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Saturday, 21 May 2011


Heck yeah! The Art world is frankly insane, and whatever implied contract there may be re: editions, there was nothing between the artist and the idiot that just paid over 3 million to someone else for the artist's work. There is an assumed risk with art, that it's value is only worth what you think it's worth, and what you can convince someone else of. So a new series of one-off editions, at 1-3 million apiece? Sure - seriously, anyone that's willing to waste 3 million on a picture, painting, etc., bluntly, deserves whatever they get.

*Yes, yes, i know, but seriously, yall - how many college tuitions is 3 million? How many schools in countries that can't afford them. How many vaccinations, lunches, etc? Eat the rich!:):P

Why should a young photographer, just starting out, be held hostage by a system that benefits everyone but the originator of the art? A system we are all told as we start out is the only way we will make it in the art world, a system that does not serve photographers well at all.
I would without hesitation make new copies, and I would have historic president on my side. Ansel Adams left many of his negatives for future generations to work with because he knew future technologies would allow interpretations that may actually be better. Those same 30 year old negatives can now be realized in a way that may in fact be closer to your original intent, or reinterpreted in a fresher more complete and mature way.
So we as the creators would let that slip away because of some arcane business plan? No I created it, I brought it to life, I get to choose its fate, period.
We talk of ethics and morals, but whose? Certainly not the artists. If you want to talk about honesty and ethics then what about your obligation to the image? What responsibility do you have to your art? Is your responsibility to do what gallery owners and collectors tell you is right? Right for whom? Certainly not the artist, but definitely the gallery owners and collectors.
I think it is time we think as independent creators not lackeys for or of the system.

Steve Mason

There is another way that the original artist can benefit from subsequent increase in the value of a print: a service plan. If the original print is damaged (or when it fades), the artist (or heir) makes a replacement print (using the best available technology at the time). It may not be nearly as lucrative as a "secret" print, but everything would be out in the open. I propose a fee comparable to the auction house's.

The holders of the other original prints may have a legitimate objection, but you could offer them a similar deal. It should save them on insurance costs.

Yes, then I would contact 5 other prospective purchasers on different continents and print ten more (5 for 20 years hence which are passed off as the missing originals: 5 of which may well have been destroyed when news got out of my duplicity). I would at some point skip the country.
Well, that's what would be in the film version.
The reality may be that I become a discredited nervous wreck for a few years after printing the first. Gradually the experience would help re-invent my persona as an artist, producing dark and gritty work touching the chords of ultimate bleakness in Western attitudes to blah, blah, blah. . After a while I would be commissioned for more work as the notorious anti-establishment artist by a new breed of greedy bastards. That would be in the second biopic.

I would not do it myself.

But just for argument sake. There are moral, marketing and legal issue.

Legal first. What is the contract involved when you set the limit? Any loophole e.g. it only applies to US, it does not apply to charity sales, ... etc. Get a lawyer to check this.

Assume no loophole, then is it criminal or civil. If criminal, I propose you stop. But if it is only civil, you may want to see the cost and benefit to this. $3million US dollars is quite a bit of money to get you some protection. If it is 3000 dollars, not sure you should risk it. You know what the last Finanical crisis taught us that whilst some are caught, many are free.

Marking issue is whether you care about the future of your limited picture sales from now on. Things comes out, always, especially if you talk about the guys who buy it really does not know by you. This kind of market is small. You may destroy the limit market you still have. Hence, ensure you get the money first (50% deposit).

Moral issue is actually easy. You can say to yourselves that real artist has nothing to do with moral. I meant those artists who do art for art's sake. A lot of not so nice character has been very successfully as artist. You do not want them to be partner or even friend. But well now you are now one of the those not-so-nice character. You should be honest and not allow anyone from now on to put you on the moral high ground. Stick to your gun and be an artist. After all, you are not photoshopping etc. you work a bit and then print it. You have not lied that you print some other people's negatives and claim it as theirs. You have to say to the buyer that it is an old print (forget the phrase about that it is printed w/i certain time of taking the photos). As long as you do not lie art wise, you have not lied to the your ART.

In fact, a lot of artistic creation and artistic is not treated as moral or legal in a society, especially in the society at the time the artist live.

