MANHATTAN (CN) - A collector claims in Federal Court that his collection of limited-edition prints by photographer William Eggleston has been devalued by the recent auction of digitally manufactured reprints.
Eggleston, 72, is credited with a major role in giving color photography mainstream artistic acceptance. "Art" photographs were traditionally black and white.
In his federal complaint, Jonathan Sobel, a New York financier and self-described "avid collector," says he amassed more than 190 Eggleston photographs in the past decade, including limited editions prints.
Limited editions usually refer to prints made from photographic slides through a dye transfer process, according to a footnote in the complaint.
Though "indistinguishable to the naked eye" from the limited editions, the reprints that come out of an inkjet printer and far less valuable, Sobel says in his complaint.
On March 12 this year, Christie's auctioned off "Photographic Masterworks by William Eggleston," consisting of 36 reprints.
Individual prints sold for more than $250,000, and the entire collection raked in more than $5.9 million, according to the complaint. Sobel says that auction devalued his collection.
"Eggleston and the trustees knew that the reprints are the exact same images as those depicted in the Limited Editions and differ only in size and medium," the complaint states. "By selling the reprints through their agent Christie's at auction, Eggleston and the trustees have willfully violated the laws applicable to the production of limited edition works. As a consequence of the sale of the reprints at the March 12, 2012 Christie's auction, the monetary value and uniqueness of the photographs from the Limited Editions that Sobel purchased have been substantially diminished."
Just before the March 12 auction, Sobel says, he bought eight limited edition prints for $850,000.
"As a consequence of the sale of the reprints at the March 12, 2012 Christie's auction, the value of Sobel's photographs from the limited editions has been diminished by the very existence of additional copies of the same image now in the art market," the complaint states.
Sobel seeks compensatory damages from Eggleston for violation of New York Arts and Cultural Affairs Law, fraudulent misrepresentation, negligent misrepresentation, unjust enrichment and promissory estoppel.
He is represented by Georges G. Lederman.
Named as defendants are William Eggleston and Winston Eggleston and William Eggleston III as Trustees of the Eggleston Artistic Trust.
Eggleston's trustees could not immediately be reached for comment.