Art is often described as a classic "good Veblen" - demand goes up as the price goes up because people buy it to impress - and the organizer of the Shanghai Photography Fair is unapologetic about linking art with the market of luxury.
"Visitors to our January San Francisco show were mostly established buyers of photography," said Scott Gray, cofounder and CEO of Photofairs. "In Shanghai, there are fewer established collectors, instead we have luxury brand buyers, which is why the sponsorship model works so well here." China is the world's largest luxury goods market and the second largest art market. But according to a 2015 report compiled by ArtMarket.com, the country accounted for only 1.2 per cent of the sales of art photos worldwide. For that to change, Chinese collectors need to be convinced that contemporary photography makes a good investment. At Photofairs Shanghai, now in its fourth year, you can find an example of a historical photo on the Magnum Photos stand: an impression signed by Edward Weston, who died in 1958. His 1922 portrait of the composer Henry Cowell, Sky Fear, is selling for $ 60,000.
That figure is dwarfed by some of the prices obtained by contemporary photographers at an auction. In 2011, German photographer Rhein II (1999) Andreas Gursky, an abstract, digitally manipulated river scene, was sold for $ 4.3 million. Dealers want Chinese collectors to become more active at this market level. The Shanghai fair, which was attended by 27,000 people last year, has attracted 50 Chinese and foreign galleries this year, most of which offer contemporary works.
Highlights the Blindspot Gallery exhibition of works by Chinese photographer Zhang Hai'er. The collection includes works from his "Bad Girls" series and the documentary-style images of workers at coal and steel plants taken in the late 1980s while working as a photojournalist.
At the Three Shadows Photography Art Center booth, Liang Xiu's black-and-white autobiographical images expose the struggle facing so many young Chinese today: how do you seek empowerment when you did not have the opportunity to finish school and came of a rural poor, and then they feel ashamed about their body and their sexual urges?