The word “print” can incorporate everything from a linocut to a serigraph. It’s equally broad when it refers to a photograph. The purpose of this insight is to clarify the difference between two fine art photography print types: the vintage print and what is known as the modern print.
Learning about the type of photograph which you intend to collect is important. Unfortunately, many collectors feel intimidated or afraid to ask about what the labels ‘vintage print’ ‘printed by the photographer at a later date’ or ‘modern print’ mean. Worse still, people who are new to collecting can be misguided by marketing labels that make a photograph sound more important than it is. These are problems that we’d like you to avoid.
You’ll notice that the majority of the photographs that we have on display as part of our Luigi Ghirri curation are vintage prints. What this means is that they were printed by the artist or under the artist’s close supervision shortly after he exposed and developed the negative that the print was made from. The photography critic A.D. Coleman adds that a print is only vintage if it is made using “materials and procedures acceptable to the photographer who made the negative [and that] it is only one of several significant kinds of print which may be produced from that negative.” So not only does a print have to be made by the artist or under the artist’s supervision, but it has to be made to his/her liking, using the chemicals and materials that he or she approves of.
Vintage prints do not necessarily have to be signed by the artist himself although today this can add a desirable level of assurance that the print being sold is indeed vintage. The majority of vintage prints that we have as part of our Luigi Ghirri curation are both signed and dated by the artist. For example, in Legnano, Il Torrione has the artist’s signature in pencil in the lower right corner:
As an online platform dedicated to transparency and education we provide all of our artworks in ultra high definition so that collectors can view every detail of the photograph, as shown above.
In closing then, a vintage print is priced higher than other print types because it is the original: it was made during the artist’s lifetime, by the artist or under her/his close supervision and with the materials and techniques that s/he approved of. Therefore, vintage prints tend to be more valuable than other photographic prints, which isn’t to say that other print types should be undervalued or less appreciated.
The negative that a photographer uses to create a vintage print, if stored correctly, can be used for many years to come. If reused, it will still produce the same image as the vintage print.
The difference of course is that prints are made a long time after the artist has made the negative and without his/her supervision or the materials s/he may have wanted used. These are called modern prints – and in order for them to have value, they must be printed by someone who knew the photographer personally and had a sound knowledge of how he or she wanted his photographs to look. For example, several of the Luigi Ghirri photographs are modern prints and are made under the guidance of the artist’s wife, Paola Ghirri. Instead of the artist’s signature, they have an estate stamp on the lower right, and a note from Paola Ghirri. For example:
The inscription tells you the title of the work, the date in which it was made and the edition size. Modern prints, such as the version of Valli Grandi Veronesi shown above, are a way to preserve the legacy of the photographer. They are printed from his original negative by someone who was familiar with the way he wanted his prints to look and so are as close as possible to the original. Modern prints made by reputable printers and approved of by the estate provide a more affordable means of collecting reputable images.