Fine Art Photography Collectors BEWARE

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?


  1. says

    Beate – I agree with you. I have seen a few discussions around this topic recently on LinkedIn, and it seems to me that people think it’s okay to print additional “limited editions” in different sizes. To me, that’s not very limited. If that’s the case, then a photographer could conceivably decide to add more editions at different sizes (or using different processes) at any point. I can understand the temptation, but it sounds like it all comes down to money. I think that if you print a limited edition of something, then that should be the beginning and end of it. Thanks for posting this.

  2. says

    Thanks for your comment Laura. I would agree with you. You either do a limited edition or you don’t. But, I can see how the new edition at $500,000 per image would be very tempting!

  3. says

    I believe the artist has definitely gone against the spirit, if not the legal definition of a “limited edition”. The understanding of those who bought the original release would have been that there would be only that many produced and no more.

    Re-releasing that same image in a different format is still re-releasing it and, if the new image, produced with updated technology, is superior and more impressive than the first prints it may well devalue them.

    If the photographer gets away with this it may well rebound on him as it will reinforce the perception held by many art snobs that photography is not “real” art.

    By the way, the link to the case ( above ) does not work but I would be very interested to learn the outcome of this action.

  4. says

    Limited means limited to me. If the addition is 100 it is 100 in whatever format and size the photographer or artist chooses.

  5. says

    When I first started producing Fine Art prints, I asked around to the artists who practiced different mediums. The consensus was that limited edition did NOT mean the artist could print again a different size or style, but that limited meant limited period. There were artists I knew (and still know) who paint and they often paint originals of the same subject with slightly different background, position, etc. and still considered an original. One artist I knew actually claimed that limited edition meant specific to the size of the one he sold, and he could reproduce the “copy” as many times as he wanted as long as it wasn’t the exact size of the “limited edition”. ? Sounds crazy to me.

  6. says

    This is unfortunately a too common occurrence, possibly a first in Fine Art Photography, someone bends the law to their own end. That’s all Eggersten has done, twist the law to satisfy his own greed. He’s merely a hair’s breadth short of criminal conduct. He is however, a conniving, immoral jerk. His client list should look at this action and think, “he’s twisted this once, and there’s nothing to stop him doing it again…..”, and shun him.
    A Limited print is just that, Limited, and it should stay that way.

  7. Stephen Orth says

    I may be the contrary voice here, but I do not see the problem. I feel that there is a difference created by using new mediums (canvas vs paper vs metal), or even producing in different sizes. I think that one of the things that would help out in this is if the final output is marked with the date of the run, size and number in the series. Of course I also cannot fathom having any of my images selling for 250 – 500k.

  8. Rin says

    People are still willing to shell out more for first editions of books- wouldn’t it be the same for art? I can understand being miffed if the next edition was in bigger or much better quality than the original print, though.

  9. matthew witchell says

    I would imagine that if the “collector” wants to ensure that the prints he/she buys are “limited edition” that the collector could certainly request the photographer to issue a “receipt/license” stating clearly “1 of 4, no additional prints will be made. Does the collector feel that they have the right to reproduce images in a catalog? Does the collector feel that they have the right to “re-sell” the print without additional compensation to the photographer/photographer’s estate? Unless the photographer has specifically stated in writing that the photographer will not make any more prints, I think it’s fine for the photographer to make new prints… especially if it’s in a new medium or different size. The collector made an investment which implies that the collector is planning to re-sell the photograph some time in the future. The photographer has done nothing wrong in my opinion and I feel that the above statement which rips on the photographer is unfortunate.

  10. Richard Beatty says

    A limited edition is a limited edition and should be numbered 1 of ____. It should be the same size as the recognized original, whether it is a 5 x 7 or 20 x 30, otherwise the photo simply becomes a reprint. At an artists exhibition, you can buy official copies of the original, but if they are numbered, the copy must be the same size as the original. If the copy is not numbered, it can be any size that fits the buyers decor.

  11. says

    I agree with Richard. Limited Edition should be honor by the photographer and keep his word for the amount of print that he posted as Limited Edition.

  12. says

    I’m currently offering a “Limited Edition” series which offer 3 different sizes of the same image regardless of the size sold it counts as one against that “Limited Edition”. Once they’re sold they will not be resold, released as a second edition in any way shape or form. It all about integrity!

  13. Rae Osborne says

    I participate in an annual open studios event, and my 2011 collection was all limited to 4, but I stated that the image could be printed on any medium in any size, but only 4 would ever be produced. All were signed and 1/4 etc written on the mount. All have signed authentication labels with the date taken, venue, and technical details of the materials that the image is printed on. I also provided 2 labels if the image is mounted and framed. One for the archive mount backing board, and one for the external back of the framed image. As Dale states it is all about integrity.