COLLECT

The photography market is booming. As more and more people find photography collecting to be a fascinating, rewarding pursuit, we pride ourselves on being at the forefront of this market, and regularly offer professional advice to both established and new collectors.

 

As part of the gallery'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:

 

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.

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.

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.

 

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.

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 prestigous 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.

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.

 

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.

 

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.

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.

 

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.

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.

 

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.

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 we will try our best to find it!