On Limited Editions

There’s a great discussion happening over on Brian Auer’s blog regarding Limited Edition Prints. What makes them limited, what makes them an edition, and what implications does that have in this digital age of reproduction. See also part II.

Personally, I like the idea of differentiating between a well made reproduction that was not made under my direct supervision and one that was. I’ve been planning to add some signed print sales to complement what I already do with imagekind. My line of thinking goes something like this:

imagekind makes fabulous archival prints that are well matted, mounted and framed (if you choose those options). Certainly I would not be selling through them if I felt they did anything less than a first rate job with that. And yet, those prints are not made directly by me, and I do not handle any part of the transaction, so I never have the chance to directly review the print, unless I order one myself (which I have done on several occasions). When I offer to sell a print directly, it will be printed by me on the papers I choose, and signed. I haven’t decided about whether to offer matting or not, but I suspect I will, because I think that can be important to buyers.

I was originally thinking, like Brian, that the personal prints would be limited editions. But I’m having a hard time coming to grips with the full meaning of that. Certainly, if you take the definition of “edition” as described in the referenced discussion, one should print all of the edition at once and keep the stock on hand. But I don’t ever see myself doing that. I would print orders on demand. That means if I upgrade to a different printer down the line I’m going to get a different kind of print. Probably subtle differences, but maybe not! Certainly those are different editions. In fact, if you print on demand, then every signed print is a new edition, really.

Similarly, in regards to the “limited” part, one could read that as saying that no more than N prints would be sold in a given size. It’s easy to say that one will sell only 50 11×14′s, for example. But how is the buyer to be certain that this print is truly part of a limited set? It’s just a promise, made by someone at a certain time. Suppose my children decide to sell my prints (not likely, but just humor me for the purpose of the discussion). I really don’t have much control over that given the tools for reproduction today, much less those of tomorrow. To me the “limited” part seems to be limiting me, artificially, to what I can do with that work in the future, and without any real benefit (or at least peace of mind) to any potential buyer of my work.

I’m still grinding through all this, but I sort of like the idea that the poster “Janne” put in the comments of the referenced discussion. Call it a “signed print”–pure and simple. No artificial limits, no promises that cannot be guaranteed. Just a signed print that was produced by the photographer directly. It seems to me that that sort of product is about as good of a basic value proposition as a photo buyer can get. They know the print is made by the artist to their exacting specifications, and the signature basically attests to “made and approved by” as well as possibly providing some historical or even tangible monetary value down the road, should the photographer ever enjoy some critical success.

And yes, the signed prints will be more expensive, simply because it costs me more time and money to produce and process them. That’s why the print swap is such a deal :-)

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