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Saturday, 30 March 2013


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Although I'm a committed photographer - I sometimes wish there were more people working and getting shows in traditional mimetic art. One photo show after another is boring the hell out of me

Eggleston (and the judge) may have just flattened the high end art market. Great paintings sell for a lot because they are unique; photographers have synthesized "uniqueness" by spreading it out among a numbered series...or even a "one of one" declaration. When Eggleston was allowed to get away with a resale of the content/image (forget how its printed), it sets a standard of uniqueness being transitory...and that will lower prices. Anyone paying big bucks in the future will probably require a contract from the photographer eschewing the right to the image content in the future, and blocking any sale of rights, etc. Investors don't pay millions unless they get to OWN the content.


In the image of Eggleston I just assumed he was holding a cable release in his left hand.

Is it possible that in your searching you are reading credits as captions?

"He's wrong about one thing, though—he claimed that the sale of the newer inkjet prints diluted the value of his holdings. Unlikely, in our humble opinion."

You're right on that. Curators and collectors with whom I've casually chatted on this subject agree that the value of Eggleston's best dye transfer prints will, at least, be unaffected and perhaps measurably strengthen as a result of this other work.

Photo by Maude Schuyler Clay, according to this post...


Or perhaps Langdon Clay, her husband, according to their website...


Making "limited edition" photographs is a marketing pretense that doesn't have the kind of real-world basis it does for other print forms such as woodcut or copper plates, which degrade in quality with use. So, bad for Eggleston selling his work that way, though of course he's entitled to, and bad for Sobel to spend his money that way, though he is, as well. The judge was right to stay out of the whole spat.

Maude Schuyler Clay took the portait, according to this source:


Google Image search to the rescue!

I know!! If you are a "art" photographer you are required to use a "one off" process that allows only one copy of a image, if you produce more than one copy of a image, you are no longer a "art" photographer and have to go to the back of the line.




Maud Schuyler Clay (she was once Bill's assistent). Google meet Mike, Mike meet Google (and go play nicely now). Search terms "William Eggleston Leica". Then Pictures (afbeeldingen in Dutch).

Greets, Ed..

Dear Mike,

I commented on this case last year, but can't find my notes. Here goes again.

First off, the case is not over. Sobel is looking at other venues in which to pursue this. Mind you, I think that if he lost in New York, which has amongst the toughest limited edition laws, he won't be more successful elsewhere, but that's just handicapping, not a solid prediction.

I'm not really sure what Sobel is up to. On the face of it. I can't see him winning this except by redefining the whole playing field, to define a limited edition as a single, well-defined printing run of an artistic work, done within a limited time period. Which, logically, is a perfectly reasonable definition, but doesn't come close to corresponding with historical practice for any printing method. If you were starting from scratch, it'd be a nice clean definition. But you're not, and prevailing historical practice counts for a lot in these kinds of suits, because they resolve on expectations.

That said, I can't figure out how Sobel is going to lose money. The new prints sold for a lot more than his. They are not in a medium that is valued more highly by collectors (yet) than dye transfer. Size is less important in collectability than people realize. Big prints are usually worth a lot more because they are far less common, not because they're bigger. And sometimes, they have been worth less because they've been printed more poorly (not an issue with inkjet, but a big one in the darkroom).

In this specific case, I look to my experience with Jim Marshall's work. His signed dye transfer prints sell for MUCH higher prices than signed inkjet prints. The inkjet prints are bigger. They are **MUCH** rarer-- most exist in quantities of exactly two, one owned by the estate and one by me -- with impeccable provenance. In the majority of cases the inkjet prints are aesthetically better by pretty much every criterion one can muster. But the dye transfers have an irresistible, irrational cache for collectors that inkjets don't.

So, I'm not really sure what Sobel's game goal is, unless it is to get a complete redefining.

pax / Ctein
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com

I really don't care what the judge or anybody else says, what Eggleston did may be legal, but I still think it is unethical.

