Double Negative? Photographers are Increasingly Printing New Versions of Vintage Pictures

It’s an artist’s dilemma: collectors are often more eager to buy a well-established artist’s early work than whatever he or she may be putting out now. Italian Surrealist Giorgio di Chirico famously resolved the problem in a controversial way, intentionally misdating some of his 1940s paintings because they were not nearly as sought-after as his work of the 1910s.

For photographers, there is an easier solution. Many have kept their old negatives, and can produce new editions of older imagery. Galleries describe these kinds of images as “never before seen” or “never before printed” as a way to suggest their freshness to the market. Photographers are now printing many more of these images than ever, delighting some collectors with the greater choice—but frustrating others who may own that earlier work.

“As the older iconic works get bought up, finding their way onto the secondary market where they are more expensive, you see that collectors are foraging for images,” Kevin Moore, a Manhattan art advisor and independent curator, explained. “Photographers are combing through their old negatives for things to print, because of the demand.” Some people just shake their heads and say, ‘crass materialism,’ but if artists and their galleries handle this properly it doesn’t have to be so.”

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