You are an artist, truth to you art is only thing you care. Others are not that important (well may be in jail but ...)! You should not consider yourself as a moral sample other people exhibit. 100 years from now, guess what, if you are picture is good (like Picasso and Van Gugo), who care you lie about limitation. We want your real artistic picture, full stop.

Luckily, never thought I am an artist to fact to this dilemma.

Ok! Just in case, the above view does not represent my or my company's view :-) just a silly comment on other people's blog on a view I do not share. You should not follow this advice. It is bad. (Not want to be a partner in any crime or any civil case, you know.)

I'm reminded of a (somewhat famous) photographer who said that the negative is the score and the print is the performance.

Given your 25+ additional years of life, would the print not be different due to your experience and possibly noticeably so (i.e. a very different performance?)

Adams' print were different at different stages in life.

If so, are you really competing with the original prints? Or are the a different thing entirely.

I agree with the first comment, print them on a different size / make them obviously different from the originals. That way you are not in fact competing with what folks bought early on.

From what I see, you still own the rights to the negative. So while you may have numbered the first run, you gave up no rights to the image.

In fact, I realize that I'm coming in rather late at the comments, but what if the image was not for a private collector, but instead for a, very public, advertising campaign? Same dollar amounts say. And you own the negative.

What changes?

One of the best TOP posts ever!


And a timed-release contract? Stating I limit myself to printing only 5 copies every 20 years?
Antway, if a bootleg copy can get you that amount of money, I'm pretty sure there must be some way of getting some of it while avoiding making a new print.
Still, I don't see a correlation between the value of the obligation undertaken by the artist when making the first prints, and the yield such obligation still produces for the latest owner. The artist should get a percentage because he's still obeying the original pact, which in turn is what makes the limited prints valuable.

No moral dilemma at all unless there was initially a contractual agreement that specified that there was only ever to be one sole edition of ten in any size, and or that the neg was to be destroyed.
Scarcity based on editions and certificates of authenticity are essentially modern revisionist fictions at least as applied to photography by living photographers.

I don't know what I would do. But after thinking about it and reading many comments, a few thoughts occur to me, which I'll bundle into one comment:

My ultimate thought first: If the buyer and artist want the transaction so much, they should take some of that money and challenge the editioning agreement, perhaps even the practice, in court and out in the open. That would be the ethical thing to do.

Intending a definitive edition of a photograph, in a morally and legally binding sense, without then destroying the negative (or file), is silly and probably unethical. What's the negative for, then, except to cause problems later?

For a commodity that can be mechanically reproduced with consistent quality, the logical course and common practice, outside the art and luxury worlds, is to make multiple limited editions, as warranted by market demands, and aesthetic or technological progress. As has been pointed out, photographic prints are more like recorded music than like paintings.

One possible solution: The market already distinguishes both vintage prints and artist's prints as more valuable commodities than later prints or prints made by others, regardless of technical or aesthetic quality. According to the market's own logic, an edition made by another printer, years later, with the artist collecting a fee or royalty on each, should not devalue the original edition, and if it doesn't violate the purpose of the editioning, is it unethical?

IMO, artificially limiting the supply of something producible in practically limitless quantity solely out of greed is unethical in the first place. Is violating an unethical agreement unethical?

If I don't own a proof for my personal enjoyment, how much can I like the print? Might as well sell the negative.

I do believe that someone above said something on the lines that their integrity was priceless. Well, so's my left testicle, but if the offer's right, the little chap's gone.

I guess I did answer the question after all. To clarify: I would ask the buyer to finance a suit seeking a preliminary injunction against anyone suing me for selling a new proof. It's probably the only way I could proceed with a completely clear conscience, and with ass covered. Ideally, the suit may benefit others by more clearly defining the legal ground rules for art prints and speculative collection.

I'm not a lawyer, but in a slightly different context, wouldn't editioning agreements be considered market collusion, perhaps even racketeering?

If one of your photographs has just sold for $3.8 million, there are a lot of ways to cash in on that in the marketplace that don't involve debasing one's currency. I don't think Cindy Sherman is hurting for cash right now.

This isn't my world, and I don't know the rules and principles of this world. The hypothetical artist presumably knows them rather better, so that's good.

I'm unclear on one thing. Am I being asked to essentially forge a vintage Artist's Proof of my own work? Or can I fulfill the request by starting a new edition? The second, I would do instantly and happily.