I don't see why only the artist faces restrictions whereas the collector never does. In a fairer world the collector would -for example- not be permitted to resale a 'one off'.

Limited editions of a media like photography are no more than a scam to inflate prices and serve none of the purposes such limitations have in other printmaking processes. It also precludes future printing that may take advantage of improved technologies.

An unlimited edition, numbered, if you want, is more honest. Then a purchaser at least knows where in line her print stands.

Whichever route one goes, just be honest about it to the purchaser and don't weasel around it by saying "But it's two inches larger! It's a new edition!" or some variation.

I believe Maude is his cousin.

I worry that a previous poster may be right in terms of the effect on the market (not that I am a player). It certainly puts a chill on any collecting aspirations that I may have had. My concern is that the circumstances of these transactions create certain expectations on the part of the buyer. Is anybody prepared to argue that using the words "limited edition" aren't intended to lead the buyer to think that value is being created or enhanced? They are certainly not intended as a description of the technical limitations inherent in the reproductive technique - I hear that suggestion, but that seems to me a "sharp" interpretation. If I tell a buyer that she is buying a limited edition, I am saying that the value of the piece is being enhanced by self-imposed restrictions on the number of further iterations of the piece. Let's just rest there for a moment - Ms Buyer, you aren't just buying this print, you are buying a "limited edition" print. This isn't a technical discussion, it is a discussion about what the parties are communicating to each other, what expectations are reasonably being created, and how far the courts will protect them.

OK, the buyer has acquired some interest by way of limitation on the number of reproductions that follow - what is that limitation? Here is where the art of the decision comes in, as the court tries to determine what common understanding (if any) existed as to the extent of the restriction. Maybe people feel that the end points of the discussion are easy (they rarely are). What if a future version simply changed the colour of the ink? was printed on a T-shirt? had a very slight alteration in content? It's a mine field, and I don't suggest that the judge has an easy task - but I disagree that the judge is wise to stay out of it, she has to wade into these thickets. Why? Because we have to remember that the buyer of the print gave value for something here. Unless we say that the buyer would have paid $250,000 in the ABSENCE of the words "limited edition", then we have to acknowledge that there was an exchange of values here. The court has no choice but to wade in and figure out precisely what the buyer got for whatever "extra" was comprised in that $250,000 - the "extra" that arose because of those words, "limited edition".

I have quite a bit of sympathy for the plaintiff here - although maybe the case presented itself to the court in a less sympathetic light, resulting in the surprising decision. Having purchased what could loosely be called a large print of the work labeled as a limited edition, I would be pretty miffed if I saw another large print that had the so-called distinction of (i) being larger, and (ii) having been reproduced digitally. Was it OK because it was "a lot" larger? What if it had been smaller? (in this age of "bigger is better", do smaller editions get a free pass?) As to being printed digitally, can't everything be digitized in some way? What distinction lies in that?

Hard facts make bad law, and it may be that the judge simply felt that the right decision here was to rule against the plaintiff for reasons not apparent from this brief report (and being a lawyer I am well aware that in the end judges decide where they want to end up and then figure out how to get there). However. the first thing that popped into my mind was the famous Monty Python skit where the man tries to collect on his insurance, and the agent says "sorry, but you chose our 'no pay' policy".

Here in Laguna Beach we have the Festival of Art. Photographers who get in must number the prints with a limited set. My suggestion is to issue a limited run of one-million. Seemed fair to me.

I agree with you on the value of the older prints. If anything they should increase in value.

We all know that digital prints are just junk and not worth the value of the paper and ink.

Don't we?

PS: With the success of digital photography the Festival of Art has now taken a dim view of photography as an art.

Being an 'art collector' myself, admittedly at a very modest level*, I still do not understand any print being valued at $250,000 much less $578,500.00
Must be the difference between being one of the 99% as compared to the 1%.
* the most I have paid for a print is $125. I enjoy supporting fellow photographers to the extent one of my purchases pays for a small percentage of supplies and equipment. My available wall space was filled 40 years ago and storing art in a closet doesn't do anything for me. I currently have approx. 70 photographs and 20 lithographs hanging on my walls.

