The photography market is booming. As more and more people find photography collecting to be a fascinating, rewarding pursuit Beetles+Huxley prides itself on being at the forefront of this market, and regularly offers professional advice to both established and new collectors.
As part of Beetles+Huxley’s commitment to education we are particularly interested in working to help new collectors understand and navigate every intricacy of buying and owning photography. We would always advise you to have a one-on-one discussion with one of the team at the gallery, but here are some answers to commonly asked questions to get you started:
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How do I know that the print is genuine?
Collectable photographs come with many different types of authentication including signatures, ink stamps, blind stamps, inscriptions and so on. For old prints provenance (the original source and the history of ownership) can also further help to establish authenticity. Any reputable gallery or photography specialist will be aware of the things to look for, so make sure to ask if you have any concerns.
Why are photographic prints valuable?
For two reasons: The increasing popularity of photography and the rarity of collectable prints.
Photography is probably the most significant cultural invention of the last 200 years. It pervades most aspects of our modern lives and continues to grow in popularity as the medium grows more and more accessible.
Photographs aren't valuable in themselves, it is collectable prints of the photographs that are valuable. This is an important fact to grasp because photographs have all sorts of lives: in books, online, in magazines and newspapers, on posters, coffee mugs and so on. Collectors are concerned with the rarity and quality of the authenticated photographic print as a collectable object.
Whether it is an early print, or a beautifully produced modern limited edition, collectors are interested in owning such objects because they are rare, are in limited supply and have the covetable 'aura' of the photographer about them – this cannot be achieved from a scan or a cut-out from a magazine.
What determines the price of a photograph?
Although it is relatively new, the photography market is now extremely well established internationally. Many thousands of collectable photographs are sold worldwide each year by auction houses and galleries, and a pricing model has organically developed from this to which artists and specialists can refer. Prices are usually set by comparison with other similar prints that have sold, as well as the prices asked by artists of a similar stature. This is true of all aspects of the market, from when an artist sets the price for a new edition to when a gallery sets a price for a picture that they have just bought privately.
For old prints, and sold out editions, a price is set based on recent prices achieved either in galleries or at auction.
What is an edition?
Editions have been around much longer than the photographic art market, and originally were used for numbering the output of sculptures, prints, books and other reproducible art forms. Photographers adopted editioning as a useful tool when the market for photographs began to grow in commercial art galleries. A photographer usually establishes an edition when they embark on offering an image for sale as a print. They choose a number and paper size, and make a commitment to produce no more than that number of prints in that size. When all of the offered sizes have sold out then the image will cease to be available on the primary market.
Photographers will often choose a few different paper-sizes to offer the work in, each with its own separate edition. Sometimes they print the whole edition in one go, but usually prints are made and numbered on demand as they are sold. Some photographers also include a small number of 'artist's proofs' as a part of their editions, which are essentially an extension of the edition size. Once an edition has sold out the artist will not produce another print of that image in that edition.
How do I know that a photographer will not just produce another edition, devaluing the print that I am interested in buying?
Trust is required between an artist, their gallery and their collectors for the system to work. Establishing that trust is an important part of an artist's career development, and no serious, established photographer would threaten their own reputation by breaching that trust. Likewise no prestigious gallery would entertain such an idea either, for the same reasons. If you purchase an edition from a reputable gallery then you can be confident that what you are buying is secure.
Don't forget it is in the long-term interests of the photographer to build and secure a good reputation in the art market.
Why do some photographers not edition their work?
Some photographers do not believe in editions – for example, Henri Cartier-Bresson – and simply sign a print whenever they or their galleries sell one. It is often the case that older photographers choose this route, because they started making prints before the editioning system became standard. This system can work very well as the market is fed at its own pace, and the most desirable prints become the most numerous, often feeding demand for themselves and trading higher as a result of their availability.
If a photographer does not use editions then surely there are a limitless number of prints that they can sell.
In practice considerations such as price, limited gallery representation and the time and expense required to make prints makes them rare. Again, it is in the photographer's interest not to flood the market with their work.
Photographs are inherently reproducible. What stops somebody running off unauthorised copies of my photograph and therefore devaluing the one I own?
Photographic images are reproducible, but collectable prints are not. Don't forget that when you buy a collectable print you are buying the object as much as the image. This object is likely to have been carefully made under the control of the artist, and will be authenticated as such. Provenance from a reputable source is also key. The value of such a thing is unassailable by any sort of poster or run off that might be produced, even if the image is the same.
If the photographer is dead, will any future posthumous reproductions affect the value of my life-time print?
Much of the value in a print is in the fact that it was printed by, or under the control of the artist. Such prints are often signed and authenticated by the artist, or have provenance to suggest that this was the case. This is not reproducible posthumously, and so posthumous prints will not affect the value of a lifetime print.
Is there such thing as an 'original' photograph?
It is a misleading term that is inappropriate for collectable prints. The 'original' is really the negative, transparency or, in the modern age, the digital file that is captured by the camera. Prints are then made from those sources at various points in time. None are the 'original', but of course some will be older than others and their value may vary accordingly.
Are older prints more valuable than newer prints?
The basic answer is 'yes', but in reality it varies from photographer to photographer. A good starting point is that a print is more valuable if it is rare and desirable. Therefore older images – prints that are made closer to date that the shutter was clicked – tend to be more rare and have a covetable aura of history about them. They are also likely to have been printed in a way that was closest to the artist's original intentions for the image. For very famous photographers a rare early print of a famous image is likely to be considerably more valuable than a later print.
However there are many exceptions. For less well-known photographers the value gap is likely to be less. In addition, early prints from the mid twentieth century and before are likely to be small and show some aging. This may not be to the taste of a decorating collector who is looking for big, striking photography for their home – for example. Such a collector might place a higher personal value on a later or modern print that has more visual impact.
