value of a photo

family outing c1954

Toronto. Today, we take photos for granted. Every smartphone comes with a camera. Dozens of shots can be taken on a whim at no further cost to the owner of the little technical marvel.

It wasn’t always so.  At its birth, photography was an expensive and complex art. First one had to master the technical aspect to even get a photograph. Then the framing and background training was needed to make a saleable photograph. And finally one had to capture the essence of the subject – no small undertaking at any time as it also separates the ‘men’ from the ‘boys’!

Initially a photograph was so expensive that only the well off could consider having a ‘likeness’ taken. As time went on, photography was ‘institutionalized’ and grew more and more competitive. By the late 1800s most people could afford a number of photos to share with others. Albumen prints and negatives made copies relatively cheap. By the mid last century, far more amateurs could take the odd decent photo and have it printed commercially.

Collectors now favour photographs of the famous, or outdoor scenes, or scenes taken by once prestigious studios. Size and technical condition are also very important. A pristine print attracts good value while the same subject in a badly damaged or faded photo sells for pennies – if at all.

Photos shifted from the realm of the wealthy to that of the average working man and as such became a visual means of family history. Photos like that shown here are almost valueless to the casual collector but worth a fortune to the family as recorded history (especially if the date, people and location are known). Like many things, these photos may grow in value decades later as they become rare collectibles.

Now, will those digital images, so cheap and prevalent today, ever become rare collectibles – and even be viewable in the decades to come? Who knows!

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