Markert Analysis

Abhishek Poddar in Photography

Abhishek Poddar Amongst so many galleries around today, we needed to be clear about how we define and differentiate ourselves. Tasveer's relationship to photography is perhaps different from the other organisations that are Involved with art and photography that exist in India. Tasveer's contribution has been as a commercial gallery, and one that tries to encourage both the promotion and also the sale of photographs in India. These concepts are intrinsically linked, and both have therefore gone some way to defining the identity and motivation of Tasveer over the years. I 'll attempt to briefly and simply about the history of the photography market and how this relates to India, followed by an outline of a few of the ways in which Tasveer tries to do more than just sell and exhibit photographs, and how we are also, to the best of our ability, trying to contribute to the wonderful and fast evolving landscape of photography in India.

In order to understand how photography operates on the art market, it is necessary to have a basic comprehension of the medium's history – both in terms of its cultural narrative and its relationship to the art world in general. The invention of photography itself can be seen parallel to the human desire to order, interpret and understand the world around us. The existence of the photography market is therefore a further manifestation of this drive. Photography's early history is centred on discoveries in Europe, whereas in the latter half of the 20th Century, a lot of its development and acceptance as an art form took place in America. For the idea of collecting photography to really take off in the art world, two main concerns had to be tackled. First, this question regarding photography's justification as art, and, secondly, how it should operate on the market in light of its reproducible nature. Throughout the early 20th Century, whilst many could appreciate the unique aesthetic qualities of photographs, and whilst the pictorialist movement in Europe used photography to mimic the aesthetic criteria of painting, its position in the art world remained ambivalent.

It was in 1941, when the Museum of Modern Art began collecting photography that it really started gaining validity as an art form in the context of a museum/gallery. Soon after, the International Museum of Photography itself was established, also in America, and these two institutions paved the way for many more important collections of photography to spring up in the following years. By the 1970s, this increasingly established network of museums and galleries gave rise to a whole generation of historians, curators and critics, who all promoted the idea of photography as a unique art. This provided photography with a much-needed academic and art historical framework and did a lot to increase its legitimacy to the rest of the art world. It was also during the 1970s that the major auction houses in London, Paris and New York began to organize specialist photography sales.

For galleries to begin selling photography, a new framework and terminology had to be laid down to explain the medium to collectors. In other words, dealers and auction houses were confronted with the problem posed by a mass-medium from which they had to create notions of rarity, hierarchy and desirability. As such, terms like 'original', 'vintage' and 'edition' were reinvented in the context of photography and their use is now central to how the photography market operates. In the absence of a developed market in the first half of the 20th Century, photographers were more casual about the production of their prints. They would not necessarily note the amount of copies they were making and they might even print the same image on different paper, using a different crop, or a different size altogether. This simply doesn't work in today's market. For the photographer to be remunerated for their work, and for the collector to have a framework around which their collection can be valued and traded on the art market, dealers and photographers invented the practice of editioning photographs, largely following the protocols of print editions in the rest of the art world. By designating the total number prints in an edition of their work, photographers are showing that the prints within that edition are art-objects in their own right, and produced as such in a finite number.

This is, in a nutshell, how photography has operated in the west in regards the market. However, since its inception, the photography market has had many alternative histories, not least in India. In fact, the early 'travel photography' of the late 19th Century taken in the subcontinent remains an extremely collectable genre, whilst original prints by 20th Century 'masters', such as Raghu Rai, Dayanita Singh and T.S. Satyan, are also highly coveted. Many Indian photographers working today, including Prashant Panjiar, Prabuddha Dasgupta and Saibal Das are still following this more documentary tradition, crossing the boundaries between photojournalism and art - and their work is collected as such. Alongside this, photographers such as Annu Palakunnathu Matthew, who use appropriated images to examine notions of identity, and Sunil Gupta, who explores themes of gender-politics, fit more comfortably into the vein of what can be called Contemporary Art Photography and their work is exhibited and sold at contemporary art galleries both in India and abroad. Thus photography in India in relation to collecting, exists in three main categories: 1. Vintage topographical and anthropological, 2. classic and contemporary art-photojournalism and 3. contemporary art using photography.

