On Pawn Shops and Photographers

Pawnshop_with_signThis post is a bit way off the beaten track of my normal musings, but I was struck by the original article in the NY Times that mentioned Art Capital Group – a firm that creates specialty loans allowing the use of art as collateral. With the art market hot (despite the economy) and photography’s ascendance as a fine art it was inevitable a great photographer would meet a high end pawn broker to get some fast cash in an emergency. In this case the sum being talked about is $24 million.

Some months back that Annie Leibovitz had take a large loan out using her copyrights as collateral. The article talked about using art as collateral – but the practice is very often of collectors using their collection. The Leibovitz connection was the most prominent case of a successful artist leveraging, of all things, their copyrights. Falling behind on her payments, she was sued on July 29 in New York demanding access to her homes to retrieve the collateral for the loans.

I love Annie Leibovitz’s work. Her constructions, lighting, approaches. While, like Avedon, primarily living in the world of fashion and celebrity photography her work warranted a recent major traveling exhibition which I had a chance to see last year at the De Young Museum in San Francisco. Her work has also caused a great deal of controversy. But it is never boring.

Back to her current problems. As one other article stated, Annie Leibovitz is profoundly broke. Most article tone it as “How could this possibly have happened.” She is arguably the most successful commercial photographer in the world.

While it may be trite to say, great artistic talent does not imply any financial sense at all. I’m fairly gratified to see that several art schools I’ve stumbled across have some class along the lines of “art as business” to prepare their students at least for the rudiments of business. But since most artists can’t make a living off their art – problems of this magnitude are unlikely to arise for them.

I’m sad for Leibovitz. Extraordinarily talented. Profoundly influential. A strong artistic voice. A person who has suffered several personal losses in the past couple of years.

So, in mortal terms, she missed a few payments on her mortgage – unfortunately I suspect her boutique loan is wildly less regulated than the housing industry, and that is bad news. Art Capital Group was already controversial, which the NY Times says Leibovitz must have been aware of.

Good luck.


  1. Posted Sunday, August 2, 2009 at 9:19 am | Permalink

    Hi Brian,

    You hit just the right note about the difficulties Leibovitz is facing. I agree with you on all points. You did a great job of staying away from blaming her for her problems on the one hand or of blaming society on the other hand. A very cool headed analysis.


  2. Posted Saturday, October 3, 2009 at 6:56 am | Permalink

    The New Yorker magazine has put an extensive article from August on line about Leibovitz career and her travails.


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