Where to sign a print? Where to write the legend?

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No doubt that this point should entail various points of view… But indeed, I need to have some final prints legended and signed and the question occured to me: I opted for the back, but I am in two minds about writing the date of the printing as well or not as the title, place and date. After all, this is a question of honesty! Also, if you print, say, 25 prints of the same negative, do you number each print (eg. 1/25, etc.)? At the end it gives you something looking like this : "Title. Place, date. Printing date. Number. Signature." Rather long, but complete!

Many thanks in advance for your contribution. Awsiya.

-- awsiya (awsiya@fnac.net), March 03, 2002


My only comment is that the 1/25 implies 25 TOTAL prints and that more will never be made. Some people fudge this and will print another series in a different size (i.e. 14x17 vs. 11x14), but that's misleading (IMHO).

-- Wayne DeWitt (wdewitt@snip.net), March 03, 2002.

Well the prints I have bought come in as many different ways as there are photogrpahers, so I will give you examples of how they come and you deicide. Some if not most of the alternative prints come with only a signature on the front of the print. The series and additional information is usually written on a box with preprinted information on the mat board....for example an ink seal with things like neg number, print number, title, process etc.

Some of the silver prints only come signed and with the date an print number on the MAT.....specially if the print is dry mounted. But again I have seen some where the front only has the signare and additional information is on the back on the mat.....NEVER put your info on the back of the photo itself, specially if you are using ink. at the most use part of the white border on the print to put your signature. I hope this helped and I am sure more knowledgeable people will add more to this info.

-- jorge gasteazoro (rossorabbit@hotmail.com), March 03, 2002.

I always put the information on the back of the print in ink. In my opinion, a signature does not look good on the visible part of the print, although a small penciled signature is sometimes okay on the front margin.

-- bliss (phi_glass@yahoo.com), March 03, 2002.

I sign my mount board on the front, and also the mat as the mount board is hidden. I sign the mat on the lower right hand corner, and the title is on the left hand lower corner. I hate print titles, but it is the only way to identify a print when someone orders one over the phone or wants a duplicate print as a present. I do not get into the numbering of prints. That is just a bunch of hype. People will buy your prints, numbered or not, if they are good. If you must number them, do as the artists do...after the signature, write 1 of 25. I put the date printed and date made on the back of the mount board and sign that also. Every photographer has his or her own method, but this works for me.


-- Doug Paramore (Dougmary@alaweb.com), March 03, 2002.

It looks like signing down in the corner on the back side should be alright. Numbers always seemed to be more for convenience in cataloging if you have a large number of prints, but not necessary for a small amount.

-- Steve Gangi (sgangi@hotmail.com), March 03, 2002.

If I were going to number my photos 1/25, 2/25, etc., I think that I would do this only on the photos that didn't come out very well. Why limit the good ones?

-- neil poulsen (neil.fg@att.net), March 04, 2002.

Limited editioning on prints (numbering) is expected by most collectors. They will pay more if they know there are only a few duplicate images out there. You would do well to decide on your maximum number and stick to it. (25 or 30 is good for average size, 5 or 10 for huge prints. As I recall, Michael Kenna's small prints end at 45.). Many dealers/artists escalate their prices as the numbers get higher (supply more scarce). A huge moneymaker like Sally Mann has two tracks; she prints a certain number of contact prints with one numbering track, and a certain number of enlargements on the other track. At each 5 or 10 sold, the price jumps up. This encourages people to buy the less expensive lower numbers of less popular images, or any images at the beginning of their availability.

It is a mistake to call the limiting of editions "hype" as it is a standard in the printmaking world.

Of course, you do not have to print them all at once.

Cheers,, Sandy

-- Sandy Sorlien (sand44@mindspring.com), March 04, 2002.


Its my opinion that numbering prints in photography is hype. Numbering prints implies an edition and in the printmaking world editions are printed at the same time. Often the edition's size limited by the matrix breaking down. The planned appreciation based on the number of prints sold also goes against what print colectors have been told for years, that the lower numbers of an edition are the most desireable because the matrix it the most intact at that size.


-- Ron McElroy (rnrmcelroy@aol.com), March 04, 2002.

Doug, Sandy and Ron are all correct and incorrect. Numbering is hype. Hype is the major constituent of marketing today. Photographers generally need to market to thrive. So be it.

-- Sal Santamaura (santamaura@earthlink.net), March 04, 2002.

