Steady technological advance has brought fine art photography as an investment proposition to its peak. For world-renowned photographer Réhahn—whose iconic portraits taken in Vietnam (as well as Cuba, Malaysia and India) have earned him a reputation as someone who ‘captures souls’—it has seen collectors pay in excess of €100,000 for limited edition prints of his work. What is it that inspires people to pay such large sums for items that, in theory at least, are perfectly replicable? And how should market speculators assess the world of photography to ensure they’re making a good investment?

According to Réhahn himself—who emphatically advises buyers to first and foremost buy what they love—the key to fine photography investment comes down to quality.

“There is a huge difference between a reproduction and a limited edition Balance in terms of the paper used, the process, sizing and more,” explains the artist. “Each product has its own market, but for a work to be an investment it has to be created with the utmost excellence. Beyond that, the quality of the actual image (color, contrast, sharpness etc.) is obviously very important for collectors.”

As long as those collectors are acquiring items they’re passionate about, Réhahn’s advice to those considering how to make a good investment starts with research. It involves learning about the artist and their work, seeing what’s getting a lot of attention on social media or in the press, and asking the team at the gallery or online for advice. It involves understanding the difference between Fine Art and commercial photography, the purpose of which is to advertise, reaffirm branding or to sell something, giving it a very different type of collectability. And while seeing a work displayed in a gallery isn’t strictly necessary in this day and age, the experience can make a far deeper impression on a collector.

“In my experience, seeing works in a gallery can give potential customers a greater understanding of the value of the work,” says Réhahn. “In contrast to an online store or something like Instagram, it’s possible to have the proper lighting to showcase the quality of the paper and colors in a gallery. In addition, the sizing of the artwork is much more dynamic when seen in person.”

Réhahn’s buyers come from a range of backgrounds—from expats and tourists looking for a memorable photograph to bring home from Vietnam to Fine Art collectors from all over the world. While some collectors are seeking a favorite new piece for their home to enliven their décor, those focused on the investment value of the artwork tend to strategize their purchases based on trends, previous sales and other factors. Art lovers, by contrast, will simply purchase a piece because it inspires them.

Inspiration is Réhahn’s currency— having spent more than a decade based primarily in Hoi An, the photographer sees his status as an outsider as giving him a unique perspective on his adopted home that sparks his curiosity and artistry, although he is equally affected by literature and the works of fine art masters such as Van Gogh, Monet and Turner and others whom he believes have imbued their work with meaning beyond beauty. In terms of investments, Réhahn himself is also a collector of original-edition literature and sculptures.

“My investment plan for these items isn’t really for immediate financial gain,” explains Réhahn. “I’m investing in heritage items that I will eventually pass down to my children. Making a living off of them isn’t really what interests me. However, those who are interested in successful investments in my work can contact me, and I can tell them which new photographs are a good choice. Pricing will be influenced by the fact that we’ll display particular photos in our galleries and exhibitions—the more people see the photograph, the more chance it has to sell and for the price to increase quickly.”

By way of example, Réhahn references two of his photographs that each sold for US$3000 a few years ago that are now valued at US$50,000 and US$75,000 respectively.

“These photos are good choices because once the collections are completely sold out, we can help resell the pieces to collectors in the Secondary Market. We take 20 percent for the service, but it is still a very good deal for the collector.”

For any artist, making art and selling it are two entirely different proposals that, according to Réhahn, use entirely different parts of the brain. Only a few of the thousands of photographs he takes are ever placed in his online store or galleries.

“I have learnt to know what is part of my artistic journey and what might interest a collector because of the way it will heighten interior design, conversation or interest,” he says. “That said, I’ve traveled all over the world out of a desire to learn and see more. This curiosity drives me much more than any financial gain.” [C]

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