Your description says I have to make "a" print, and mark it "A/P"; but does not say if I date it, or what date I use, or what size the print is. If I could satisfy the request by making a new print in the original size, marked A/P, with a current date, I would do that instantly and happily. With no date, I'm not absolutely sure. Did I date any previous A/P I made?

Everybody is forgetting that you pay taxes on these 1-3 million dollar payments before you can invest them. On the other hand, investing at that level you ought to be able to earn better than 10%. On the third hand, for the long haul, you have to sock away some of your investment income, to increase your capital enough to keep up with inflation. On the fourth hand, you might be better off buying an annuity. I don't know what kind of rates you can get doing that today.

I have ethical objections to limiting editions of photographic prints, and even more of inkjet prints, anyway. I view it as a scam aimed at unwary buyers. This view probably comes from looking at the art business at much lower levels -- SF convention art shows and outdoor "art fairs" mostly.

Depends on whatever contracts I signed on the original edition. If I gave my word that there would be no differently-sized editions or artists' proofs, fear of litigation (there's no such thing as a secret, much less a secret work of art) would probably keep me from printing. If my contracts provided an out, I'd find a way.

I feel no particular obligation to protect the value of the 3 million dollar auctioned work. I didn't sell that original print with the promise it would ever increase in value.

It depends...

With best regards,


would the art world even go into an uproar over the artist breaking a contract to basically get $50,000 a year?

This is not about selling prints but does get to the heart of this moral dillema quite neatly.

Larry Hagman made a short commercial for the tv series "Dallas", looked directly into the camera with a big smile on his face and said:

"People ask me how can I be so bad but you know once you give up integrity the rest is easy".

The answer is easy - no.

The question this raises for me though is, why wouldn't an intelligent collector with that amount of financial clout just commission a new work of the artist? By this I don't mean pay the artist to produce an image closely resembling the work described in this scenario, but a kind of old-style patronage - if the collector is serious and really appreciates the artist's work, why not finance some actual creation rather than just buy in and out of existing work?

Has anyone added up votes for/against? I'm very interested in seeing the results (but too lazy to count myself).

Given the artist's hypothetical situation, I for one would do it in a heartbeat! As the last likely chance for a major payday, and the promise of a happy retirement... I guess morality should not be relative, but thats a lot easier to say when there isn't $3M on the line, and a sort of justifiable out (A/P'ing the photo).

Yes: If I'm wealthy
NO: If I'm poor

Ethics? Just look in to how the fine art brokers/dealers operate ;-)

looking at my present bank account... I would have to do it several times to break even!

If you saved the negative, you were planning for this kind of situation - so there is no question that you will make more prints. If you included a piece of the negative with each print (and also kept a piece for yourself) then all owners and you could be assured that the original run was a truly limited edition.

I would make a reprint of the exact same size and quality as the first ten. I would sign it exactly the same as the first ten and I would number it as number "11 of 10". If anyone questioned me I would remind them that I am the artist and I can do as I damned well please.

Fascinating that for some, the price tag changes the ethics. You wouldn't do it for $300 but you would for $3 million? George Bernard Shaw's old joke says "of course you're a prostitute, we just established that. Now we are just haggling about the price"

A deal, is a deal. Business is Business.
My word is the only thing that matters.
Wouldn't do it, but would go to bed crying my heart out for many nights.


And the fictional moral to the hyopthetical question is: always print make your runs 5 more than you were going to, and then hold those 5 back to make sales on in the future, plus your artists proofs of course ;-)

Limiting editions seems nutty in a world where each new generation of inkjet printer does a better job that the previous one. Seems risky to limit yourself to not making a better print in the future.

There is some talk of legal obligation in these responses. That depends, it seems to me, on the sales contract between buyers of the limited run and the seller. If the selling parties (artist/gallery/joint) made a promise to NEVER make another print of any kind, well that's pretty clear-cut. But if they promised to never make another print with that technology in that size, that's a different story. We're making assumptions about legalities but it's all guesswork based on a contract that we know nothing about, but it's interesting anyway because it may give people an idea about how to write such contracts.

You could have a limited Epson 9991 run, a limited edition 9992 run. How about a limited edition based on the firmware version in the printer?

Ab-su-freakin-lutely. I'd sell body parts for less, and they cant be created out of my hypothetical mad-lab in the pantry.

Of course, I'd have said to hell with the ten limit anyway and re-issued another set.

