Artist's Statement on Technology and Editions
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Transparency in artmaking is, I believe, important. This is especially true in a technology-based pursuit like photography — and doubly true when one offers one's work for sale. The following information — would it be too strong to refer to it as my credo? — is presented in the spirit of full transparency. In addition to my philosophy about technology in relation to my prints, it's important that any buyers/collectors know my thoughts on editioning, numbering and the nomenclature I use in my prints and folios.
None of us like to
eat crow, but we should also be smarter in these days of rapidly
changing technology than to ever say, "Never!"
years now, I’ve been a strong advocate of the virtues of gelatin
silver photographic prints. Until 2005, all of my prints have always
been fiberbase gelatin silver, archivally processed and toned in a
traditional wet-darkroom. Even as the publisher of the LensWork Special Editions and LensWork Folios I’ve used language
like "No inkjet compromises!" and "Nothing can replace the depth,
tonality or presence of fiberbase silver photographic paper." We
used such language to clarify that the LensWork Special Editions were not the “inferior inkjet prints” we feared people might assume
they were. Our mistake was thinking that the inkjet technology of
late 1990s was not going to evolve. Boy were we wrong!
About a year ago [this was written in 2005], we
started to receive submissions for LensWork from
technology-savvy readers that were prints from the latest inkjet
printers. Unlike the early inkjet technologies, we were astonished
by the quality of these latest generation images. Printed on
gorgeous, tactile matte paper, these images had a wonderful sense of
presence and a palpable texture that can only be approached by the
art papers of fine platinum/palladium printing or photogravures. We
were also amazed at the wonderful sense of continuous tone these
printers can create with their incredibly detailed picoliter drops
of pigmented ink. Habit made us skeptical, but in the face of the
undeniable evidence our curiosity was piqued.
Last fall I
purchased an Epson 4000 printer and started, like so many
photographers, experimenting to see what this tool could create.
Those of you who are familiar with this creative path already know
what I was just beginning to learn. Those of you who have not yet
explored these new tools are in for a surprise. Even though I’d seen
what others had done, I was still surprised when we began
printing images with which we were familiar.
As a test, we
started with Maureen’s image, (as in Maureen Gallagher, my
wife and co-editor of LensWork) titled Suspended,
which we had previously offered as part of the LensWork Special
Editions collection in both gelatin silver and photogravure. We
printed this image on the Epson 4000 using Hahnemuhle PhotoRag paper
and compared this print to three previous versions – her original
gelatin silver photograph, our LensWork Special Editions 425-line screen gelatin silver version, and the LensWork
photogravure from Russ Dodd. Each of these are lovely versions of
this image and each has its virtues. We showed these four prints to
several dozen people both in and out of photography to see which
they liked best. There was no contest. In side-by-side comparisons
the Epson print was everyone’s favorite – everyone. The Epson
print was more three dimensional, more tactile, had visually deeper
blacks, and felt more alive — and not by just a bit. It was
better by leaps and bounds. I cannot tell you, what a shock this was
to both of us traditional wet darkroom advocates.
Let me be specific
and precise. The four media are definitely not the same — each has
its own aesthetic feel. The paper bases are different.
"Black" in one media is not the same as "black" in another — at
least as measured with a densitometer. But, direct comparisons are
silly — as silly as comparing oil paints to watercolors, or
microbrews to soft drinks. Silver prints and platinum prints are
different and look different. The same can be said of glossy gelatin
silver papers compared to the textured, matte paper of inkjet
prints. Each medium has its unique virtues. It is futile, for
example, to try to make a photogravure look like a silver print just
as much as it is futile to make a silver print look like a platinum,
etc. It is far better to consider the virtues of each medium in its
But where simple
tonal comparisons are unfair, what can be compared is the
emotional content and the indefinable feel and quality of an image. We were proud of the gelatin silver and photogravure
special editions of Suspended. They are fine prints. But,
this image from the Epson 4000 gave me goose bumps — a reaction to a
mechanical print which I had not expected.
What had I
expected? I thought, just maybe, I might see an inkjet version of
this image that might not be too bad — a humble expectation
if ever there was one. I certainly did not expect to see the best version of this image I had ever seen! Needless to say, we were
encouraged. I’ve continued to experiment with other images to see
what can be created with this printer. I’ve learned a lot.
