The Value of the Image

Stephen Bulger

Stephen Bulger showing a printThe Stephen Bulger Gallery in Toronto. was established in 1994. We were delighted to listen to owner Stephen Bulger as he shared his insights on the value of the image and observations on photographers and modern multi-disciplinary artists. His talk was illustrated with actual images from his gallery plus slides of photos by well known North American and German photographers.

He caught our attention immediately with a small print showing buildings and a fence in the Gaspé. This postcard size print carries an asking price is $35,000 US! (All prices listed are in US dollars.) While explaining why this particular print carries such a high value, Stephen introduced us to the value of the image.

The 1937 Gaspé image by well known photographer, Paul Strand was a gift to the current owner's family from Strand in 1950. Not only is it an interesting picture, but it is the only known contact print of this image (four enlargements also exist). It is in excellent condition with one tiny chip in the emulsion and a barely visible fingerprint. A second Strand contact print owned by the same person is valued at $60,000. Although a few more copies of the print exist, the image is better known, raising its value.

Stephen compared the Gaspé image to a second Strand contact print taken in Italy in 1955 and valued at a more modest $15,000. While only four contact prints and six enlargements exist, the image is less arresting and was shot more recently in 1955. Some of the prints are mirror image.

Stephen iterated five factors to be considered in determining the value of an image:

1. Reputation of the artist (Paul Strand is considered one of the top five or ten photographers world-wide)
2. Quality of the image (choice of subject, impact on the viewer, importance to artist's career)
3. Condition of the specific copy (physical condition, technical quality)
4. Uniqueness of the image (one copy, few copies, thousands - not all photographers are as meticulous as Paul Strand.)
5. Provenance (tracing ownership from the artist to the current seller - previous ownership may increase value)

Non-photographic prints such as rotogravures are also valued. An original Paul Strand rotogravure from Camera Work (200 to 400 copies printed of each issue) was valued at $3,500. Three hundred contemporary rotogravures valued at about $200 each were printed from the original negatives under direction of Strand's third wife, Hazel.

To give us a feel for the high end, Stephen informed us that a fairly large blue-toned platinum print by Strand sold at auction for about $500,000 to a collector of contemporary art. Since the market viewed this as an excessive price paid by someone not familiar with photographs, the high price did not boost the value of other Strand images.

The market for photographic images is still quite robust. In 1975, a newsletter for the photograph collector complied a "Comparative Auction Index" based on 25 images that regularly come to market (the index is subdivided into categories from Daguerreotypes to late 20th century images). A formula was created to give a value in 1975 equal to that of the Dow Jones Index ($815). By 2001, the DJI had reached $9,348 while the CAI exceeded $18,000.

In the second half of his talk, Stephen compared traditional photographers with artists whose work includes photographs. He started with Cartier-Bresson and Robert Franck* (Franck has used many disciplines to express his art) Cartier-Bresson still uses the same printer today as he did 30 years ago. Each of his11 x 14 inch prints ($3,500 - $5,500) is embossed and signed with an ink pen.

Bresson made lovely, descriptive images while Franck's perspective was a very sarcastic view of the United States. Today, collectors place a higher value on Franck's more challenging, more contemporary images. In addition to content differences, Bresson continues to print his famous images while Franck has moved on to other processes and is reluctant to print his older work. *also known as Robert Frank.

Stephen mentioned artist Robert Rauschenberg who in the late 50s and early 60s took photographs of Performance Artists to document the events. His photographs subsequently moved from records of an art-form to collectibles. In today's litigious atmosphere it was interesting to see the montages from the '50s and '60s that Rauschenberg and others created borrowing photos taken by well known photographers. They would add paint, cut and paste, re-photograph etc. to create a new piece of art. No thought was given to asking permission to use the photos. They were simply considered stock components of the creative process.

Stephen moved on to the 1970s and the shift back to straight photography by people like Diane Arbus, Lee Friedlander, and Gary Winogrand. Diane Arbus was the first contemporary (1965/75) photographer to have an image auctioned for over $100,000. She usually made a few box sets plus a few individual prints. Her estate commissioned her original printer to create 75 new prints which sold for $25,000 each vs $153,000 for an original.

Sherry Levine is famous for making copies of documentary photographer Walker Evans' photos and posters and printing them with her own values to create a new piece of art (selection and editing make the difference). The copies were made with the permission of the Museum of Modern Art. Some of her images were valued as much as five times higher than the originals (Evans' originals are now worth more).

Cindy Sherman created a photo series in 1978 called Film Stills which depicts the status of women. Each picture features Cindy as the model and parts of the camera are often included in the shot. Her images reached values of $300 to $1000 when the singer, Madonna, bought a complete Film Stills set for a million dollars. Her individual images are now valued at about $15,000 each with some going for over $75,000.

Stephen wrapped up with a selection of images from influential German and North American photographers including Joel Peter Witkin, August Sander, Jeff Wall (Canadian artist), and Shelby Lee Adams.

If you have any questions about an image you own, or would like to purchase an image from a well known artist, contact Stephen at his gallery (700 Queen St West, Toronto) or visit his web site at

Paul Strand - Gaspe (not the image shown by Stephen Bulger)
Cartier-Bressen - 1954 politics team action
Robert Franck - 1954 politics looking sinister
1960s montage
Politicians and Girls
Diane Arbus - $100,000+ image
Theatre Art - by the light of the silver sceen. exposure determined by length of the movie shown
Gary Winogrand -  Bear's Teeth
Gary Winogrand - Old MacDonald's Farm
Gary Winogrand - At the Zoo
Weegee - finally collectable
Sherry Levine - Copy of Walker Evans' "Baby Terrier Crate Opener 69 cents"
Sherry Levine - copy Walker Evans' "Open-ended Cresent Wrench 59 cents"
Cindy Sherman - Movie Starlet at home
Cindy Sherman - Librarian at work
August Sander - Pastry Chef on Sunday
Jeff Wall - Mimic 1982
Jeff Wall - Story Teller 1986 on display
Jeff Wall - Dead Troops Talk 1982
Shelby Lee Adams - Roy With His Sister and New Bride

Back to Past Programs

return to the home page
Main Index
Facelift & Design © 1999 Zero Cattle
Page © 2002 by The Photographic Historical Society of Canada
Webmaster: Bob Carter
-- See What's New for more details

Lost?   Find your way with our Site Map!