INTERVIEW WITH JIM FITTS
Jim Fitts is the Executive Director of the Photographic Resource Center at Boston University, a position he took on in 2007 after serving for several years on the center’s Board of Directors. He sat down with Jason Landry in September to talk about his experience collecting photography and current market, offering his advice on what to consider when first beginning a collection.
Jason Landry: When did you start collecting photography?
Jim Fitts: Jason, before you were born. I started when I was at the Massachusetts College of Art, and that was from 1967 on. A majority of the early work that I started colleting was by trading with friends, who have since become quite successful.
JL: What was the first print you bought?
JF: That’s a better question. The first serious photograph that I bought when I was able to was a Robert Frank vintage print from The Americans.
JL: Is there a theme or thought process behind what you collect?
JF: There actually are a couple. I was in advertising and design for close to 35 years and was very close to the advertising photography scene. Some of my photographic heroes were Irving Penn, Richard Avedon and Herb Ritts and I started collecting some of their work. One of the shining stars in the Fitts Collection that I was able to snag is a platinum print by Irving Penn of the two bakers (Patissiers) he shot in Paris in the 1950’s.
JL: How do you go about acquiring prints for your collection?
JF: There is no one way. I go through galleries but I also frequent auctions and have spent a lot of time on the photo blogs and have purchased through the web and have also found photographers, a lot of whom have no representation and have had to purchase prints directly through them.
JL: Do you wish there were more photography galleries in Boston?
JF: Yes. I think this is a great sadness that we have right now. There are some excellent galleries, either totally photography or partially photography but there is a lot more talent than there is the opportunity for the talent to show their work. I would love to see an influx of new galleries especially for new and emerging talent that comes into the Boston scene.
JL: Is it a bad idea to buy art from eBay?
JF: I think you have to know what you are doing and what you are buying. You want to make sure that you are not going to get taken. Make sure you read what the seller writes about the artwork. Make sure you are familiar with all of the terminology. I don’t think eBay is a bad thing, but then again I don’t think it’s a great thing. I know a lot of friends who use it and they have made out quite well.
JL: Is it a good or bad idea to contact an artist directly to acquire a print?
JF: Absolutely, you should go through the galleries first. But again, there is an enormous amount of talented photographers in town that do not have representation, and if you are able to visit local exhibitions or local graduate thesis shows or any of the various art colleges you will find that many of them are making spectacular work.
JL: Have you seen any recent emerging photographers that have caught your eye?
JF: One of the great joys about working at the PRC is that we see a lot of young talent. There have been a couple people in particular that have caught my eye, one being a gentleman that I just added to the my collection named David Strasburger. I’m also a big fan of Jon Edwards, a photographer from New England. Another up and coming photographer that I met recently at a portfolio sharing day at the PRC was Keiko Hiromi. I have collected for over 20 years and have acquired spectacular pieces, both from the live and silent auctions. The most educated consumer is the best consumer. I’m stealing that line from some advertising campaign, but it’s absolutely true.
JL: If you could own one image right now to add to your collection, what would it be?
JF: That is an easy question; August Sander’s photograph of the two boxers. I have a lot of double portraits in my collection and I think that this one stands on the same level as Irving Penn’s The Bakers.
JL: What is your advice for people who are interested in starting their own photography collection?
JF: Before I give out advice, let me just start with a statement. You are very fortunate because you are in a market where there is a huge amount of emerging talent that you can acquire at a very reasonable rate, that doesn’t mean you are undercutting the market prices, there is just a lot of good work that is being done by young and emerging photographers.
Without question, you should go to a lot of exhibitions to learn as much as you possibly can. The PRC is really dedicated to helping emerging collectors and young professionals. We hope this will be a big opportunity for the young and emerging collector to see a body of work, bid on a body of work and hear several of the emerging photographers talk about the work.
“Emerging Collectors Event”, sponsored by The Young Professionals of the PRC, Thursday, October 16th from 6-8pm at the 808 Gallery at Boston University.
“2008 PRC Annual Auction” will be held on Saturday, October 25th at the 808 Gallery at Boston University. Doors open at 5:30pm, live auction begins at 7:00pm
All images are courtesy of the author, and the collection of Jim Fitts.