enthusiasm is tempered; inkjet prints are not the end-all and be-all
of photography — not by any means. Some images just look best in
gelatin silver. Some images look best in platinum/palladium. Some
images look best as pigment-on-paper inkjet prints. I suppose this
is no different than certain tunes that are best on a clarinet and
other tunes that are best on a hard-driven guitar or a church pipe
Nonetheless, I am a
convert — at least for my personal work. I am now offering inkjet
images — the correct terminology is actually "pigment-on-paper." I
refuse to call these giclée — a term I’ve always thought was meant
to disguise rather than to elucidate. Gelatin silver and platinum/palladium prints are so designated because they
indicate precisely the nature of the imaging chemistry and/or
substrate. Neither of these are defined as their mechanical means of
production — "projection prints" or "contact prints" although these
would both be technically accurate terms that are occasionally used
as supplemental descriptions. Similarly, "inkjet" is an accurate
term describing the mechanics of delivery used, but pigment-on-paper
describes the material — chemistry and substrate — and is a
better equivalent for comparison to "gelatin silver" or
Second, now more
than ever, it is the eye and skill of the artist that is most
important. All of us who have made traditional wet darkroom images
have known that some images worked best at a certain scale, others
seem appropriate for all sizes. Some images are best warm-tone,
others best selenium-toned, and still others seem equally
comfortable in any tone. These are individual and aesthetic
decisions and, to some degree, the measure of the artist is the
sensitivity with which they handle these decisions. This is more
true now than even, now that we have so many choices in the
production of images.
Some of my prints
are warm-tone, some neutral-tone, some cool-tone, and I even have
some that are split-tone. Some are a little larger, some smaller.
Some have text, some do not. My standard paper is Hahnemuhle Photo
Rag (308 gm/m2), or its close cousin, Hahnemuhle Photo Rag Bright White. I do occasionally choose a different
paper where it make a better print. Each image requires its own
find this an exciting time to be a photographer when we suddenly
have so many aesthetic choices at our disposal, so many means to
bring our creative vision to molecular reality.
For two reasons— both aesthetics and longevity — my pigment-on-paper images use
done in the wet darkroom all these years) only those materials that
create superb imagery with the best available state-of-the-art
archival materials and procedures. How long is archival? No one can
say for sure, but all sources seemed indicate that today’s
pigment-on-paper images are sufficiently archival to be enjoyed
without deterioration for your lifetime — at least. Tests by Wilhelm Imaging Research have shown Epson Ultrachrome
prints to have an anticipated life of a few dozen years in open,
unprotected display, more typically a hundred years or so when
framed under glass and longer when framed under UV protection glass
or acrylic, to over 300 years in dark storage. A lot depends on the
paper used and the conditions under which a print is stored,
handled, or exhibited. Is this long
enough? For museums, historians, or investors, maybe not. For lovers
of photography who want images to be a part of their everyday life,
probably so. Careful handling, proper presentation, and protection
from UV light sources (direct sun, for example) will help. I suppose we’ll know
the true and indisputable longevity for these prints in a few hundred years, but I can see no reason whatsoever to
avoid enjoying these prints in the next seventy-five to a hundred
years based on the fear that my great, great, great, great, great,
great, grandchildren might find them somewhat diminished. I know by
then that I will be somewhat diminished, so who am I to
honestly, I am less concerned about 100+ years from now than I am
about now and the more immediate future and enjoyment of my artwork.
My philosophy has always been that my prints are
meant to be enjoyed in everyday life and that collectible,
investment-type artwork is a separate class of commerce. I always
produce my prints to be as archival as possible — and maybe someday they will be
collectible or even good investments! — but their primary purpose is
to satisfy today. I hope years from now people still
enjoy them and I know that years from now they will still be capable of that because of the care I use in making them today.
I can unequivocally
say from my own experience that Epson Ultrachrome prints are stable,
waterproof, and, when properly printed, exhibit no color shift as
the light source changes — a troublesome effect known as metamerism or metachromatism that plagued early ink
prints. As this budding technology evolves and improves, so will my
procedures. Nonetheless, I am fully confident that even today's
state-of-the-art is sufficiently evolved to provide all of us with
assurance that today's pigment-on-paper prints will be enjoyed for a long
time to come.
technicalities aside, there is another way to look at this issue. If
I were a musician, I would hope that people play my records or CDs
so much that they wear them out rather than keep them protected for
long-term investments in a dark, temperature controlled vault for
future use. I feel the same way about my photographs. If they are
"worn out" by constant use and enjoyment and they enrich your life
during their life, I will be completely satisfied that they have served
their purpose. I hope to make art for you, not your banker, not your
investment counselor, not even your great grand children — their
generation will have their own artists to enjoy! If you are looking for investment quality, long-life artwork that will resist
the deterioration of elements, time, and use, try sculpture— preferably in titanium or other inert earth materials. Perhaps any
work on paper is not your best first choice.
