The value of a photographic print
Idan Wizen explains what a photographic print is and what you need to know when buying photography
What is a photographic print? What gives it value? How to find your way around when you decide to buy a photographic work? To enlighten us on the subject, we met with Idan Wizen, a professional artist photographer for more than 12 years.
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Hello, I am Idan Wizen, artist-photographer, based in Paris. I do photography that is intended to be printed in small or very large format on prints that are exhibited in galleries, as well as in private homes, in France and around the world.
What is a photographic print?
A photographic print is a process of putting on paper a photograph that was taken either with a silver negative, as in the past, or today from a digital file.
What makes a print a work of art?
In order for a print to become an artwork, there are a lot of things to take into consideration. The first thing that is important to understand is that “artwork” does not mean “masterpiece”. Often we confuse it. An “artwork” qualifies an object, like a car that has four wheels, that has an engine and that moves. There are very beautiful cars, and there are cars that are not so good for many reasons. It is a little the same thing for an artwork, a work of art qualifies the emanation of the will of an author, artist-author who wanted to make a piece of art. And so it was his primary desire, then it could be successful or not, and it could end up in a garage sale where nobody buys it, as well as in a museum in front of millions of spectators per year who marvel at it.
The other point that is important to keep in mind is that it must come from an author for a photograph to become a work of art. We are all authors of a photograph, from the moment you take a photograph with your phone, you are technically the author, yet you are not an artist. From the moment you wish, you want this photograph to become a work of art, you are the artist. Once again, it’s the same, I take my example of a car: it has four wheels, it runs, it’s a car. It’s the same, it doesn’t mean that you’re a good artist, at least not in the eyes of everybody.
The last point for a print to become a work of art is that it has to be made by an artist, under his control, signed and numbered.
Under his control, it means that the print must be realized if it is by a professional laboratory or by the artist himself, but that he verifies it, that he validates it. This validation is verified by the application of his signature.
The second point is rarity. The maximum numbering, the laws vary according to the different countries, but in France, one is limited to 30 (thirty) copies of all formats, for a photographic print.
The print must be signed by the artist, numbered, a maximum of thirty samples, all formats combined.
What is important to understand is that when an artwork exists in more than thirty different copies, it is no longer a work of art in the first sense of the term, in the fiscal sense, in the sense of value on the art market. It can be a very beautiful photograph, printed on a very good quality paper, but if it exists in fifty, one hundred, one thousand, ten thousand copies, you have a poster. Very beautiful, but it is still a poster. And it’s not the same thing as a work of art with a limited number.
The numbering, what does it mean?
The numbering for art photography is the total number of prints that could potentially exist. It was said that the law imposed a maximum of thirty. Each artist has to decide how many he will make within this limit. For me, I will often make four or eight, on some collections, I will only make three prints for an artwork.
When you have a numbering, you often have two numbers that are marked: 1/8, 2/8, 3/8, for example. The first number indicates the number of the print: this is the third one I make. The second indicates the total number that there will be at most all formats combined. That is, we can decide to make four small formats, three large formats and one very large, there will be eight in all, and each print will be numbered.
Why are we going to do this? It’s not a technical limitation. Often it’s to create an extra rarity. We will make a limited number of works. This does not mean that they are all necessarily existing, because in general, often for photographic works, we will make them on demand. This allows us to create a rarity that will enhance the value of the print and each piece.
Your photographs are often marked as unique to the format. What does this mean?
Unique in format is to go even further than the numbering. That is to say, I commit myself to say that each work will be made, realized, printed in a single copy in a given size. For example, I will make four copies, one small, one medium, one large, one very large, there will be only four and one each time, in each size. This creates an even greater rarity and you have at home a piece that, closer to a painting, is, if not unique, almost unique. In any case, when you buy a unique photograph in its format, you are sure to be the only one in the world to have this photograph, in this size.
Signature, where to find it? Digital or handwritten signature?
First of all, the digital signature is worthless. It could have been integrated on the file before it was printed, it has no value. The signature must be handwritten, after the printing. It proves that the artist has checked it, verified it, that the work suits him and that he will put his signature to certify that.
Then, it can be found on the front or the back of a print. For my part, I prefer to put it at the front, generally at the bottom right of the work for three reasons. The first is to recall the world of painting, where many artists signed their paintings at the bottom right, and I think that the photograph should be placed at the same level as the painting, and therefore be signed in front.
The other thing is to make sure that the signature does not disappear depending on the finish of the frame. If the print is to be laminated and if you have signed on the back of the print, with the lamination it disappears and it’s complicated to restore it.
The last point that I find important is to be able to distinguish that it is an original work, and of the support that the collector brought to the creation and support to the photographer. It seems important to me that he can see it permanently and that it can be shown permanently, so I prefer to sign my prints in the lower right corner on the front.
Any last advice for future purchasers?
First and foremost, if you can, always buy original work. In the shops you will find a bit of everything and anything, things that they will tell you are original works when they are just high-quality posters. For not necessarily much more expensive, you can get original, signed, numbered prints from young artists. And that’s what I would recommend for several reasons. First of all, you have something that not everybody has, and it’s still more pleasant, I think, when you buy a work of art. The other point is that you are going to help young artists, to continue to create, to develop and thus to support creation and art as a whole. And third point, more long term. When you buy a work of art, if it is signed, if it is numbered, if it is an original piece, I don’t know if you will necessarily make money on it, but maybe, one day, when you want to resell it, it has value. When you buy a poster, it’s going to lose value, it’s never going to be worth more than what you spent.