As a photographic artist, how do you handle print editions? There are a few options available for creating editions of your work and they can serve different goals. There are limited editions, open editions, and artist proofs. The production of multiples has its roots in the history of printmaking and the ability to reproduce several copies of the same image from a single plate. The edition developed when a printmaker artist designated the number of prints produced from a plate before it degraded and was destroyed.
Open Editions
An open edition refers to a photograph where the artist has not limited the number of prints of a particular image that will be created and available for sale. An example might be an artist that travels and sells their work at art fairs. This artist might make open editions of prints at various sizes, pricing each image at each size the same. In this case the advantage is that you are able to price the images less individually, but you can sell more of them and reach a wider market.
Limited Editions
A limited edition has a fixed number of prints in the edition and the number of prints available will not change. Each image in the edition is signed and numbered with the print number in the edition followed by the total size of the edition. For example: 1/20 (image #1 of 20 total images). Limited edition prints confer more value for each print, with that value increasing as the number of available prints goes down. (Print #2 of 20 will sell at a lower price than #19/20.) The knowledge that an image can only be produced and sold 20 times gives a collector confidence that the value of their investment will remain intact or go up over time. The smaller the edition, the higher the value of each print.
Artist Proofs
So, then what are Artist proofs? Originating as test prints made when producing an edition, artist proofs serve a few purposes in a print edition. It is common to designate a small percentage (10%) of the total number of images in an edition to be artist proofs. This means if your edition is 20 prints, you might produce 2 artist proofs. The number of artist proofs is outside of the number of prints in an edition. Designate as follows: “1/20 + 2 AP”. The artist proof gives you the ability to continue to display your work at shows or they can live in the personal collection of the artist.
Other considerations
A limited edition run of 20 photographic prints can be produced one at a time with the exact same quality and materials, or one at a time on-demand while still keeping the same quality. Some artists will keep with tradition and produce every image in an edition at the same size, mounting technique, etc. (all 20 images are 16”x20” printed with archival pigment ink on Hahnemuhle Photo Rag). Another option is to produce every image in an edition to suit the client, changing size or mounting with each image. As long as the artist doesn’t exceed the number of prints in the edition this is also a valid practice. Transparent discussion with your collector about what your methodology is in the production of prints in your edition is important.
As you can see, the world of photographic editions can be a bit tricky because there are so many different models for structuring your own editions. My best advice would be to try to be consistent, and most importantly, communicate with your gallery or collectors about your structure to avoid misunderstanding. In a future post I will tackle the ethics of editions in more detail.