Editioning of Prints

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I am having problems understanding what/how the editioning of photographic prints is currently done in the photo art marked. I am also a printmaker [woodcuts etc.] and understand the editioning process in that medium. I also understand - I think - making an edition of photographic prints and then not printing any more of these images. What I don't understand is the currently prevalent way of [apparently] printing let's say fifty prints, and then calling that an edition, regardless of how many copies of that particular image are already out there in the world, or will go out after the 'editioning'. Any clarification would be appreciated. For what it's worth I don't really approve of the editioning of photographic prints, but I would like to understand what is going on. Many thanks! chris

-- Christian Harkness (chris.harkness@eudoramail.com), March 27, 2001


Making numbered editions of photographs is simply an artificial way to limit the number of copies of a print so that they can be sold to speculaters who then hope the rarity will help increase them in value. It is a marketing tool that goes something like this:

Gallery Salesperson: "This photographer will be famous one day, and then this one-of-25-prints that you are purchasing will be worth a lot more than the paltry sum you are paying for it now. Even if you don't like it, it's a good investment. And if this one doesn't increase in value, we have lots more, and if you buy enough of them, chances are that one of them will appreciate enough to justify your entire investment."

Personally, I would prefer that people purchase my work because it touches or moves them in some way spiritually and emotionally, and not as a speculative investment to be stored under the bed till it is worth enough to sell to someone else. My work is "limited" by my lifespan and customer demand. That's enough for me! Regards, ;^D)

-- Doremus Scudder (ScudderLandreth@compuserve.com), March 28, 2001.

Hi Doremus, thanks. I understand all that.

My question is not as to the why but how. I would like to have a feel for what galleries mean when they say limited your edition to 50. For example, photographers on http://www.yourwall.com exhibit photos in editions of not more than 50. What does this mean? Especially since I know that in some instances their prints of those images are all over the place.


-- Christian Harkness (chris.harkness@eudoramail.com), March 28, 2001.

I think the yourwall.com people are literally expecting their artists to not make more than 50 prints of any given image. It is a way of upping the collector value by limiting the number of copies. As Doremus said, I'll probably never make 50 prints of a single negative anyway, but my idea is that I will try to make every print unique in some way anyhow.

You might be interested in some philosophical and historical aspects of the problem in an essay I wrote on "Repeatability":

http://unblinkingeye.com/Patterns/LifeAs Art/Photography_Art/Repeatability/repeatability.html

-- Ed Buffaloe (edb@unblinkingeye.com), March 28, 2001.

Christian, The way most photographers and / or galleries work w/ limited editions is that they come to an agreement on a number of prints. Usually suggested by the gallery. A size is determined, 16x20, 20x24, etc. The first printing then takes place. Typically it will consist of several Aritsts Proofs and the Numbers 1-5 of the edition. If it is an edition of say 25, the remainder will only be printed if the first 5 are sold. As additional orders come in for the image, the prints will be made one or two at a time until the edition is "sold out". As the numbers in the edition reach certain points ( 10 - 15 - 20 - 23) the price of the prints will sometimes increase as the prints in the edition become less avaliable. It is also usual for the photographer to hold the numbers 1 - 2 and 3 for themselves and begin the selling of the images at #4, as the earlier prints are considered to be more valuable, as they are from the 1st printing. None of this precludes the additional printing for uses beond this edition. But these additional prints are rarely signed or used for purposes other than reproduction. Occasionaly you will see an edition of the same images printed at a different size, but this is rare and not considered to be "honest?", but these are sometimes done for special purposes, such as fund raising for a non-profit group, etc. But usually the Artists Proofs will be used for this purpose, as these are also signed and numbered as; AP1, AP2, etc. I should also say that at the point where it is decided that an edition will be done, that the majority of the images used have seen little public exposure. -e.g. you would rarely see a limited edition of some older photographers work being put out today, because they have been printed and sold so often in the past. And if it were to happen, it would be looked upon as an attempt to inflate their value and would likely not sell. To add to the comments made above- which when this subject is brought up seem usual, the photographers that work w/ their galleries on editions have no less desire to have people be moved by their work than the individual that makes hundreds or only one print of an image. When people talk about editions they always seem to assume that the #'s are 50 - 100, etc., but in reality most are much less (10 - 25). Many of the photographers that actually sell their work in this way don't do their own printing, but work in close colabaration w/ a specific printer. Not unlike artists in other mediums. And reguardless if any agree w/ the idea of editions - it's the way the bigger galleries operate. It could also be considered just as elitest to only make one print of an image or to destroy the negative after printing and not allow access to a possable historic image for future study. Hope this helps.

-- jim megargee (jmegargee@nyc.rr.com), March 28, 2001.

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