Collecting Guide | Photofairs

Collecting Guide

Below you will find useful tips to consider when purchasing photography, whether you are an established collector looking to expand your collection or planning to start building your own photography collection, our guide will help broaden your knowledge.

Paper types | Photographers use different printing methods to achieve varying desired effects for their works. Most black and white photographs are printed as gelatin silver prints, most contemporary colour prints are printed as chromogenic prints.  There are many other paper types and techniques, especially relevant to works made in the 19th Century, and colour processes. The best thing is to always speak to the gallery about the paper type and how it affects the work of the artist in question. In most cases one is not seen as superior to the other, they are simply used to achieve different desired effects. 

Editions | Photographs, unlike paintings, are usually from an edition - that is - they are numbered. Most photographs at PHOTOFAIRS | Shanghai will not exceed editions of 75 prints. It is up to the artist to edition their works as they see fit. This means editions can vary from editions of 3, 8, 20, 40 etc. However, the editions are always respected by the artist and controlled by their gallery.

If a work is not editioned or numbered, it was most likely made at a time when editioning had not yet become an industry norm. A good example of this is Henri Cartier-Bresson, who did not edition his prints.  Contemporary photographers always edition their prints and it is understood in the industry that smaller editions are more desirable and therefore on average, more valuable, than prints from a larger edition.

Artists’ Proofs | Artists’ Proofs are the first works the artist made in the edition, usually the ‘trial run’ print. These are usually referred to as APs, and do not usually exceed 2 or 3 per print. To some collectors these are more valuable as they are the first prints made in the edition. The artist often holds on to the first AP for their personal archive. These are often very desirable and rare to come by. 

Unique works | Some photographers only make one print per image. A good example of this is Peter Beard, who hand-painted or coloured many of his prints. Andy Warhol’s polaroids, like all polaroids, are also unique.

Condition reports | Condition reports are not necessarily provided by the gallery, but it is always good to ask the dealer you are buying from for his or her opinion on the condition of the print.  Some vintage prints dating for example from the 1950s might show creases and bumped corners, but these are prints which have been around for a long time in the market and so the condition ‘issues’ become a part of the print, rather than a hindrance.  Any print deemed a large format colour contemporary work should be in excellent condition and should not show any condition issues. These are standards which are ensured at PHOTOFAIRS | Shanghai.

Provenance | Provenance relates to where the print is coming from. For example, was the print once owned by an important collector or a leading Museum? If so, this will add to the desirability and value of the print and people will pay over the odds for this.

Vintage Vs Printed later | ‘Vintage' denotes a print printed by the photographer in the year it was taken. This is a term more often than not relevant to black and white photography but can also apply to chromogenic prints and other colour prints.

Primary Market |  The market is controlled by galleries. If you buy a print from a gallery who represents the artist, the work is usually acquired from what is referred to as 'The Primary Market’.  

Secondary Market | The market created by the auction houses or dealers. I.e. A work which has been owned by one or more people before it came up for sale. 

VAT, framing & shipping |  Prices quoted to you by galleries and dealers will not usually take into account VAT and shipping costs. Framing on contemporary works is sometimes included in the retail price, but it is always good to check. Shipping is always on top. Very few dealers will deliver/send for free.  

Discounts | Depending on the work, the gallery or dealer selling you the work will be open to offering a discount of 10% on average. This is not always the case, but it is not considered rude to ask the question.



If you need any advice before or during the fair regarding a specific work or regarding any of the above terminology, please use the contact form, which can be found here.