Lumas sells online, but also through its network of gallery spaces, such as this one in Paris.
Stefanie Harig and Marc Ullrich like to romanticise about how they got into the business of collecting photography. It began in 1996 when they met a guy called John at an antique market in New York.
"At first he seems closed-lipped, but then, full of passion, he showed us his treasures: press photos from the 1920s," they remember. "We were impressed by John and by the pictures. Filled with the pride of discovery, we bought five original prints, and that was the beginning of our passionate involvement with photography."
Harig and Ullrich are the founders of Lumas. Launched in 2004 with a gallery in Berlin, Lumas took the collecting market to new audiences in Germany, but remained relatively unknown abroad. But now, with galleries in New York and Paris, and another recently opened in London this month, it's set to take on the international market.
Lumas was formed as the answer to a simple question, says Jan Seewald, the firm's public relations manager. "Why can't there be a gallery that offers larger editions at a lesser price?"
The solution was clear, he says. Lumas enters into non-exclusive agreements with photographers to sell limited-edition prints of six to eight of their images. But, while conventional galleries sell editions of three to five prints at high prices, Lumas aims to offer the same images in editions of 75 to 150 - but with a friendlier price tag, starting from £100.
"We offer a reasonably priced alternative," says Seewald. "So hopefully, people will come to us, look at the works and say, ‘Wow, I can actually afford it'."
Harig and Ullrich started with only two photographers in 2004. "Now Lumas represent more than 160 international artists," says Seewald. "We have quite a variety of photographers - big names but also up-and-coming talent - and we have more than 1400 works available both online and in the shops."
While Lumas offers all its prints online, it puts a particular emphasis on its network of galleries. Currently, the German-based company has 12 galleries - one in Paris, two in the US, one in Zurich, with the remaining eight spread across Germany. Lumas is also planning to open another one in Vienna - it is currently in negotiations over its location - but London has been a "long fostered dream," says Seewald.
"We've wanted to open it for a few years now, but we were looking for the right location, which I believe we've now found. It's in the middle of the gallery district in Mayfair in Conduit Street, so there are a lot of good galleries around it." And with the general population taking a closer look at collecting photography, the UK market, he says, "is perfect for us".
The right stuff
An important step in developing the business is finding the right photography for its customers. "We have a curatorial committee formed of seven people," says Seewald.
"They meet once a week to discuss which new artists and images we'll add to our collections. They've been doing this for five years now, so they know what our portfolio needs. We are also keen to add exciting new positions to the portfolio and to give young artists a chance."
Many photographers approach Lumas, but its founders also go to meet artists at fairs, exhibitions, or in their studios - and it seems to be working. Lumas offers prints from photographers such as Nobuyoshi Araki, Juergen Teller, Andy Warhol and Stephen Shore, among many others.
But, work from these "Masters," as Lumas labels them, isn't pegged at the £100 starting price - a print by Shore will retail at $2850, for example.
When the curatorial committee has agreed on which photographers to include, the next step is to find a series of work that Lumas could represent and sell.
"We don't have a lot of controversial and violent images in our collection," says Seewald. "Some images work perfectly in exhibitions or museums, but you don't want to surround yourself with them at all times. That is something we take into account when choosing works for Lumas. The most important thing is that they fascinate you and that you want to look at them over a long period of time."
But what's in it for the photographers? "We usually have a licence agreement for six to eight works," says Seewald. "This is a non-exclusive agreement, which allows these photographers to continue to sell these same images through other galleries."
And, of course, photographers receive a commission on each sale - Lumas declined to disclose financial details of its deal, which BJP understands can vary from one photographer to the other.
Much more important, says Seewald, is the fact that photographers will see their work represented across five countries and published in Lumas' bi-annual magazine, which is distributed to 1.5 million people.
Photographers are also invited to some of the special exhibitions - group or solo shows - the galleries regularly organise. "We tend to arrange shows around particular themes, such as landscape, portrait, fashion, and so on," says Seewald. "That's also a great chance for our clients to meet the artists, since we try to have them present at every opening."
To gain the support of established photographers, Lumas has also paid particular attention to the quality of its prints. White Wall, another company launched by Harig and Ullrich, prints and frames all the images offered through the Lumas marketplace.
"It's all high-quality gallery standard," says Seewald, who also handles press relations for White Wall. "We can really meet the demands of the artists and work very closely with them. They receive a proof of the work, and we can colour correct them and make sure they are perfect before they get to the stores."
In fact, Lumas will, at times and with the artist's authorisation, also sell these proofs once an edition has been sold in its entirety.
White Wall has also been rolled out to image-makers beyond Lumas' stable, and now competes with Europe's top pro labs, gaining an enviable reputation not just for its printing (which is done on premium papers such as Kodak's Pro Ultra Endura or Hahnemühle's Fine Art Pearl, and mounted on aluminium, canvas or acrylic glass, among many other options), but also for its international shipping services using crates designed specifically for each order.
White Wall and Lumas enjoy a symbiotic relationship - one feeding the other's business and vice-versa. Lumas' London gallery opened on 14 October, so White Wall might reap the rewards from its sibling's heightened profile here. At the very least, Lumas' first steps into the UK could boost the photography collecting culture here. BJP
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