I have been, for a
long time now, an advocate of the philosophy we use in the LensWork Special Editions, that is to say Fine Art Photography at Real
People Prices™. I believe this even more strongly in my personal
work. It is a simple and fundamental idea that photography is the
most democratic art and should be — deserves to be— affordable enough that everyone can own images and treasure them as
a part of their everyday life and experience. I applaud the
expensive and collectible artwork found in typical art galleries and
in no way exclude photography from this category. I do, however,
still believe there is a place for affordable images in the everyday
lives of all of us who love images. Because of my experience as the
publisher of the LensWork Special Editions, I am even more
dedicated to "real people prices" than ever before. Since 1998,
LensWork has sold over 20,000 gelatin silver prints about half of
which were less than $50. My philosophy about bringing photography
to a new level of affordability is not a theory; LensWork has
defined a new marketing paradigm which we are pleased that others
have chosen to follow. I carry this philosophy even farther with my
personal work. I create artwork because I love to. I sell artwork so
I can make room for more I am now creating. I am discouraged at the
thought that some people would love a work of art — particularly an
easily reproduced piece like photography — but would be separated
from it because of a barrier of price. I price my work so everyone
can buy as much as they are motivated to enjoy. If you are
interested, here are my original two articles about pricing that led
me to the ideas we used in the LensWork Special Editions.
About Editions and
photographers artificially limit the number of prints they will
produce from a given negative, offer numbered editions, offer
limited editions of a given size of print, destroy their
negatives, and many other silly games whose objective is to convince
you to buy their artwork and pay more for it. I don't. I won't.
Either you like and want to buy my work, or you shouldn't. I make it
available; I make it affordable; I then let the chips fall where
they may. I have written about this at length in an article
published in LensWork in this PDF file.
While it is
true that photography is not limited to a finite number of prints
from any given negative or digital file, I, however, am. Like all of
us, I have a limited amount of both time and energy. In that sense,
all artwork is limited simply because the art maker is. Such is life.
While I don't
limit my prints, I do know that a clear and precise provenance is
important to some people and may have historical importance long
after I am gone. All of my individual prints now specify the date of their
production, the source (negative or digital file), the precise
number of copies I made that day, and which is the number of this
print. Here is an example of that text. Folios are dated with the edition and printing information and numbered sequentially.
First Edition, First Printing will be three to five copies, sometimes as few as two,
on rare occasions as many as thirty.
Time marches, we change, our
creative vision does, too. It is not uncommon for me to see new ways
to interpret an old image. I am not opposed to improving an image
when I see a need to. Each time I fuss with the digital file,
usually to change it a bit to more closely match my creative vision,
I call this a new "edition." It's a different interpretation of the
raw data, so to speak — a new "performance" in Ansel Adams-speak.
Sometimes that might be a little tonal adjustment, sometimes a
contrast change, sometimes a dodge here or a burn there, sometimes
I'll crop something or digitally remove a bothersome spot,
occasionally I go all the way back to the negative and re-scan or
back to the original in-camera file and start over. In one way or
another, the new "edition" is a new artistic rendition of the image.
Contrary to the contemporary zeitgeist, therefore, the later
editions are the ones I would generally consider the more mature interpretation of the
image. There is a stampede these days toward "vintage prints," the rarity and value of which are supposed to be paramount. I respectfully disagree with this herd mentality. As an artist grows in maturity and sophistication, as their vision about an image ages with wisdom and insight, their later renditions are likely to be improvements. Probably. I tend to think my latest edition is the best one and my "vintage print" as simply that — an older one, but not necessarily a better one.
Having said that, additional editions may also be a result
The designation "Third
Edition, Second Printing" on an individual print would mean that this is the third time
I've worked this image from a creative (or technological) point of view and the second
time I've printed a batch of prints from this third rendition. The
print # is simply a count of how many prints I've made from that
digital file on that day. Print number, therefore, indicate how many were actually produced. (I've always cringed at the "limited edition" designation "4/250" supposedly indicating that this is the fourth of 250 prints, when we all know that in 99.99% of such photographs there were not 250 actually made. Again, see my article What Size is the Edition?)
Since I don't place an arbitrary limit on my prints, for purposes of provenance the only way to tell how many prints I've made in total would be to add up the number of prints made from all editions and all printings — something that unfortunately could only be done by examining my printing records.
Folios are numbered somewhat differently. The colophon page of each folio includes information about the edition and printing date. For folios, however, the # indicates the number of that folio regardless of edition. Folio #57 would indicate that I've have produced 56 folios before this one, but these may be different editions or printings. Again, since I do not print in limited editions, the only way to tell how many folios have been created in total (for example, after #57) would be to examine my printing records.
I produce and
sell my prints and folios on a first-come, first served basis. Orders are
filled in Edition/# order. Obviously, editions are not
reprinted except where identified as a later printing.
I also reserve
the right to withdraw from sale any image or folio at any time.
Final Word about Passion
photographers are wholly and exclusively dedicated to gelatin silver
materials and I applaud them. Others, myself included, find
ourselves comfortable using the new technologies. When all the
discussions of technology and media are exhausted, what remains is
our passion about images and how they so powerfully connect each of
us with life and each other. The debates over photographic media
will likely continue as long as photography evolves. Both in my
personal work and as the Editor of LensWork I have always had a
philosophy of siding with passionate imagery rather than
passion about technology. Whether in gelatin silver,
platinum/palladium, photogravure, or now pigment-on-paper, my hope
is that the artifacts I create are as compelling as the images are.
(Originally written in 2005, updated in 2008)