Photo Talk – Laura Noble on collecting photography, her private collection and the business of photography

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Laura Noble in front of the cover of The Art of Collecting Photographs and a photo by Maeve Berry from her series Incandescence. © iPhone photos Miranda Gavin.

Last week, I caught up with collector, gallerist and writer Laura Noble at her talk for the monthly Photologyy  series on photography. The monthly talks are hosted by Hastings-based Alex Brattell and take place downstairs at the Bullet Coffee House. The following post is a collection of comments and insights from Laura. There is  a 15min audio podcast which I recorded after the talk where I get to probe a little deeper about her flying fascination.

Laura trained as a painter and decided, after completing her studies, that she needed “a library and a studio” and got a job in The Photographers’ Gallery bookshop. She wrote The Art of Collecting Photographs in 2006. Photography entered the art market in the 1970s and photographs gained value and status through creating exclusivity by restricting reproduction. With an endlessly-reproducible medium, such as photography, this is of paramount importance. “That’s the wonderful thing about photography, it’s not just a recording medium now, but an art form.”

“The bulk of my collection is things that fly” – a realisation that helped narrow down her field of collecting. She recalls how her collection of photographs started slowly and how she likes to buy living photographers’ work  – her first buy in 1991 was Hidden by John Kippen. Noble “didn’t spend masses of money to start with” and “rotates the photographs in her home as otherwise she “stops seeing them”. However, when people feature in her collection they “generally have their eyes closed”.

Her first digital work was of the undercarriage of a plane with the LA sky removed. These form part of a series of planes shot and manipulated post production, which “look like pinned butterfly specimens”.

Other works she owns include:

Forbidden Zone by Jonathan Olley, which she describes as “an incredible body of work shot” in the beech and pine forests of Verdun, where some of the First World War’s bitterest battles took place. “They still lose a man a month trying to clear the forest of ammunition and diffuse the bombs.” On his website, Olley writes: Recent estimates made by The French interior Ministry state at least 12 million unexploded shells lie undiscovered in the hills overlooking the City of Verdun.

One of Maeve Berry‘s crematorium photos from her series, Incandescence, which she exhibits on aluminium and Diasec so that the viewer sees themselves.

A photograph from Deborah Baker‘s, In Paradiso series, for which Baker uses digital post-production techniques, for example, montage and layering, using photographs she has taken in the woodland garden she has cultivated for eight years. “The prints are divine,” she adds.

One of Chris Steele Perkins’ photographs from his Japan series, Fuji; a Jeffrey H Short image; a print by Emily Allchurch, from her Tokyo series which pays homage to Utagawa Hiroshige’s, One Hundred Famous Views of Edo (1856-58); and a Mischa Haller print.

Photographers need to have a good working knowledge of the medium and to “know what’s out there” as it is “so easy to do work that has already been done”. Make work long term and keep doing it, she advises. Often it takes someone else to put forward a photographer’s work. “Take a look at your work in a mirror – painters do it all the time,” she adds when discussing composition.

Editioning is useful in photography: “It’s not worth breaking an edition, except if you’re William Eggleston,” she warns. Adding that “you are signing their own death warrant if you break an edition” and “if you want your work to fetch a decent price, you need to create editions”. As to the word giclee, she laughs. “I never use the word. Do you know what it means?” Someone in the audience shouts out “Spurt”.

Click on the play button to hear a 15m 50s long audio podcast with me in conversation with Laura Noble recorded after her talk. Laura talks about what her collection says about her and more…

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One response to “Photo Talk – Laura Noble on collecting photography, her private collection and the business of photography

  1. I agree with Laura about changing the pictures in her home. Frank Lloyd Wright desinged falling waters in such a way that the residents had to make an effort to see the waterfall. I think that was Laura’s point with the pictures.

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