Yes Sal. People like Michael Kenna, Sally Mann, ect. are in the bussiness of photography. They use the editioning of prints as a marketing strategy just like graphic printers do. It is their way of making a living and a collectors way of buying a commodity that has a built in value. Some don't like it but it works. After the print has been bought and is in the market place it rarely matters which number the print was when it was sold originally. The practice isn't new but is used much more now. In the days of Stigletz and Bresson photography was not as collectable as today and there was no benefit in numbering an edition. Today the market has been developed to the degree that numbering is an accepted part of the market. As a collector I value an image that will be limited in it's printing. Makes sense.

-- bigmac (james_mickelson@hotmail.com), March 04, 2002.

Just to clear up an error here, Michael Kenna does not use limited editions as a marketing strategy. He limits his prints to 45 with 5 proofs, as a way of forcing himself to continue producing new work. He wants the editions to sell out, so he doesn't get stuck printing the same images for his whole life, as AA did (AA spent a year of his life printing "Moonrise"). I know these things because he told me himself.

I personally am not in favor of limiting editions, because I want as many people as possible to own my work. Artificially inflating prices by limiting the editions goes against this desire for me, so my process is to number my prints but not limit the editions. So far I haven't run into the "Moonrise" problem (it'd be a nice problem to have though...!)

~chris jordan (Seattle)

-- chris jordan (cjordan@yarmuth.com), March 04, 2002.

If you have to force yourself to shoot new work then why do it at all?

speaking of A. Adams, he was against limited editions-feeling that this was not true to the medium, I agree.

It is hype. and thats the last thing that I would like to introduce to my work.

-- mark lindsey (mark@mark-lindsey.com), March 04, 2002.

The other side to the coin is that it might not be a question of forcing yourself to shoot new work, but being prevented from doing so by obligations to print old work. All of us are aware of the tyranny of the urgent over the important. I also don't know if limited editions are necessarily good ways to make money - a recent Photovision had an interview with Newman and he was commenting on how Adams and he would have never made money if they had limited editions of Moonrise and Stravisnsky. I can't see an easy answer to the issue. I guess one answer would be to be true to your working methods and yourself i.e., honesty with oneself, I guess. But since that is such a hard thing to do itself, that might be another can of worms. DJ

-- N Dhananjay (dhananjay-nayakankuppam@uiowa.edu), March 04, 2002.

Chris, just to clear up your error here, I didn't say Kenna uses numbering as a marketing strategy (though I'm sure his dealers appreciate it). I said he stops at 45. I was giving the original poster, Awsiya, some examples so s/he can decide how to number prints. I think DJ hits the nail on the head for most of us --- nothing could be more onerous than having to print the same damn thing over and over again. "The tyranny of the urgent over the important" -- brilliantly said. Personally, I wouldn't trade all the money AA made on his zillions of Moonrises for the chance to print a new image instead.

Regarding the origins of numbering, yes, in engraving (drypoint on metal, or woodcut) the plate or block gets progressively more squashed down in the press so the lowest numbers are most true to the artist's handiwork. That's not true of the photographic print, but it's also not true of lithography or serigraphy. It took photography a while to join the rest of the printmaking arts, but in my opinion that's where it belongs, if we are to become part of any sort of tradition or accepted standard when it comes to collecting.

-- Sandy Sorlien (sand44@mindspring.com), March 04, 2002.

In printmaking, limited editions are a real issue, because a plate, whether it be wood, copper, etc., is capable of making only a certain number of reproductions before image quality begins to decline. This is not true in photography.

Interestingly, Harrison Branch at Oregon State University shoots mostly in 8x10 and some in 11x14 and prints in platinum, and he reproduces only one contact print per negative.

-- neil poulsen (neil.fg@att.net), March 04, 2002.

Don't mind if I ask some questions because I never understood it. Hope it doesn't sidetrack too much from the original question.

Why can't the photographer get someone to make identical prints for sale, so that he can proceed to make new photographs. For the audience, it is a visual enjoyment of a beautiful image. Why does it matter who did the printing. Supply & demand thing, I once read. If photographs are going to become a commodity, need the photographer get involved in the physical process? His dealer/manager can manage that (probably better). If the photographer gets the business, will it affect his creative process? Will he lose his "assignment from within", mission?


-- Aaron (ngaaron@singnet.com.sg), March 04, 2002.

Sorry. "Gets into the business" and not "get the business".

-- Aaron (ngaaron@singnet.com.sg), March 04, 2002.

Aaron, You ask, Why does it matter who did the printing?

