The new collector’s guide to photographs

The new collector’s guide to photographs

Specialist Jude Hull considers the three key questions faced by buyers new to the art form

  • 1
  • How do I know when a photograph was printed?

Photographs are not necessarily printed at the time the image is taken. The term ‘vintage’ generally but not exclusively references works made in the generic style in which the photographer was printing, near the date the image was taken.

When a photograph is printed many years after the date of the image, such as modern prints of celebrated historic images, this is indicated by being catalogued as ‘printed later’. Where possible we try to be specific: for example you may find works catalogued as ‘printed 1960s or c. 1968’ in our sale catalogues.

  • 2
  • Is it possible to know how many prints of a given image exist?

The answer to this entirely depends on the artist’s work in question. Some photographers are more prolific than others, especially if they are still alive and printing their work.

When a photograph is listed as from an edition, this is a great indicator since editions specify the number of prints of an image in a specific size. It is more typical for a modern print to come from an edition.

When it is not specified in the cataloguing, consult a specialist, who will use his or her knowledge of the photographer’s market to advise how many prints may exist.

  • 3
  • Does the condition of a print affect its value?

The condition of a photograph generally, but not always, affects the overall value of the work. In early experiments in photography, condition issues are to be expected given the age of the print and that the process was not yet fully developed.

Press prints, by their nature, were handled more than fine-art prints because of their use for disseminating information, which explains why they may have more creases. 

Contemporary photographs, like the works above, should be in excellent condition considering they have a more recent print date. All condition issues should be considered in light of the overall impact they have on the image and whether they are visible at a distance.