With the opening of Tasveer in 2006, photography was finally championed as the central medium of a gallery's exhibition output, rather than merely fulfilling a supporting role. Subsequently, Tasveer has become the most active institution in the country promoting photography as a singular, yet diverse, art form through its exhibitions programme. The outreach of Tasveer is international, and as such it encourages dialogues with the West through its exhibition programming and ties with institutions abroad – a practice not uncommon in the Indian art scene, as shown at the Indian Art Fair which included various such collaborations. By exhibiting the work of Western photographers alongside those from India, Indian photography is given a wider context, whilst international shows, such as last years' exhibition of Raghu Rai, Prabuddha Dasgupta and Ryan Lobo at the OFOTO Gallery in Shanghai, or the 2010 exhibition, Where Three Dreams Cross, staged in collaboration with the Whitechapel Gallery in London, are acting to promote Indian photography abroad. As the largest exhibition in Europe of photography from the Indian subcontinent, Where Three Dreams Cross also did a lot to confirm the developing interest and cultural significance of Indian photography, as well as encouraging a reevaluation of the medium's past in an international context.

Whilst on the one hand these cross-cultural collaborations are opening up new markets for Indian photographers, they are also acting to develop a market for international photography within India. The success in India of solo shows by European photographers, such as Martine Franck ,Karen Knorr, DerryMoore, Maimouna Gueressi and Norman Parkinson and other exhibitions of international photographers, such as the group show of contemporary Chinese photography at Tasveer, which includes work by Yang Yongliang, are just glimpses of how the future market could unfold. Despite the prevailing dominance of Western dealers and collectors, there is a very real, if still nascent, potential for India to play a succinct role in the future of the photography market. More importantly, it will be interesting to see how this change is manifested in the production of contemporary photography itself, as artists and curators respond to the increasingly international art world.

In attempting to change the landscape of collecting in India to include photography, and thus give the medium the high standing it enjoys in galleries and auction houses in the west, Tasveer is trying to brand photographs as serious art objects, and ones that are deserving of the prices set by photographers and galleries. It is our belief that one of the components for creative, forward thinking and quality photography to continue to be produced in India, is to have a healthy market in terms of sales and collectors. An art world in which photographs are sold is one which supports the photographers themselves, and the galleries which strive to promote and disseminate the work of their artists, through exhibitions and the press. That said, the health of the market is of course only one aspect of creating a healthy photography scene in general, and many of the worlds best photographers have operated in conditions of adversity regarding the support of selling their photographs, but the high market prices photographs now achieve and full-scale gallery infrastructure in places like New York, London and Paris, has certainly contributed to the exciting and dynamic field of contemporary photography today.

Of course, if gallerists are exhibiting and selling work, it shows that the collector base and market has at last reached a kind of maturity whereby the multiple occupies the same place as the painting, which is a positive thing for photography, but if a gallery only focuses on sales, this is often at the expense of creativity and innovation. For this reason, Tasveer is involved in a number of initiatives alongside its selling exhibitions which aim support the cause of photography in India.

Here are a few examples.

TFA Photography Prize Now in it's 5th year, the TFA photography prize is open to Indian photographers below the age of 30, and is sponsored by Tasveer. Each year, four photographers are short-listed and two winners are chosen by a panel of judges, and announced at an award ceremony in Bangalore. The prize gives great exposure to young photographers, and past winners have gone on to win further prizes at both national and international levels. It is currently India's only serious photography prize aimed at supporting photography as an art form, with particular emphasis on ideas-based imagery.

With the introduction of the Photography course at NID, we have since tied up with them to bring all our exhibitions to the NID campus at Ahmedabad, so that the students can see the works in the flesh, and wherever possible, we have also facilitated sending our photographers over to interact with and conduct workshops with the students. This I hope in time, will result in better experience and understanding of the medium, as well as improve the quality of the output from the institute.

Tasveer Online
Tasveer Online is a website that we set up in order to accommodate and showcase photographic projects relating to India, that we would like to exhibit at the gallery, but that we simply don't have the bandwidth do do. It also allows us to promote the work of younger, and perhaps more experimental photographers. With an emphasis on work that relates to India, the idea is that over time, we will build up an archive of contemporary photography in India, encompassing a whole range of genres and styles.

Srishti School of Art and Design Gallery Practice Last year saw the beginning of our tie up with the Srishti School of Art and Design in Bangalore. We collaborated with Srishti to put together a unit on Gallery Practice, and held a series of weekly talks, seminars and workshops with students where we gave them an insight into how a photography gallery works, and what we do. This kind of education at an art school is so far not offered anywhere else in the country, and the positive interest and feedback is an encouraging sign that arts education is also beginning to take photography seriously.

Abhishek Poddar