I haven't seen anybody suggest that the price tag changes the ethics. I've seen people admit that the price tag would change their behavior. Very different statements!

I'm solidly in the camp that can be bought. I'm just rather expensive. Black-and-white ethical distinctions are an expensive luxury. Beyond a few million dollars, I feel I can't afford them.

(And none of the versions of that story I've seen so far have been right; the punch line you have to work towards is "We've settled that. We're haggling over the price.")

I think the whole "No one will ever trust you again!" argument is specious from a financial standpoint. If you're 53 and have $4 million in the bank, you're what they'd call "Set For Life." If it becomes clear that you'll never earn another dime as a photographer, then move out of Manhattan to somewhere more sensible and live the next few decades in a retirement more comfortable than most people are ever lucky enough to achieve.

That said, the legal issues, even if you employ a dodge like the "A/P" or a different size or whatnot, are likely to be nontrivial.

As for the moral issue, I can see both sides. Breaking the contract with the buyers (in letter or spirit) that is implied by offering a limited edition is highly distasteful to me. On the other hand, I wouldn't exactly be crying into my beer every night about devaluing the expensive bauble of someone with a gross excess of disposable income.

My only certainty regarding my own decision is that I will never be asked to make a choice even remotely like it.

first, the art world does not work with a legal contract, for editions or selling, which is all by word. then the legal points raised above are moot. maybe today there is a legal contract, but was it back then?

there is something about living with consequences that seems important to me, so I would not break the edition. however, I would still sell a new print.

I will approach the losing bidder, and say: "I will not print the exact copy, on account of time passed and I cannot get the same look. however, I will sell you 1 print, and give you rights to the other 2, of a new edition 3 of the same negative as I deem to process it today. I will sell you the new print for $2.5M. the first print. if you decide later, the price goes up with each print sold for the other two." (this new edition could entail scanning the negative, and blowing up the printed size, provided it still meets a Q&A set by me.)

subsequent to this reprinting, I would stipulate that the negative is donated to an entity that would store it away, and cannot make any other prints while I am alive.

given that the provenance of a photo, such as the year of printing, goes into the value, little or no harm is being caused to the original edition. by making a smaller edition, of 3 (plus an A/P for me), I am making it available for people that own the original to get in on the new edition at a sure-to-be lower than market price — just not immediately so.

the ever shifting workings of the art market, and the photo not being of value, but more like a rare stock certificate with the provenance and photographer as the value, then this approach is being sensible to all parties, without any of them winning.

This post should have a poll...

I thought about doing limited prints for years. (Not sure that anyone would buy them anyway;)) This moral question has made me think of another moral question. What if print 15,sell 13 and keep 2 for myself for a later sale date? Think of it as a savings account, costs you almost nothing to do it and could pay off big later.

Wow, where to start...

Those complaining about editioning are forgetting that it DOES benefit the artist, as sale prices are higher. I agree that it is artificial, but it is a natural function of the art market. It's not a fraud because it is openly disclosed and a part of the deal--not like selling a new print of a closed edition! I've always editioned my work (and my gallery has had some input, but it's been my final decision--not that I've sold out any of them!). So it's not like the big bad gallery is exploiting the artist, I get half of a larger piece of pie.

The artist proof workaround seems ethically dubious at best but the best way to go forward with the sale, if you were so inclined. But as someone mentioned: just sell the damn negative a be done with it.

And for those saying it was just a bad decision all those years ago and you are just now making a good one: Too bad! Would you say the same thing about marriage?

The real crime is getting basically nothing as an artist donating works to auction and at tax time

As many have said, your integrity shouldn't be for sale

"What if [I] print 15,sell 13 and keep 2 for myself for a later sale date? Think of it as a savings account, costs you almost nothing to do it and could pay off big later."

I don't think anyone could have an objection to this. People do it all the time.


The point of this gedankenexperiment is lost, since one has to be in the position to make that decision. 3M$ is such an abstract ammount of money for me that I could say yes,no,kerplunk or dfqwt2qnapsov and be absolutely correct.
So, to tell the truth, if the time comes and I am faced with such dilemma, I have no idea what my decision would be, and what would the reasons be.

This has happened to me several times in the past year alone. Well, maybe not several times, but at least twice. Once. OK, it's never happened yet, but that doesn't stop me from shooting every day.
Livin' the dream!

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