My ideal is to achieve the ability to produce numberless prints from each negative,
prints all significantly alive, yet indistinguishably alike, and to be able to circulate them at
a price not higher than that of a popular magazine, or even a daily paper. To gain that ability there has
been no choice but to follow the road I have chosen.
— Alfred Stieglitz
Editioning is the practice of releasing a finite
quantity of numbered prints from a negative (or these days a file). Ask twenty photographers or
curators for a recommendation on editioning and you will get twenty different
answers. Frankly the whole area is a real dog's breakfast with no discernable
To my mind one of the great attributes
of photography is its ability to create relatively low cost original artworks
that everyone can afford to enjoy. Photography is fine art for the people,
and any attempt to artificially rarefy it is, in my opinion, at odds with
Rarefication will happen naturally anyhow for any number
of reasons. Photographers like to move on to new images and may simply
decide not to print older negatives. Vintage prints (those personally
printed by the photographer shortly after the creation of the negative)
are, almost by definition, limited. Photos of an unusually large or difficult
format will be limited for pragmatic reasons. It's simply not worth the
time and effort to make many.
In the digital world of course none of this applies, but for just about all of us
rarefication will naturally occur because, let's face it, we won't be selling 1000s
of prints. For the record, at the time of writing my best seller is at #128 and that's
been over 20+ years.
Some photographers advocate the destruction of negatives
after an edition has been printed. In my opinion the deliberate destruction
of a negative is simply barbaric. If you have to do this to inflate the
price of your images then they aren't worth the money anyhow. Rarity does
not equal quality as was illustrated to me recently while walking along
the lake near my home. I noticed an unusually shaped duck turd. By all
visual criteria this duck turd was unique. There were (presumably) no
others like it in the world and never will be. But it was still a duck
turd. Its rarity added no value.
Brett Weston burned all but a handful of his negatives
when he reached the age of 80. "No one can print another photographer's
negatives. It's just too personal. There are infinite choices to make..."
he said. I can't agree with his actions but I can go along with the sentiment
behind them. He didn't burn his negatives to rarify existing prints and
make more money. He believed that no-one else could interpret his negatives
as he would and that there were already enough prints in existance to
show posterity what he had done.
Another method used by photographers is that of increasing
the cost of an image as more are sold. This effectively limits the number
printed as, presumably, they will eventually reach a price that nobody
will pay. It may also encourage prospective purchasers to buy now rather
This technique does appeal to me but I think the administration
may be to much. For example if #10 is for sale at gallery A and #20 at
gallery B you are effectively selling the same thing for different prices.
Is the onus on the photographer to advise buyers where the cheapest version
is currently displayed?
That said, I no longer sell in galleries and probably never will again, so this
approach would work for me.
One can also follow the path of not limiting your prints
in general but produce portfolios occasionally that are limited editions.
Once again I guess there's no more justification for limiting a portfolio
that there is for limiting prints. One difference though is that portfolios
are usually printed in one session (maybe over several days or weeks)
and the photographer is so sick of the project by the end that he will
not return to it. After viewing the resultant prints it may be possible
to make up, say, 35 portfolios of which the photographer may keep five
and release 30.
This last scenario is the one that currently appeals
to me the most. But hey, as I said at the start, there are no rules.
Limiting editions is marketing game, it has nothing to do with the quality of an image or
any prints made from it. To be fair it's a marketing game that does appear to work for some
photographers, Ken Duncan and Peter Lik spring to mind. But I've never been any good at marketing
and it's a model I can't follow.
It's up to you to decide whether you will limit your
images but in parting think of this. Limiting and asking for high prices
may make some sales to a few wealthy art collectors (and I say "may")
whereas being more reasonably priced should see your photos hung in hundreds
of houses and offices throughout the world.
Assuming that money is not the driving force behind your photography
(if it was you would not be photographing landscapes)
then surely the second option is preferable.