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Collector's Corner

Meeting with Brad Feuerhelm, collector and Vintage dealer

Brad Feuerhelm comes from a small town in the Midwest, but has been living in Europe for 8 years now. A London based vintage dealer, he is also a collector interested in all sorts of photographs: Spain in the 19th century, female identity in North Africa in the 19th century, crime, Atlantic wall bunker photographs in France WWII, Holocaust, polaroids, vernacular, or contemporary such as Jeffrey Silverthorne or Joel-peter Witkin. A very active photography enthusiast, he is actually co-curator of the show “On the ephemeral on photography” (London Art Fair 19-23 January) which is shown at the Hotshoe gallery, London,  until March 2011.


Meeting with Stéphanie Pons in February 2011.

Stephanie Pons: How have you been involved on the project with Hotshoe Gallery ?

Brad Feuerhelm: As a vintage dealer, my need for space in London at the moment is dictated to an office. My office as of late is within the Hotshoe gallery. Daniel and I met about a year ago and we thought it would be a natural fit if I were to be able to help flesh out some vintage works in the gallery. As a relatively new gallery Hotshoe has not taken on many art fairs. I have worked with the London Art Fair for the past three years and have found it a great event for the city. This year, Daniel and I had a conversation about collaboration. It led to the ephemeral show. I think we were both interested in examining the materiality of the photographic image through new and old practice. There is everything from Anonymous snapshots to works by contemporary artists David Maisel, Ori Gersht, Rut Blees Luxemburg, and Frederic Fontenoy. It was a natural process and I am quite excited to have the show in both venues.

SP: Besides being a photo dealer, you are still a collector. How did you start collecting photographs? How do you manage the conflict between selling and collecting art?

BF: I started collecting photographs when I turned 21. I had been to see a Joel-Peter Witkin Show at the art institute of Chicago and it blew my mind. I had waited awhile to find the interest to own images, but when I did I bought a post mortem cabinet card from Udo Manglesdorf in Stillwater, Minnesota. Udo has been a close friend since and was very free with his time and knowledge. I learned more about process and dating from him than I did from opening books.

Brad Feuerhelm's collection.

I sell images by mostly known or listed photographers for vintage and a core amount of nineteenth century photography devoted to place. Many of my clients are very specific buyers of topography, photographer, etc. I don't advertise to sell things that would conflict too much and when the occasion arises to use vernacular as with the London Art Fair project, I pull the best I have to fit the project. Some things are waiting in boxes to be used like this and I have no problems letting go. With contemporary, I don't sell too much so then I don't have the troubles (ha!) Gogo has.

SP:Your collection has evolved since the begining and is now focused on vernacular and anonymous photography. What are you looking for in this category of pictures ?

BF: As a market principal it is a fascinating medium as prices are generally dictated by “want/need” mentality than actual established value. I love it. I think in a way it is a more “pure” commodity than say....the seven same photographs you see at every auction on both sides of the Atlantic. I like to see the cult of the artist lowered. We have overlooked certain modes of photography for too long as we struggled to bring the medium to the market. Now we need to start looking back more.

Brad Feuerhelm's collection.


SP: What are the most attractive themes for you?

BF: I tend to love every form of photography and sometimes that is problematic. Before, my collection was focussed on crime, death, and medical imagery. This is likely the Witkin influence, but it also had to do with Stanley Burn's influential books. I still collect these things, but I am also looking for the illusive. The Accident images that actually perform a completely new function when viewed by themselves or sometimes groups of others. Most have a lucid surrealism involved and post America David Lynch dream feel.

SP: Do you think such photography has its place in museum collections ?

BF: Without a doubt. You would not believe the influence vernacular has had on “great” photographers from Walker Evans, Lee Friedlander, to Diane Arbus. The post war artist photographers owe a lot to the message of vernacular. Where would Eggleston, Ruscha, or Richter be without it?


Brad Feuerhelm's collection.

SP: Given the craze for vernacular and anonymous over the past few years, do you find it more and more expensive? Is it difficult to get interesting stuff and what is still the best way to find them ?

BF: Reguarding the price, not at all. That being said. There is more competition, but sometimes I get things cheap so it balances. It also depends on what your entry point is for vernacular. There are common collecting points, shadows, exposure issues, back to camera poses, silhouettes, even contortionists! So, if your entry point moves over all of this, you can generally get by using discretion and focus. I think Bièvres is sometimes a great place to go. France seems to have the most oddball vernacular. The internet also offers many options for buying.


SP: From snapshots to mobile photos, have you noticed significant changes in the practice of  photography ?

BF: Loaded question, ha! Yes, for me there is a severe issue of loss on the horizon. I just had a conversation publicly with Charlotte Cotton, Jason Evans, and Trish Morissey on the topic of photographic d(e)-materialization which focuses on the events of photo sharing, cell phones, and other digital technologies which now amplify our visual culture yet provide no facet for historical material function. My feeling is that we are going to have a situation in a few years time where the box of kodachrome is replaced with the hard drive. The slide as product of material visual culture will always be able to assume its technological future by its very nature alone, same with the family album and snapshot (problems of re-contextualization aside). However, I fear a mode of production that will eliminate this record physically. We may have all the material collated on-line, bouncing around the ether, but it will never exist in historical tract. As humans who tend to archive our culture through physical display, I find it problematic that we will not have boxes in basements and attics waiting for the material to be seen again. Charlotte relates my instinct for material to fetishism and I cannot completely argue. I can only consult what I feel about a loss of physical photographic record.


Brad Feuerhelm's collection.

SP: As a predominantly vintage enthusiast and dealer, what is your opinion about contemporary?

BF: I have always felt unsure of collecting contemporary as it tends to work on hyper mode of exchange that may not be historically viable. Things come and go. Careers are often times forgotten. I find attaching a large price tag to investment in contemporary an act that must be balanced with the trajection of the photographer. Certain photographers certainly should be championed, but I find overvaluations of under 30's a trend that will likely disappoint a portfolio. That being said, buying reasonably and working with certain artists to aid in their career is something that must be exalted.


Brad Feuerhelm's collection.

SP: If you ever decide to sell your collection or a part of it, how would you proceed and who would be the ideal successor?

BF: There are two ways to deal with this....one I would like it to go back into the public forum via auction. I want people to experience what I have been lucky enough to experience in gathering these things. I want people to explore and not have to have a PHD to get into the print department to see things. On the other hand, I would like certain parts of the material to go where it can be used. Our Spain collection for example is such that we would like it placed in Vigo as it is an area that has a capability for arts, but is often overlooked for Madrid, Barcelona, or the more economically inclined South coast.

All pictures are from Brad
Feuerhelm's collection.