Elliott Erwitt (b. 1928), New York City (Grace Kelly), 1955 (detail). Gelatin silver print, printed later; signed in ink (margin); signed, titled and dated in pencil (verso). Image 30 x 44.6 cm.

The new collector’s guide to photographs

Senior specialist Jude Quinn considers the three key questions faced by buyers new to the art form

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

Photographic prints are not necessarily created at the time the image is taken. The term ‘vintage’ refers to a photograph that was printed at, or near to, the time the exposure was made. Although the word is frequently used in discussions around a work, we do not use it in our cataloguing. We do list the medium, however, to indicate the print was made in the manner the artist was working around the time the image was taken. 

Tim Davis (b. 1969), Retail - Shell 3, Naples, 2002-2003, C-print, flush-mounted on aluminium. Image 120 x 150.5 cm. This work is number 1 from an edition of 7. Estimate €2,000-3,000. Offered in Photographies at Christie’s Paris on 24 May 2022

Tim Davis (b. 1969), Retail - Shell 3, Naples, 2002-2003, C-print, flush-mounted on aluminium. Image: 120 x 150.5 cm. This work is number 1 from an edition of 7. Estimate: €2,000-3,000. Offered in Photographies at Christie’s Paris on 24 May 2022

When a photograph is printed sometime after the date of the image, such as modern prints of celebrated historic images, this is most commonly indicated by being catalogued as ‘printed later’. Where possible we aim 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 or their estates have good records of this information, for others it does not exist.

Adam McEwen (b. 1965), Mountain, 2006. C-print; signed, dated and numbered ‘2⁄5’ in ink (frame backing board). Image 182 x 119.5 cm. Estimate €3,000-5,000. Offered in Photographies at Christie’s Paris on 24 May 2022

Adam McEwen (b. 1965), Mountain, 2006. C-print; signed, dated and numbered ‘2⁄5’ in ink (frame backing board). Image: 182 x 119.5 cm. Estimate: €3,000-5,000. Offered in Photographies at Christie’s Paris on 24 May 2022

When a photograph is numbered from an edition, this is a great indicator since editions specify the number of prints of a given image in a specific size. It is more typical for contemporary photographs to come from an edition.

Ruud van Empel (b. 1958), Vincent #2, 2020. Archival pigment print; signed, dated and numbered ‘1⁄7’ in ink on photographer’s label accompanying the work. Image 58.8 x 41.5 cm. Estimate €3,000-5,000. Offered in Photographies at Christie’s Paris on 24 May 2022

Ruud van Empel (b. 1958), Vincent #2, 2020. Archival pigment print; signed, dated and numbered ‘1⁄7’ in ink on photographer’s label accompanying the work. Image: 58.8 x 41.5 cm. Estimate: €3,000-5,000. Offered in Photographies at Christie’s Paris on 24 May 2022

Sarah Moon (b. 1941), Robe à danser, années 1980. Gelatin silver print from Polaroid negative; photographer’s blindstamp (margin); signed, titled and numbered ‘3⁄20’ in pencil (verso). Image 16 x 13.3 cm. Estimate €3,000-5,000. Offered in Photographies at Christie’s Paris on 24 May 2022

Sarah Moon (b. 1941), Robe à danser, années 1980. Gelatin silver print from Polaroid negative; photographer’s blindstamp (margin); signed, titled and numbered ‘3⁄20’ in pencil (verso). Image: 16 x 13.3 cm. Estimate: €3,000-5,000. Offered in Photographies at Christie’s Paris on 24 May 2022

When it is not specified in the cataloguing, consult a specialist, who will use his or her knowledge of the photographer’s practice 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.

Jeanloup Sieff (1933-2000), Harpers Bazaar, Musée Capitolin, Rome, 1962. Gelatin silver print; titled and dated in felt pen with stamped photographer’s copyright credit (verso). Image 30.2 x 20.3 cm. Estimate €2,000-3,000. Offered in Photographies at Christie’s Paris on 24 May 2022

Jeanloup Sieff (1933-2000), Harper's Bazaar, Musée Capitolin, Rome, 1962. Gelatin silver print; titled and dated in felt pen with stamped photographer’s copyright credit (verso). Image: 30.2 x 20.3 cm. Estimate: €2,000-3,000. Offered in Photographies at Christie’s Paris on 24 May 2022

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. 

Gilles Bensimon (b. 1944), The Valley, Los Angeles, 2006. Giclee print, printed 2022, flush-mounted on aluminium; signed in ink on photographer’s label with title, date and edition number ‘1⁄3’ (frame backing board). Image 42 x 56 cm. Estimate €3,000-5,000. Offered in Photographies at Christie’s Paris on 24 May 2022

Gilles Bensimon (b. 1944), The Valley, Los Angeles, 2006. Giclee print, printed 2022, flush-mounted on aluminium; signed in ink on photographer’s label with title, date and edition number ‘1⁄3’ (frame backing board). Image: 42 x 56 cm. Estimate: €3,000-5,000. Offered in Photographies at Christie’s Paris on 24 May 2022

Contemporary photographs should be in good 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.