"Eggleston (and the judge) may have just flattened the high end art market. Great paintings sell for a lot because they are unique; photographers have synthesized "uniqueness" by spreading it out among a numbered series...or even a "one of one" declaration. When Eggleston was allowed to get away with a resale of the content/image (forget how its printed), it sets a standard of uniqueness being transitory...and that will lower prices. Anyone paying big bucks in the future will probably require a contract from the photographer eschewing the right to the image content in the future, and blocking any sale of rights, etc. Investors don't pay millions unless they get to OWN the content."

Forget how it's printed? Really?

It's larger. Different process. Likely different media too. These are in the nature of photography, and have a critical influence on the experience of the photograph. A purchaser who doesn't understand this, and what it might mean for future runs, doesn't understand photography.

He was not buying a painting. Or a sculpture.

Said Stephen McCullough...
"He was not buying a painting. Or a sculpture."

I suggest studying the history of sculpture and the notion of editions, different sizes and/or materials, etc.

My little three year old daughter could have taken the photo of the tricycle. O, wait, I have no daughter.

[As long as she's imaginary, you can imagine her getting $578,500 for an inkjet print of it, too. --Mike]

I actually had an art professor tell me once that "if you make one it's art but if you make a second one it's craft". I'm not sure how he'd relate that to "The Scream" or any number of other works that exist in multiples.

From wikipedia, "The doctrine of promissory estoppel prevents one party from withdrawing a promise made to a second party if the latter has reasonably relied on that promise." Under the common understanding of what a photograph is then Sobel (IMHO) doesn't have a leg to stand on unless he can produce an undertaking never to reproduce the work again as a print. Would Sobel feel hard done by if the photo had been reproduced in a book?

Please correct me if I'm wrong, but ii have once heard that in print making the artist is supposed to destroy the original after the prints are prepared. For example by punching holes on the zinc plate etc.
I cannot think a photographer destroying the negative. And with digital it even gets more complicated.

There's a book out called "Assholes - A Theory" by Aaron James, a short, bracing read (James is a philosophy professor at the University of California.) The basic idea is that there are lots of people around who are willful, self-centered, arrogant, etc., in the things they do, but the things they do are usually not either illegal, which would make them criminals, or of serious dimension, which would make them sociopaths. They're just petty assholes, who believe in taking care of Number 1, no matter how much it inconveniences or damages other people. We all know them...quite a few of us are them.

I have a modest collection of really excellent black and white photographs, but only one of those is a formal limited edition (others are limited by the photographer's death.) BUT -- when I've looked at works advertised as limited editions, I assumed, wrongly, it appears, that there would be no more of those images printed. And I think most run-of-the-mill collectors believe the same thing, and are not informed differently by gallery owners. Nobody says, "Hey, this is an exclusive 'limited edition,' but of course, the photographer reserves the right to print as many more of these as he wishes, though of different sizes." So I think there are perhaps two understandings of this word, one by the cognoscenti and the others by the hapless fools that thought "limited" meant "limited."

Eggleston apparently has the legal right to do what he did. But it does make him, well...

If you own 190 photographs of Egleston, you either love his work or view this as an investment, in this case this is an investment and probably a very good one also, unless the Eggleston Trust decides to flood the market at some point.

I think I understand what Sobel is up to. It's actually pretty simple, once you recognize that civil lawsuits are most often only notionally about the point of law being litigated. They're more often about anger and perceived injustice. In a word, they're about *feelings*. I would bet that Sobel feels wronged to the marrow, and wants retribution. Whether the legal merits are on his side is almost beside the point. That's not why people sue.

