Re: Editioning ... and Unique Works of Art

From: Tom Ferguson ^lt;[email protected]>
Date: 07/08/04-11:16:56 AM Z
Message-id: <>

Some thoughts on Mark's thoughts:

On Wednesday, July 7, 2004, at 11:01 PM, wrote:

> Some thoughts on editioning.
> I wonder if editioning prints is more of a benefit to galleries than
> it is to photographers?  I have heard a number of photographers say
> that they were asked by galleries to provide limited editions of
> prints or they would not accept the work.

In my experience it is strictly a "sales tool". It helps the gallery
"close" a sale and helps the photographer get paid.

> I've seen a lot of editioned prints in galleries that left me thinking
> that the world would have been a better place if the photographer had
> destroyed the negative before making the edition.

Agreed, but I've also thought that about uneditioned work!

> It doesn't really matter to me if a person does limited editions or
> not, except for the fact that I hate to see someone make a bunch of
> prints for an edition, sell one and then have the rest lay in a stack
> underneath their bed until their death. Seems like a waste of time and
> natural resources.
> I doubt if 99% of photographers ever sell that many copies of any
> single image to even warrant wasting their time worrying about whether
> or not they should edition their work.

I think most photographers releasing editions work like me, they print
the edition in parts. My editions are 25, I print 5 or 6 at a time.
Indeed, they "evolve" over the years. I wouldn't go as far as to call
them "unique states" ;-)

Most of my "editions" are still in their first printing of 5 or 6
prints and will probably stay there.

I had always though the "edition" would be a good thing for me (on a
personal level). Not that I had much choice, as Mark suggested, early
on galleries "insisted" I edition my work. I had always said to myself
"I don't want to still be printing this same image in 30 years". I now
have one edition "done" (not completely sold out, but all 25 either
sold or sitting in a gallery) and two others very close to done (either
sold, at a gallery, or sitting already printed on my shelf). It feels
"odd" and "unpleasant" to be "not allowed" to make them anymore!

Maybe it is my music background, I've always felt the need for an
audience with my art. I tell myself that the editioning helps sell work
(gets me an audience). I'm not, I must admit, totally comfortable with

> If a person does decide to limit an image to an edition, then I think
> they should follow the laws governing editions.
> I think that doing a second edition of an image at 95% the original
> size of the first edition is dishonest and the photographer should be
> punished by having zones III and VII permanently removed from every
> negative they shoot from that point on for their entire lifetime.
> Is editioning just a practice adopted from print making and not that
> relevant to photography?

Not physically related to photography at all. It is a "false" state for
photography, our negs don't "wear out" like a printing plate.

> When I am lucky enough to sell a second print of an image, I often go
> back to the original negative, scan it and rework the image because I
> want to interpret the image based on how I "see it" now and with
> whatever improved skills I have managed to gain since the first
> printing/interpretation.
> I understand that a print might be unique (one-of-a-kind) and that is
> cool and it should probably should be designated as such—the rest I
> might mark on the back "1 of a bunch" or "first of hopefully 2 or 3"
> I still marvel sometimes at the optimism of a guy who had a friend of
> mine (who runs a custom photo lab) print 500 gelatin silver prints for
> a "limited edition."  I hope the guy got lucky. I know he made my
> friend happy.
> I'd rather give a print to someone who really loves it than have
> someone buy the same print not because they love it, but because it
> might be "worth something" someday. Well, maybe if they would pay
> $1,000,000 for the print, I'd promise to burn the negative, if that
> would help justify their investment and improve their odds of gain on
> the investment.
> There are a lot of prints I would love to own, but I can't afford
> them. I guess that's why I own a lot of books with great photographs
> in them.  If I can afford to buy a print, I buy it because I love it
> and want to look at it often—not because of what it might be worth
> someday.
> Some of my favorite prints (and most valuable) are prints given to me
> by friends.

I too have prints from friends that I enjoy greatly. But, I would like
to put in a word for collecting. If someone really loves "Photographic
Art" (as oppose to the act of photographing) I can't understand not at
least "wanting" to live with some of the masters. Photographic art is
still the "deal" of the art world. You can buy a Bresson or Capanegro
or Brett Weston for what most folks pay for a new sofa. You can buy a
Burkholder or Enfield or Arentz for the price of a new chair.

Compare those to the price of a Hockney painting!

  Or, you can buy one of mine for the price of a used end table :-(

Living with an "important to you" image is far different (better) than
just viewing it at a show or looking at it in a book. Passing by it
daily, seeing it in different light and different moods, well it just
"feeds the soul".

Can you have that experience with a "friends" print, of course. But,
there is a reason the "masters" are called that! Most of us have spent
more $$ on a camera or lens then the above "master's" photographs cost.
I'll take the print and less new "toys".

I don't have a "moral" problem with folks buying art as an investment.
It isn't what I do, I have to "want to live with" the image. I saw one
of the first shows Peter Witkin did in Los Angeles. It REALLY disturbed
me. I came home and told Karen (my wife) that I had just crawled into
the mind of Charley Manson! I also suggested that if we wanted to make
some $$, we should buy a few, store them WAY in the back of the closet
for a few years, and then sell them. I could see his work was going to
appreciate. We didn't do it, his work "bothers" me far too much.

Tom Ferguson
Received on Thu Jul 8 11:18:12 2004

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