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Banalata Bipani tracks the journey of Indian photography which has come a long way from being relatively inconspicuous to commanding big bucks in the international auctions.

First it was Indian paintings and now it is Indian photography and vintage photographs of India that’s making waves in the international art market. Photographs account for as much as seven per cent of art auction sales in 2007, although this category of art is priced at one tenth the price of paintings. During Christie’s recent contemporary Indian art sale, price of works by Indian photographers ranged from Rs Four to Rs 12.7 lakh. Five years ago, a photograph by the famous Indian photo-journalist Raghu that fetched $100 in India, is now being valued at $10,000. Ravi Prasad, CEO and president of Himalaya group of multinationals and wife Trupti Prasad bought a 3.5 ft X 5 ft photograph of a 23-year-old relatively unknown photographer called Shibu Arakkal in Bangalore in 1999. The single edition cost the Prasads Rs 8,500. Today, Arakkal’s limited edition prints are priced Rs 50,000 upwards, not taking into account the smaller size or the single edition, as opposed to multiple editions.Further this year the famous Osian’s Art Fund in India, run by connoisseur Neville Tuli, just acquired 45 original, silver gelatin prints by Henri Cartier- Bresson, which are a collection of photographs of Mahatma Gandhi. Apart from a 17.5 percent custom duty to bring these artworks to India, Osian’s paid British pounds 80,000 (Rs 66 lakhs) which is the highest price paid by a private institution in India for a collection of photographs.Photography developed in Europe around the 1820s. Louis Daguerre, who perfected the daguerreotype in 1839, attracted the attention of investors with the advertised slogan: “(the) daguerreotype is not merely an instrument which serves to draw nature; (it) gives her the power to reproduce herself.” The process reached Calcutta as early as 1840, although the earliest extant daguerreotype plates date between 1842 and 1845. Photography in India is mainly credited with four ages – the 1839-1911 period when only professionals and gifted amateurs could handle the camera, 1911 to 1945, when the scientific developments of the war years made photography more gadget-oriented, and the period 1945 to 1995, when the newly introduced digital cameras changed the concept of photogrraphy.

Nurtured by eminent photographers like Deen Dayal of Hyderabad, Maharaja Ramsingh of Jaipur Indian photographers ensured that the British Era of Indian photography was well documented and photographed. Raghu Rai’s 1984 photographs of Indira Gandhi’s death and funeral stand in a long Indian journalistic tradition, as do Manish Swarup’s 2002 pictures of the effects of sectarian violence in Gujarat.As an indicator of trends closer home, gallery exhibitions of contemporary photography in Mumbai in early 2007 boasted typical prices from Rs 5,000 to Rs 50,000 per 2’ X 3’ print, for limited editions (usually of 10 to 20 prints per image), and sold, perhaps, two to five images in a week long exhibition. In comparision, by mid 2008, the galleries are seeing prices from Rs 10,000 to Rs two lakh each, yet seeing sales of 10 to 20 images over a week.

It is important to know what the buyer must look for in investing in photograph by Indian photographers. As per the curator of New Era Art Gallery in Mumbai: Foremost, of course, is the perceived value of the artist. Even mundane works by a celebrated photographer will command high prices.An undamaged print, in pristine condition, ideally printed on archival quality media, mounted ideally on acid free board.Certificate of authenticity signed by the artist, specifying the edition size and the serial number of your print.

Signed declaration by the artist of holding the copyright of the image and rights of exhibition and sale.Copies of any required model, release property or release for images containing a recognisable model.

Maharaja Features
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