It's been well established in the medical domain that most malpractice suits aren't about actual negligence. The great majority of patients objectively injured by a physician's mistake or oversight do not sue for malpractice. Conversely, the majority of patients attempting to sue have not suffered an injury that was actually due to negligence. They may have suffered a bad outcome, but many are furious because they've been treated rudely, or sense the physician is hiding something, or simply want an apology. In a widely cited example, one Veteran's Administration hospital system adopted a policy of openly admitting and apologizing for mistakes, over the strenuous objections of their attorneys. Their actual malpractice costs fell like a stone, because they were addressing what patients are really angry about.

Eggleston evidently has the law on his side. But cranking out inkjet facsimiles of your supposedly 'limited edition' print for a cool half million per? If I were Mr. Sobel, I might feel a bit used too.

If they're gonna call it and sell it as a "Limited Edition": they should specify exactly what they meant.
I was certainly pissed when my signed Wynn Bullock "Child in the forest" was sold after his death by LensWork as production prints (inkjet?) signed by MRS Bullock for a hell of a lot less than I'd paid.
I think the judge screwed up on the tricycle.

The only way Sobel can determine whether the value of his prints has changed is to sell them and see what the market bears. If he's so upset about this he should simply sell them all and start collecting from an artist he deems reputable regarding limited editions. If he's such a fan of Eggleston that he would never part with his prints then they are by definition priceless to him and he should stop wining. Art ain't stock certificates and shouldn't be treated like such.

I completely fail to understand what the problem is here. Sobel thinks he was guaranteed a rare print; it turns out his guarantee was more conditional than he would have liked. As a big collector of Eggleston, he's clearly got a fear that his vast collection will depreciate as more prints enter the market (and, due to the nature of the inkjet print, probably higher quality prints). Presumably he'll continue to sue to maintain the value of his collection, regardless of the merits.

Why that should stop Eggleston from issuing new editions is mysterious to me. He has the copyright; he can make copies; the new edition isn't sufficiently identical to the old edition to run afoul of NY law.

Maybe what the Sobels of the world want is a share of a close corporation that controls an image, a share that comes in the form of a print. The corp holds the copyright, and lets the owners of the prints (the shareholders) decide if further prints will be made. I can't see the cost of such an arrangement being worth the benefit, but I've never bought a print for $250k.

Business is business, money is money and prints are prints. It's all about the image and idea behind it. The more I see this photo the more I appreciate it. For practice sake I have even tried to create my own version several times over. None of which come close. Look how high he has placed the trike in the frame demanding it tower over the houses beyond. This is Godzilla trike. It owns the neighborhood.

Regarding that portrait of Eggleston.....

Hey Ctein, check out those glasses.


How many "Penseurs" are spread across the globe by Rodin.

@Anton Wilhelm Stolzing,

As money is also mostly imaginary, I would suggest you spend the half million as well.

Having said that, to me photography is a print medium since the advent of digital. Ctein has to put in a big amount of effort each time he makes a dey transfer print. Now and OCE Lightjet 500 does not flex it's musles when spouting out a Gursky. Nor does the printer. He simply adjusts the machine to the new batch of paper (which he has to do anyway) with a correct color profile and a small print command will do the job.

Now I'm not saying Gursky is no artist because of that or that he should not limit his editions (by the way his editions are coupled to size, small once are cheaper then old once or not for sale at all, for instance he self (or better his assistents) printed a batch of 60/40 editions for the Krefeld show some of which were present in the Essen (group) and Düsseldorf (group and solo) show as well).

Now I wonder what would happen if a Gursky got destroyed by fire? Or one of the inkjet printed Egglestones? Now of course there are litho's and etchings since ages (I self saw a Rembrandt being printed and you can to at the Rembrandt house in Amsterdam, it's fun believe me don't mis it when in our capital). And in Rembrants case well, since plates have survived to the present day it's easy. Now a familie freind also was a etch artist, but he made a point of destroying his plates after each print run.

Shouldn't photographers do the same. Destroy their negatives after a print run. Burn their hard drives....erase their RAW files. Of course it's nice for mr. Eggleston to grasp into the loaded throfs of wealth thats stil rule this world, and of course everyone feels sorry about Cindy Sherman....who is gaining nothing from here filmstills series (as I recall).

