5 Things To Know Before Buying a Photograph

Thierry Bouët exhibition, 2015
Thierry Bouët exhibition, 2015

Photography has only recently gained recognition as an art form. However, there’s growing enthusiasm from collectors, and important events related to photography are rapidly becoming more important every year. In addition, it is an excellent medium for those who have just started collecting. It is generally less expensive than a painting or a sculpture, and photography has other advantages. As a contemporary medium, it is easier for novice buyers to get an idea of the market and of the innovations around photography’s practices. But how can you make a choice among the many choices available today? Here are some answers and tips to avoid common mistakes when buying a photograph.

1. Get immersed in photography culture

Cat Soubbotnik, Longueur d'ondes , 2012
Cat Soubbotnik, Longueur d’ondes, 2012

It is important to have some knowledge about the history of photography before starting to buy. Indeed, some photographers get inspired by their predecessors, producing repetitive images. Insight about photography culture thus allows you to identify young, innovative talents. Books are especially valuable for those who want to start a collection: they will give you a better idea of those who marked the history of photography since its invention.

It then becomes a matter of developing a sharp eye and keeping up with what’s new in photography art. There are many possible avenues for this. For example, visiting specialized galleries or fairs! In France, we recommend Paris Photo Fair, which showcases photographs by the most popular artists every year. Le Festival Circulation(s) offers an overview of the young European photography scene, while Rencontres d’Arles has been a reference in the world of photography for over 40 years.

2. Define what you are looking for

Almond Chu, Parade 9
Almond Chu, Parade 9 (Curious Police), Beijing, 2012

Abstract or figurative photography, black and white or color, analog or digital: the options are very important and eclectic. When buying a photograph, you don’t need to stumble when faced with the numerous choices available. To ensure that you are making the right choice when buying a print, we advise defining a subject beforehand by selecting a topic or a style that interests you. You could decide to look for an automobile-themed photograph, for example, or something pertaining to the animal world. You do not have to limit yourself to something too precise, but it will help you pinpoint your research, or even anticipate the harmony of a future collection. It is also very important to define your budget in order to facilitate your research.

3. Understanding the price of the artwork

Croix, ©Luigi Visconti
Croix, 2017, Luigi Visconti

Across the market, there is a significant difference in prices. In fact, they can range from a few hundred to tens of thousands of dollars. How can you then understand the price of a photograph? Photography pricing follows a certain logic, especially in comparison to a painting. While the latter is characterized by the uniqueness of the piece, photographs are determined by their reproducibility. This plays a particularly important and undeniable role in the prices they’ll go for. The higher the number of copies, the lower the price of the print, and vice versa.

It is also important to know that only the first thirty editions of a photograph are considered original prints and have the official value of an artwork. Therefore, when you want to buy a photograph, you need to know the number of prints made by the artist. This can easily be done, as they’re usually numbered and signed.

4. Be careful about the print’s printing and quality

Buy photography Amine Oulmakki, Intérieur/nuit/Marrakech N°2, 2016,
Amine Oulmakki, Intérieur/nuit/Marrakech N°2, 2016

Familiarizing yourself with the basic printing techniques and mediums could be very useful. Some paper types have come to define an artist’s work. Certain printing techniques however, such as digigraphy, are reserved for the reproduction of artworks. Information about the technical details of a photograph are thus important cues for the authenticity and status of the print. Type of paper, dibond, and plexiglass supports have to be taken into account. This is mostly due to the fact that they have different life expectancies and different conservation methods. For a large-scale work, for example, dibond lamination guarantees it will hold well over time.

5. Think about where you should put your piece

Huseyin Ketencioglu, Rotten Feelings, 2012
Huseyin Ketencioglu, Rotten Feelings, 2012

It’s impossible to dissociate a work of art from the place where it will be displayed. As such, before buying an artwork, you need to think about the place where you want to put the piece once you buy it. The photograph will be part of your interior and of your life, therefore it must be integrated. And it is not only a matter of choosing between a large or small-sized photographs. This is important not only for the photograph’s appearance and showcasing, but for its conservation as well. Photography is a fragile medium, meaning variations in temperature and humidity must to be avoided. As for lighting, you cannot use a direct light source. It’s better to use indirect or artificial lighting, such as LEDs or optical fiber, preferably without UV.

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