Photography has become a collectors item. Thank you God for making paintings, sketches, and sculptures so expensive that collectors were looking to other genres such as photography.

For a long time I have been wondering about the issue of limited editions. Let’s go over this together.

In Fine Art Photography the value of the images goes up when you produce a limited edition. The larger the edition the lower the price whereas the fewer images are available the higher the price goes. Yes, you got it, it is the idea of scarcity increases demand.

In the sculpture world the artist destroys the mold, which means that most of the time there is only one sculpture available. A one-of-a-kind piece has the most value in the art world. In photography back in the days of film – photographers destroyed the negatives to guarantee that this image could never be reproduced again. Obviously the digital age has changed this dramatically. Most photographers have scanned their images and are able to access their entire body of work at the click of their mouse.

The story in PDN ( your link is here) is about a collector of photographer William Eggleston’s work. The collector has been researching and collecting the work for years and invested a significant amount of money into building his collection. He bought limited edition prints and expects that the value of his collection will continue to go up. The artist was born in 1939.  Let’s do the math. There will only be a limited amount of work that Eggleston will be producing. That gives the collector as an early investor tremendous growth of the value of his collection because he has been at it for 10 years.

Eggleston has issued a new limited edition of some of the works that this collector bought. Here is an excerpt from the article addressing it:

The case hinges on whether Eggleston was within his rights as an artist to sell his photographs at a new size using a new type of printing. John Cahill, a lawyer for the Eggleston Artistic Trust, told The Wall Street Journal that the artist was within his rights to offer “new editions in new formats.” An official statement from Christie’s echoed Cahill’s assertion, saying “The artworks in question had never before been produced by William Eggleston in this oversized format and printing process, and they are a completely new addition to his oeuvre.”

Frankly, if I had spent $250,000 on a piece believing that there are only a few of these available and the photographer turns around to create more, just in a different size and printing method – I would feel misled and betrayed as well. The collector sued susequently.

Here is the twist.  The newly released print brought in over $500,000, which is more than double of what the collector paid which means that HIS PRINT from the original series is probably worth much more than he paid.

Irrespective on whether or not we can only congratulate that collector on his smart investment choices, the question remains: what is a limited edition? Should an artist issue a second or third limited edition on popular images? Is the issue of a different print size or printing method a valid argument or simply greed on the side of the photographer?

I am very curious about your opinion on this one. What do you think?

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