numbering prints : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

At a recent art show I attended, a photographer was selling numbered prints on 11 x 14 paper but was also selling the same image printed on 8 x 10 paper which were also numbered. It did not seem ethical to sell one size numbered 1 of 50 (example) and another size of the same image numbered 1 of 50. Is this acceptable practice? Thanks, Jack

-- J. L. Frost (, July 15, 2000


J.L. Frost

This practice is done by many photographers, ethical or not. Numbering of prints seems to me to be a useless illusion.

-- Bill Smithe (, July 15, 2000.

J.L.: I do the art show circuit and the numbering of prints is a bunch of BS. often required by those who think by numbering the prints makes them seem more valuable and makes their art show a little more hoity-toity. As I said, it is a bunch of crap. It is a throwback to the days when prints of paintings were made by plates, and the first few plates were better than the later ones when they got kind of worn. With modern computer printing such as the Giclee process, print number 5,000 is just as good as print number one. In photography, print number 5,000 is apt to be better than number one, since the photographer gets better as he prints the neg. Actually, photography is still the step-child of the art world. Many who sponsor the art shows don't understand photography or the process, so we get hung up with the painter rules. There is nothing really wrong with what the photographer is doing with the numbering of his prints... he is just playing the system. Many artists and photographers number prints to fit a particular show. I try and avoid shows which require the numbering of photographs. So far, I haven't figured out which one is the original. Is it the proof, the first work print, or the final print when you get the image fine tuned? It's kind of ain't like when an artist does an oil painting and that is the original. I apoligize for getting on a soap box over a stupid process.

-- Doug Paramore (, July 15, 2000.


Numbering you prints usually implies that you have a limited edition. If that number is in thousands, it seems kind of senseless. If it is in the tens, then some buyers feel that they are obtaining some degree of exclusivity, and that increases the value from their perspective.

I've encountered artists who separately number various sizes and others who number the composition, regardless of the size. There are no rules, and as long as the buyer is informed, he or she can decide for themselves.

A few other observations: Some people who used to number their works, like Bruce Barnbaum, no longer do so. According to one gallery owner who represents his work, Barnbaum found that keeping track of the numbers was too much trouble.

Those that do keep track will often increase the price of the print after half of the dition has been sold, and then increase it again when 3/4 or so of the edition has sold. The success of this strategy depends on the nature of your buyers.

Many "fine art" photographers never sell enough copies of an image to close an edition. Is numbering a worthwhile exercise for them? It depends on the client, not the photographer. If sales were made because a buyer felt more comfortable purchasing a limited edition print that in purchasing an open edition, then limiting the edition made good business sense. And in the end, that's what this end of it is - a business.

Best wishes, Bruce

-- Bruce M. Herman (, July 15, 2000.

Sad to see isn't it?

The practice of editioning your prints comes from traditional Printmaking (Seriography, Etching and Lithography). Editioning is natural as the process is about reproduction and there are slight nuances in each print to make them unique (no two prints are identical). This is why editioned prints made by commercial offset printers have a false sense of worth. (this is also why Andy Warhol's later prints became so contraversial).

As part of the printing process, there are proofs being pulled until the desired print is acheived. The proofs are generally referred to as 'Artist Proofs' or 'a/p', these tend to be unique prints. Once the desired print is acheived, then an edition is selected. The difference between printmaking and photography is that, in traditional printmaking, only a certain amount of prints can be pulled as the printmaking process begins to deteriorate as the edition is being pulled. For example in Lithography, the image on the plate or stone begins to break down and only a few prints can be pulled. This is a limitation of the medium. In photography however, an "infinite" amount of prints can be made.

The ethics of editioning your prints is set by you. In order to maintain integrity in the art form, the edition should be limited to only one size of print. I beleive that an image is succesful and intended for only one size without altering the final visual effect. I belive that different sizes communicate differently. That being said, the final size should be determined before the edition is released. Experimental sizes or printing alterations of the image can be classified as artist proofs. Artist proofs are the natural outcome of the creative process. It is also expected.

It is unfortunate to see situations as you saw in the "art show". Editioning should not be a means to accomadate a price range for the viewer. I would not buy such prints, not for collection anyway.

I recommend that if you edition your prints, keep good records of your work. Keep at least one print for your archives.

Ultimately, if you play with your editions, sooner or later this will affect you sometime down the road. It all depends on the standards you place on your work I guess.

-- Dave Anton (, July 15, 2000.

As you have gathered Jack many here see the numbering of prints as a worthless exercise and I must agree. And this is coming from someone who used to number their work, usually in portfolios 1 to 50. However I now feel if someone wants your work they will buy it regardless if its a limited edition or not. Regards, Trevor.

-- Trevor Crone (, July 16, 2000.

Some photographers do editions of prints and then don't print anymore. Joel Witkin is one photographer who makes a limited run of prints of a photograph. There are other photographers who make limited runs and "cancel" the negative. I think in these situations, numbering the print makes sense as it truly is an edition.

I used to print lithographs professionally, and the policy of the shop was that we would never make more than 100 prints of a single piece. The institution running the shop felt that if more than 100 prints were made, it was not a "limited edition." The usual edition size was 50 to 75.

I have to laugh when I see works with xx/500. I saw one print done by a photographer with xx/1000 on it. I asked if he had printed a thousand of them and was told by his sales person, "no, that is the maximum amount he will make of that photograph." I had to walk away covering my mouth so as not to appear rude by laughing out loud at them.

-- (, July 17, 2000.

Ever notice in the Portfolios of Ansel Adams book that the prints were numbered with the additional statement that "no further prints would be made from these neagtives?" With some of his most famous work in those portfolios, I can just bet he didn't keep to that promise. He certainly printed Clearing Winter Storm again afer the 1940s.

-- E.L. (, July 17, 2000.

J.L. I number prints that I sell in editions of 50. Personally I think that numbering prints in an "edition" is egotistical !! However the prints that are numbered do sell. Whether the "limited" nature of the beast assists in the sale, I don't know ? As a photographer I feel somewhat "embarassed" when limiting a run of prints to a certain number, I feel that such priveliges should be left to the "greats". But for those people who purchase prints, and cannot afford the prices commanded by galleries, etc I provide an affordable alternative. IMHO I think that people buy numbered prints as a "sign" that they are purchasing something original, and nothing more. I make 2 sets of 25 prints in 2 sessions, each print is different from the next and for that reason is "individual", maybe this is a good an excuse as any for numbering ?? Regards Paul

-- paul owen (, July 17, 2000.

In Art we were taught that etched plates were numbered, and when the run was done, we were to score the plate. It broke my heart to score it. I always assumed that a run of 50 prints entailed scoring the Neg. Am I naive?


-- Dean Lastoria (, July 17, 2000.

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