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Commonly asked questions - print version

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Once you have explored and located photographs of interest, you will probably have some technical and practical questions to ask. We are always happy to answer any queries, either by telephone, email or in person at the gallery. In the meantime, here are some questions that we are often asked:

Is the photograph signed? In the early days when photographers were not working within the context of an art market, photographic prints may not have been signed. Such instances are usually well documented and most dealers or auction houses will provide provenance (ownership history) to justify the attribution of the work to the particular artist. Today, it would be extremely unusual for a photographer not to sign his or her photographs. They may be signed on the back (verso) or front (recto) of the image and the signature may or may not be hidden by the mount. Some people prefer not to see the signature, it’s a personal preference. The signature can be in pencil or in ink, and sometimes the prints will also be titled and dated, but by no means always.

Is the photograph from an edition?
The market for photography only really began in the 1970’s, and even then just a handful of galleries were exhibiting and selling photographic prints. As a result photographers did not tend to number their work in an edition prior to that time, as they were more likely to be printing for a museum show or for reproduction in a newspaper, a magazine, or book. In fact many photo-journalists (a profession that has been responsible for a great many of the most acclaimed and sought-after prints) are steadfast even today in refusing to edition their work, believing it to be a construct of the fine art market. You are much more likely to find younger, more contemporary photographers editioning their work, operating from the beginning of their careers in the gallery art market. Edition size can vary from three to fifty (sometimes more), and this number can depend on the level of work involved in each print, but is more likely simply the personal preference of each artist.

Ultimately, the value of a particular print is decided by many factors: the stature and reputation of the artist, whether the particular image is considered to be important in terms of their career as a whole, whether it was made in their lifetime and signed, and what condition the print is in. If you are considering making a purchase, ask questions, and any reputable dealer will be happy to provide details.

If the photograph is not from a limited edition, how many of them are there/will there be?
Many factors contribute to how many prints have been made of a particular image, and these factors vary greatly from artist to artist. It can depend on the particular process involved, as some are much more time-consuming than others. It can also be a question of how much time the artist wants to spend in the dark room – many prefer to be out in the world taking more pictures! It’s important to remember though that each photograph is hand-made, there is no production line generating hundreds let alone thousands of prints. Most photographs are made to order, based on a firm sale, and as such you are unlikely to find a great stockpile of even the most well-known artists’ work. In general the private and auction markets also give us some guage of how many prints are changing hands, and what prices they are achieving. Any gallery representing and selling the work of a particular artist should be able to give you some idea of how many prints have been made, based on personal knowledge of the artist and the market in which the photographs are sold. However, exact numbers are not always known.

What process was used to make this photograph? The majority of photographs today are printed from a negative on to gelatin silver paper. Any reference to a 'print' generally refers to a hand-made silver print, made using exhibition quality fibre-based paper. There are however over 20 different techniques of printing from a negative. If you don’t recognise or understand the description of the medium, ask for a definition of the process. You’ll find a short glossary of processes and print terms by clicking here.

What is the condition of the photograph?
Contemporary photographs should be in immaculate condition. If they are not, ask for the reason. The condition of 19th and early 20th century photographs can vary dramatically from perfect to faded, kinked or even torn. The condition depends primarily on the photographer. He may have kept his life’s work in a stack in a drawer or each print may have been mounted and kept immaculately. To begin with, always assume a photograph should be in perfect condition. If it isn’t ask about the photographer. Was this normal? Are no perfect prints available? If perfect, would the price rise dramatically?

What is a vintage print? Within the photography market, there is often a premium attached to vintage prints. The definition of vintage is not quite uniform, but in its strictest version, the photographer should have photographed and printed from that negative within one year. As we get further from the negative date, the window of ‘vintage’ can often be expanded to cover five or even ten years. The price for a vintage photograph can be about four to six times as much as the price for a modern or later print. In the case however of Andre Kertesz’s Chez Mondrian, 1926, a vintage print sold in the early 1990’s for $250,000, while you can still purchase a modern print for about $8,000-$10,000.

How are the prices set? Prices for living photographers are set by the artist and should be the same in any gallery around the world (subject to currency fluctuation and local taxes). If you feel a photograph is expensive and you want more information ask some of the following questions:

What makes the photographer’s work important?
Has his/her work been exhibited and published?
Which public collections have purchased his/her work?
What is the general price range for his/her work and why does one print differ in price from another?

As dealers and gallerists we are here to educate and inform the market not only for our own artists but also photography as a whole. Please do not hesitate ask any questions that you might have about a specific artist, or about collecting in general. We look forward to hearing from you!

You can find out more by exploring the rest of our collecting guide:

EXPLORE! - our visual guide organised by subject and genre

ABOUT HACKELBURY - who we are and how to reach us

ARTISTS - find an artist by name, with an image and a short description of their work

SERVICES - details of the many services we provide as a gallery, including sourcing, framing, private and corporate advisory services.

For all enquiries please contact: kKatestevens@hackelbury.co.uk

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All prices are subject to change without notice and availability is subject to prior sale. Please call or email the gallery for current pricing & availability. Thank you!

© 2003 Hackelbury Fine Art, Ltd. Copyright for all images is held by the respective artist or estate and they may not be reproduced in any form without express premission. All rights reserved.