A photographic print, as a collectable object, has distinctive materiality and objecthood. Artists may decide on which support they want to convey their art. The quality of the paper and printing technique used are part of their artistic expression and can significantly increase value. For instance, a 1970 platinum print featuring a wide range of tones by Irvin Penn sold for $529,000, and a vintage Dye-transfer print by William Eggleston recently fetched $578,500 at auction. Some photosensitive supports and papers are more fragile than others and may require special archival care whereas others are very stable and will last for 500 years. We nevertheless advice to always store prints with acid-free materials, to use acid-free mounts and to frame your photographs with UV-filtering glazing.
Black and white images are usually printed on gelatin silver or platinum prints although there are dozens of recorded techniques which were used during the second half of the 19th century such as albumen, bromide or salt prints to name a few. Color photography came gradually to light from the 1850s and the first modern colour film, the Kodakchrome, was introduced in the 1930s. The most common colour printing techniques are, from the most recent: Digital C-Print (also called Lambda or Lightjet prints), Giclée print (inkjet), Chromogenic print (C-type), Cibachrome (Dye-destruction or Ilfochrome), Polaroid and Dye-transfer print.
The structural, physical and chemical compounds of photographs are complex.
Photographs were invented over 150 years ago. Commonly, a photograph is a positive photographic image on paper. But a photograph refers to any light-sensitive media used to produce an image. The light-sensitive material can be silver, silver bromide, platinum, pigments or dyes. A binder is used to suspend the picture (except for platinum and salted paper prints). Binders are transparent constituents such as gelatin, egg-white (albumen) or collodion. The medium to which the image is transferred is usually photosensitive or fine art paper, but it can be other material such as canvas, aluminium, vinyl or even mirrors.
Techniques and material choices are numerous. For example, platinum or cyanotype prints are produced out of an emulsion that is directly applied to paper instead of being formed chemically.
Photographs can come in a range of finishes such as matt, semi-matt or glossy, and be mounted on supports such as Aluminum, Dibond or Reverse Perspex. Prints should be framed with conservation picture glazing with UV filters or protected by a coating layer.
All these elements require special handling and care.