New Photography 2010” exhibition, and these portraits were first created for The New York Times Magazine this winter.

“A lot of collecting photography is about the image, as opposed to the artist,” says Chelsea dealer Steven Kasher, who specializes in press photos, vernacular photography, and new discoveries from the 1960s. He will be wrapping his booth with new portraits of Occupy Wall Street protestors by Accra Shepp. (Printed digitally in unlimited editions, they cost only $60 each.) “We have a lot of collectors who don’t necessarily care that much if a picture is by one of the masters of the medium. They care that it is a great image, a marvelous example of the art of photography.”

But fellow New York dealer Yossi Milo, who will also be showing timely work— pictures of garbage pickers in Ghana by Pieter Hugo, priced at $12,000 to $20,000— notes that even photojournalists can have a pedigree worth paying attention to. Hugo’s work has been bought by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Cincinnati Museum of Art, among others, and was rated one of the top shows of 2010 by Vince Aletti, photo critic at The New Yorker.

“AIPAD is definitely worth two or three visits, not one drive-through,” says William Hunt, a top collector in the field, along with Miami’s Marty Margolis and rock star Elton John. “It’s a great way to test out a variety of dealers, who all bring their best material.” When asked if photo dealers are nicer than art dealers, he laughs but admits, “Yes. They are less cool, meaning less frosty.” The AIPAD Photography Show takes place March 29–April 1 at the Park Avenue Armory, 643 Park Ave.

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