For some of us printing is a crucial part of the creative process. The process is not over when the negative is made. Some of us will never give that over to someone else. I could imagine having to have exceptionally large color prints made by another printer, simply because I do not have the equipment, but I would work closely with that person. That can be very time-consuming as well, and drains energy from making new images.

For others (Cindy Sherman, e.g.), printing is not part of their own vision and they can entrust it to competent others.

To a collector, an image printed by the artist is more valuable than one printed by a surrogate.

-- Sandy Sorlien (sand44@mindspring.com), March 05, 2002.

"It is a mistake to call the limiting of editions "hype" as it is a standard in the printmaking world."

It could easily be that the whole 'standard' is "hype". An artificial way of trying to assure price support while fooling many into believing much mediocre work has value due to an artificially induced scarcity.

"The other side to the coin is that it might not be a question of forcing yourself to shoot new work, but being prevented from doing so by obligations to print old work. All of us are aware of the tyranny of the urgent over the important." It is the photographer who decides this one. If you don't want to constantly reprint older work, don't do so. The decision may be financial, creative or to relieve yourself of the tedium of the darkroom. Whatever the reason, decide for yourself. Large editions of 100 and more (up to the thousands for some optimistic types) seldom get sold out. If you leave the numbers to the marketplace few of your images will ever sell in high numbers no matter how many copies you print. If you find yourself a slave to older work... just stop printing it. "Retire" the negative. If you do so with attendant advance publicity you may drive the price up and have one last printing session that has generated the money to further shoot new images.

"If I were going to number my photos 1/25, 2/25, etc., I think that I would do this only on the photos that didn't come out very well." If you have poor images numbering & editions doesn't even come into play as they should end up in the fine photographers best friend... the trashcan.

As to limiting print numbers. Most will be lucky to sell much of anything and this is not a problem. If it is, count yourself lucky & make the decision on print numbers, editions or whatever based on what you are comfortable with. Maybe something like a "Final 5" of an image, donated to a major charity that will hold a Charity Auction with the proceeds going directly to you with the understanding you will donate back some or all of it (tax breaks for you this way) as well as their getting one of the images. Everyone wins this way except those who don't get in on the bidding. But someday you will be gone & those same people still won't have your images.

We can only print so much of our own work. Doing so gives us the option of finessing a print as we go along. Maybe ligher, darker or a bit different with the passing years. Moonrise by AA is one of these with later prints looking much different than earlier prints. A one time limited edition shortly after he shot it would have deprived us all of the later more dramatic interpretations.

Marketing is a tough mistress. You are never sure, always guessing. Try what you will, if it works for you then go for it. But be a photographer with 'vision' in your images, not a Thomas Kinkade with a marketing formula of mediocrity for the masses.

-- (shooter@brigham.net), March 05, 2002.

Now, if you're really serious about the business of editioning, it seems to me you have to be willing to "cancel" the negative at the end of the run (unless, of course, you're holding out for another version, perhaps in another size or process...). Who's ready to take a hole punch to that precious negative? Seems to me that willingness to destroy one's own work in order to make it is emblematic of the degree to which photographers have had to put themselves in the hands of the art world to make a living, when they do. (Sounds a bit like Abraham and Isaac, put that way, and maybe it is.)

Walter Benjamin thought photography's revolutionary cachet lay in its extreme reproducibility. The old habit of open editions paid lip service to this ideal, though the point is well taken many "master" photographers had next to no market for their work. I love fine prints as well as the next bloke, but it's sobering to see the predicament we're in, in this art world photographers fought to enter.

-- Stephen Longmire (spyglasses@earthlink.net), March 05, 2002.

I thought when asking the question that it would entail a few answers, but not to that extent! I would like to add a few remarks to further the debate:

- If the photographer is also the printer, he could decide at a moment to print, say, 25 prints of a negative, to number them and to write the date of the printing. In this way, he or she could reprint in the future the same neg, but because the printing date would then be different, the various prints would have different money values: the first printing session being more valuable than the second, the second than the third, etc. It goes without saying that the value is merely from the collector's point of view. The numbering should perhaps not be used without the printing date, and vice versa?

- Also, the possibility for the photographer to have an image printed in series at different moments of his/her life allows the photographer to print differently. It is difficult to have the same result through one session, but to get the same result 10 years later is quite a task. Besides, we have all experienced that, our printing taste changes just like the pictures we take today are only possible because we took 10 years ago some images that we may not find as interesting today as we did in the past. This issue deals with the problem of reproductibility of photography: should a photograph look always the same, or could the photographer offer different prints of the same neg?

