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Joshua Mann Pailet

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Buy...Sell...Trade

Buy, Sell, Trade: Collecting Photographs

I am always looking at photographs.  If you have some to buy, sell or trade, or need appraisals, please contact us, or call us at 504-568-1313.

Many people who visit A Gallery for Fine Photography ask, "Where do you get these photographs?"  "Does A Gallery for Fine Photography own the negatives?"  Some even ask, "Are these posters or huge editions that number in the thousands?"

Every day we educate our guests with the important fact that an original photograph of this quality is handmade, signed, and copyright protected by the photographer.  We correct the impression that these originals are easy to make.  We convey the truth that in reality, the editions, whether open or limited, exist mostly in quantities of less than 200 - and that only a very few have reached 700 - 1000 in a photographer's lifetime. Even so, each and every one of the originals have a type of uniqueness since they are almost always printed one or two at a time over a many year period. 

Finally, we remind everyone that a photograph is only considered an original if touched and approved by the photographer during his or her lifetime.  After their death, there are no more originals.

 I have been blessed and very fortunate to work closely with many of history's greatest photographers.  Their personal support andwillingness to work together have led to the great collection of photographs at A Gallery for Fine Photography.  Most of the photographs in my gallery have come directly from the artist to you, the collector.  The older, 19th century photographs have been found in important American, English and European private collections.  Many times, great photographs and collections have been brought to my attention through friends all around the world.

Original photographs, as seen here in A Gallery for Fine Photography and in museums around the world, are produced and signed by the artists during their lifetime. Although photography is a medium of multiples, rarely are two prints of the same photograph ever identical.

Many people worry about collecting photographs as works of art because most have no edition number on the print. They believe that since a negative exists, then there must be an endless supply.

The concern that thousands of museum-quality photographs can be produced from one negative is unfounded. Unlike snapshots of family and friends you might create for a family album, an artist's photographs are handmade works of are in a class of their own.

As you are viewing and appreciating an original photograph, remember that the darkroom skills and special techniques of the photographer are the contributing factors in the creation of the final photographic print. This process often takes days or even weeks to complete.

As you look at great photographs again and again in museums and galleries, you will begin to see the subtle characteristics that make certain photographs great works of art. As you enhance your knowledge, you will develop the ability to recognize and "feel" this difference.

There are many factors that contribute to real limits in the total quantity of photographs produced from a particular negative. The three key factors are:

  • Time: A photographer can only produce so many unique photographs in a given year. Most of them are busy with new work and do not have time or desire to constantly reprint their older photographs in the darkroom.
  • Integrity: Photographers have a strong desire to produce a limited quantity of their important photographs. Purchasing a great photograph involves an appreciation of artistic integrity.
  • History: The popularity of collecting photographs is a recent development. Therefore, most of the great masters passed away without producing numerous prints of their best known photographs.

Experienced collectors of photography know that the quantities of 19th and 20th century photographs actually completed are quite low. Keep in mind that for any well-known photographer (and many lesser-known ones as well), a given edition of photographs was printed over a lifetime, never all at once. This gives each photograph an individual personality, since photographic chemicals, papers, and the artist's interpretation change during their lifetime. Another contributing factor is that many great photographs have been lost or damaged, thereby creating rarity.

Market History: How Many Photographs Are Out There?

Although edition numbers do not appear on most photographs, most photographers keep records of how many photographs they print. Experienced art dealers are happy to share this knowledge with you.

Nineteenth century photographs are rarer, since they are often one of a kind, although there are instances where there are 25-100 of a given nineteenth century photograph. Twentieth century photographs by major masters are also relatively rare, usually in editions of 25-250 for a given photograph. A handful of the masters produced editions in the range of100-500 per photograph, though this is more unusual. A notable exception is Ansel Adams' "Moonrise Over Hernandez.". Adams produced approximately 1100 prints of this photograph during his lifetime. Far from decreasing its value, the popularity of "Moonrise" continues to be one of the most valuable works of art in the field of photography.

Recently, contemporary photographers have begun to sell limited editions. These numbered editions range anywhere from 3-3000 and are carefully indicated on the photograph. Some Diane Arbus, Imogen Cunningham, E.J. Bellocq, and Edward Weston photographs are not signed by the artist, although their authenticity is often indicated by a stamp or other marking. With so many variables, a relationship with a good gallery is often the best way to ensure that you are getting what you think you are buying.

Photographers of a caliber such as those whose work is sold at A Gallery for Fine Photography are very concerned with protecting their negatives. Traditionally, specialized institutions, museums, and family foundations or trusts have received the negatives, notes, and archives upon the death of the photographer. For example, Ansel Adams, Edward Weston and W. Eugene Smith placed their negatives with the Center for Creative Photography in Tucson, Arizona, and Clarence John Laughlin's negatives are owned by the Historic New Orleans Collection. After the artist's death, if photographs are produced from the negative, estate stamps are used to clearly distinguish between the original and a posthumous photograph. Most connoisseurs and collectors, however, are only interested in an original made during the artist's lifetime.

As a collector of fine photographs, you should be certain of whom you are dealing with and the provenance (source) of the photographs. Documentation with full descriptions of the photographs purchased is necessary for your records.

It is important to develop a relationship with a reputable gallery. Do your homework!

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