Sometimes bigger, later prints suit the work of a photographer better than their earlier, smaller prints. Later prints by Ansel Adams, for example, are more valuable that his earlier prints. His earlier prints therefore are generally more affordable than his larger, later prints because collectors now want larger, more impactful prints of his epic American vistas.
Before buying a print by any photographer it is worth talking to an expert first so as to best understand the market for their work.
What do terms like 'vintage', 'printed later' and 'modern' mean?
Prints made of photographs can come from all the different stages in the life of the image. Some might have been made just after the photograph was taken, and others many years later. As the price and collectability of the print can vary depending on its age, specialists in the photography market have adopted several different terms to help collectors understand what type of print is being described:
Early prints – commonly known as 'vintage'. These prints are as old, or at least nearly as old, as the photograph itself. They command the highest prices and, in most cases, are the most sought after by collectors. Particularly for images pre 1970, they are often small, rare and, due to their age, may not be in perfect condition. They would have been made for many reasons. Firstly, if the photographer was a commercial photographer, then they would have been produced in small numbers for whatever purpose he or she was commissioned – for reproduction in magazines, newspapers, books, posters etc. Secondly, if the photographer was taking photographs for an exhibition of their work as an artist, then prints would have been made expressly for that purpose. Finally, all photographers took personal work at some stage, and early prints often fall into this category – being prints that were made privately by the photographer while developing their look and technique. Early prints are often rare because photographers had no interest in producing lots of copies – they were expensive and time consuming to make, and relatively worthless at the time. Even photographers like Edward Weston, who often made prints specifically for exhibitions, produced in very small numbers.
'Printed later' prints – These are prints that have been made later in a photographer's career, but still under his or her control. For example, Henri Cartier-Bresson made many prints in the 1990s from photographs that he took in the 1930s and 40s. This type of print was often associated with either the production of books, or for exhibitions in galleries or museums, and many were made expressly for sale to collectors – something that is generally not the case with early prints. As a result, they are often editioned. These prints are generally less valuable than early prints, unless the production is of such fantastic quality appeal that they eclipse early prints, which happens in rare cases such as with Ansel Adams, Irving Penn and Yousuf Karsh.
Modern Prints – Fall into two categories: those made of old photographs, and those made of new photographs. They are made in the present day, under the photographer's control. If the print is of an old photograph then, in future years, these will go on to become 'printed later' prints. These are almost always made for exhibition, either for museums who are showing work retrospectively or, more often, for sale in commercial galleries. A modern print can also, of course, be made from a new photograph by a photographer who is working in the present day – these will go on to become the 'early' prints of the future. The former are normally produced in larger editions (25-50) as, later in their career, a photographer is less likely to produce more sellable work, and wants to maximise the business potential of his archive, while same time needing to limit production to a reasonably small number.
Contemporary photographs are normally produced in smaller editions (3-10) on the basis that a contemporary photographer is likely to produce more work in the future, and would like to raise the demand by limiting supply as much as makes commercial sense.
Posthumous prints – made after the photographer's death, from the original negative or transparency. These are normally produced by the photographer's estate, or an associated archive that has come to own the negatives.
Why are some prints by the same photographer more expensive than others?
Prints are valued on many different criteria, but the most significant factor is of course the significance of the image. Every photographer has images that are more desirable and collectable than others within their archive, and these tend to be the most highly valued.
One way in which this is often decided is through the editioning system. Many photographers will raise the price of a print as an edition sells through – the more that sell the more desirable they are (by definition), and the more valuable they will become.
For older prints the same applies, although the rarity of a print may have an increased effect on its price.
Is photography a good investment?
Yes, it can be. Like any investment you should seek independent advice from a qualified professional financial advisor before spending any money, as well as become well versed in the photography market. Beetles+Huxley, or any reputable dealer, can help you in this respect.
The best investments are long-term, for at least five years – preferably more. You should also be aware that the art market is illiquid and that pictures can sometimes be hard, and expensive, to sell.
Can Beetles+Huxley source photographs by artists that they do not represent?
Yes, we have a large and established network of artists, galleries, dealers and collectors from whom we can source a huge range of material. Contact the gallery with the picture or artist that you are looking for and try our best to find it!
24 October 2017
Tuesday, October 24th, 2017
3-5 Swallow Street
London W1B 4DE
Please arrive at 9.30am for a light breakfast prior to talks beginning at 10am.
Please contact Olivia should you have any questions
about the day’s events:
+44 (0) 20 7434 4319
9.30am: Arrival. Refreshments available
10.15am: Brief Welcome
Giles Huxley-Parlour, Director, Beetles+Huxley
10.30am: The V&A Photography Collection: Expanding for the Future
Martin Barnes, Senior Curator, V&A
11am: Refreshment Break
11.30am: Christie’s – An Education: What I’ve Learnt about Photography and Collecting
Jude Hull, Photography Specialist, Christie's
12.15pm: Lunch break
1.30pm: My 46-year Career and 50-plus-year Obsession with Photographs
Philippe Garner, International Consultant, Christie's
2.15pm: Talking pictures, an Insiders Guide to What’s Behind the Photograph
Dr Juliet Hacking PhD, MA and BA (Hons), Courtauld Institute of Art, London
3pm: Refreshment Break
3.30pm: Investing in Photographs: A Guide to the Current Market
Giles Huxley-Parlour, Director, Beetles+Huxley
Beetles+Huxley • 3-5 Swallow Street • London W1B 4DE 020 7434 4319 firstname.lastname@example.org www.beetlesandhuxley.com