- If numbering were 'hype", what would be a vintage print then?

- Could it be that the numbering of prints is linked with the kind of images produced? Photographers whose style flirts with fine art (Witkin, Sarah Moon) number their prints, and I think Witkin even destroys the neg after he's completed the session. Understand that I am not saying that only creative photography should have numbered prints. But from these 2 examples, 2 people who don't say they are 'photographers" but that they use the photographic medium, we can observe the will to make a work, and not just to produce images. Could this approach (close to one of a painter) be the criterion for numbering.

For the sake of the debate, I hope these lines will further it. Awsiya.

-- awsiya (awsiya@fnac.net), March 05, 2002.

I suspect the collectors and dealers who benefit most from this system would hate the idea of numbering prints from each session. Without detailed knowledge of a photographer's work, who's to say how many prints are out there? That, after all, is the issue, from their point of view. Clearly it's quite different from the photographer's.

A "vintage" print, in practice, often means a print made before editioning was expected. So, early prints by many name photographers are uneditioned. Perversely, this often makes them more valuable, since no one knows how many prints are out there... This example should prove photographers have more leeway than they often realize.

Many photographers operatng in today's art world have chosen processes with built-in uniqueness--Polaroid, and even its grand- daddy,the Daugguereotype. Or "alternative" processes where no two prints are likely to be just the same. Which raises the point that an edition doesn't need to imply that all prints in the sequence be identical in every way. In many alternative processes, there would be inevitable shifts of tonality, etc. Seems to me a lot of this is about the tug-of-war between the hand and the machine made. Editioning as it's usually practiced means assembly line printing. If all the prints in an edition had slight differences, showing the touch of the printer's hand, I suspect dealers would find a way to ask more for them. But remember, although editioning may allow contemporary photographers to command higher prices for their work (even though many of those "editions" are never printed out), it's not the photographer who sees the most inflated prices this system allows. It's whoever resells those prints whose scarcity has been assured--the auctioneers, collectors and dealers of "vintage" prints.

It's easy to see why photographers not operating in this rarefied arena might prefer not to bother with it. It would be heartening to see more photographers bucking the editioning trend, since most of them are not likely to experience its benefits first hand. Unfortunately, it seems too many feel they must edition if their work is to be taken seriously. Their prints would remain more affordable to more potential buyers if they did thing things the old fashioned way and printed on demand, or as the spirit moves them. Epistle over.

-- Stephen Longmire (spyglasses@earthlink.net), March 05, 2002.

Chris, having just two weeks ago talked to Michael Kenna he in fact does limit his prints to 45 due to marketing. That is why print 45 sells for much more than print number one. The price increases as the edition sells. It is a good way of producing new work if you haven't the discipline but Michael uses the strategy of limiting the number of prints for marketing purposes. I feel it is an individual photographers own preferrence whether they number prints or not. I don't think it is arrogance. We all look at things differently and it isn't our bussiness if someone numbers their work or not. Someone calling someone else pretentious because they number their prints and print in editions is arrogant. James

-- bigmac (james_mickelson@hotmail.com), March 05, 2002.

But you are forgetting one point here Stephen. Photographers who sell their prints as a way to make a living are not in it to make their art affordable to the masses. They are doing it to make a living. Is this pretentious or egotistical? A vintage print usually denotes a print made before the 1960's and usually denotes the artist is deceased or no longer making prints. You seldom see a print made in the 1970's called a vintage print except prints from the estates of personages such as Robert Mapplethorp. As I said before, most prints made by photographers great and small before the 1060's were made not in editions but printed say 10 or even one print. And have been in the market place long enough to gain value based on who the artist was. How many Peppers are there printed by Edward Weston as opposed to Cole? The prints made by Cole are far less valuable than the few made by Edward. And that makes them vauable. There weren't that many Moonrises printed By Ansel but there are 100's printed by Ross. Those printed by Ansel are prohibitively expensive. Ruth Brenhard printed her early works but Michael Kenna printed her later works. Those known to have been printed by her are not affordable by us but those printed by Michael are affordable. Bernhard printed Stieglitz work in the 20's(30's?)

-- bigmac (james_mickelson@hotmail.com), March 05, 2002.

100's of moonrises printed by ross? where? when? what?

-- mark lindsey (mark@mark-lindsey.com), March 06, 2002.

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