I thought I would start off the New Year with an interesting topic among the fine art photography community ... the editioning or numbering of digital prints.
Having spent my entire photography career in the wet darkroom, the practice of editioning prints was never an issue. Yes, there were photographers who limited the amount of prints made from a single negative, but for the most part, the vast majority of photographers did not edition their prints ... Ansel Adams included. Reason being ... each and every print pulled by hand in the wet darkroom was unique. The process of burning and dodging as well as variations of temperature and strength of developer as the printing session progressed, made it virtually impossible to make two prints that were identical.
In 2000 I began printing my work digitally. I felt that if I wanted my work taken seriously by collectors and garner similar selling prices as my gelatin silver prints, printing in editions was absolutely necessary. Digital prints were produced via a photo mechanical process and not by hand. Once an image file was saved, an unlimited number of exact reproductions were possible. Sort of like printing hundreds if not thousands of posters on an offset printing press. I could not imagine the public, private or corporate collector wanting to invest in work that was mass produced.
On the other hand, there are photographers who have rationalized against limited edition prints and feel that due to the nature of digital printing, their prints are just as unique as prints pulled in the traditional darkroom. Their rationale being that very few photographers that utilize digital output make more than a few prints at any one time unless they are working in extremely small editions. Typically, prints are made "on demand," or as they are sold. While the image file may have been saved in let's say June, that file may not be reprinted again until maybe September. In the time period from June until September, inks have most likely been replaced, a new batch of paper purchased and the image file may have undergone several iterations of creative refinement. Consequently, there could be slight differences from print #1 to print #8 ... this seems logical. That said however, the higher end fine art photography world still views digital output as a mechanical, not a "by hand" process, and not worthy of upper level art-market pricing. A little elitist some might say, but non the less, a reality.
Several months ago I had a conversation with gallerist, Susan Spititus of Susan Spirtitus Gallery in Newport Beach, California. Her gallery is one of the leading photography galleries in the U.S. that represents the works of leading contemporary and emerging photographers as well as vintage works by Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, Andre Kertesz and Ruth Bernard to name a few. Ms. Spiritus had quite a strong opinion with respect to editions. She is well aware of the impact digital printing has had on the fine art photography community and is comfortable with the fact that many of her contemporary photographers have embraced digital output. While digital prints have become the norm, she strictly adheres to a standard that an edition should not exceed 20-25 pieces cumulatively. In other words, if an image is printed in 2-3 different sizes, the total number of pieces should not exceed 20-25 pieces, and in some cases 15 pieces or less. This is non negotiable with respect to whom she represents. Ms. Spititus is not alone in her opinions ... most galleries that represent contemporary photographers have similar requirements on limited edition prints.
As collectors have become more savvy with respect to how photographs are imaged digitally, the process of editioning prints has become the norm. Again, if one wants to be either represented by a main stream gallery or have his or her work taken seriously, printing in editions is a must.
Many thanks to Susan Spititus for taking time to chat with me.