But one the same level. Think of Van Gogh, his paintings were unique and the familie sold their collection to the Van Gogh museum for a handsome sum of money (a few millions) in the early 60th. What do you think the collection of the Van Gogh is valued at today? Theo van Gogh (the late (murdered) filmmaker) used to demonstate from time to time at the museum......"Give back my art". Of course he had no ground to stand on. But was his plight unjust.

So is William Egglestone not entitled to gain of the increased market value of his art?

In money matter moral is always double sided. And in fact absent. I could also picture a scheme like the music industry. A Lady Gaga CD that is grosly popular sells for the same amount in the CD store (I don't do MP3) as a CD of Dutch singer Ellen ten Damme. The difference being that Ellen sells in the 10 of thousands and is doing very well, and that Lady Gaga sells in the millions and well is doing maybe not so well these days, hip surgery and all (speedy recovery Lady). Why not do the same with photographic art. Why are there not millions of Gursky's hanging in every office. And a few large once for the collectors, limited, signed, priceless like a private Lady Gaga concert.

Greets, Ed.

$250,000 ? for one print! Think on!

Big inkjets selling for more than the vintage dye transfers that inherently can't easily be made anymore can only increase the value of the earlier prints by further expanding the reputation of the artist. Sobel should be delighted.

As a not very wealthy person myself, I am personally annoyed by usage of limiting the supply as a mean of increasing the value of one's work. The notion of artwork scarcity seems to come over from the paintings, where each work is naturally a single item. With advent of photography work is much easily reproducible, much more so with digital and inkjet printing. So what an artist achieves by limiting his work is that only very wealthy people will be able to experience it, even though the underlying technology no longer imposes this limitation. This is a curious situation, an artist wanting to limit number of people who can experience his work.

Consider how differently it worked out in case of music. From the advent of recordings, reproduction of the work is quite easy. Great artists make their living not by inflating price of their work, but by just selling more copies. I am very happy about this. Not being very wealthy, I can still afford to have great music.

I immediately recognized the trike in the small thumbnail as identical (except for the green paint...mine was red and white) to the one I had in the early Sixties. I still know every nut and bolt on that trike because every nut and bolt on that trike loosened-up to the point of making it un-rideable. From the bolt holding the handlebars, to the bolt holding the seat (notice it is all the way down to the frame) to the bolts on the fork holding the silver fittings which held the front wheel to the fork. Also the rear wheels were secured with cotter-pinned nuts to the rear axle and even these loosened-up because there were no bearings, so the metal on metal caused wear that required removing the cotter pin and tightening the rear wheel nuts. A fellow who lived in the same apartments as us always noticed my troubles and kindly stopped working on his white corvair and deftly thew the wrenches at it for me. When we moved, a troubled child put the finishing touches on it by continually ramming it into a tree one day while I was in bed with a fever....ah memories..Notable for me in the picture is the mid-sixties car in the garage in the background and the rust, and intact condition of the trike. I am concluding that since this was an early sixties and fragile trike, and this is a mid sixties picture of a rusty intact trike, that this trike was put away and not driven by a child, and then brought out years later for a pose. The large amounts of money surrounding the controversy make me ponder how many trike and corvairs could be had for 250-500K.

The more he printed the better it was known, and the more desirable it became. No matter how tiring the task became, Ansel Adams just kept cranking out "Moonrise Hernandez".

Limited editions? In the world of photography a paradox at best...

Oh wow, I should have kept that tricycle! ;)

The trike is a static subject so if, hypothetically, Eggleston had used a tripod and motor drive and taken a whole sequence of essentially identical photos, what would people think if the two prints in question were from different negatives? This would be more likely to happen now with digital.

Is a photo even the same photo if alterations are made on the computer between making individual prints?

How about going back to the RAW file and making a fresh version to print?

Probably for all professional digital photos there exist many identical 'negatives', that is, files, on various hard drives. Are these all the same photos? One could go on and ...

Dear Geoff,

It would not surprise me to learn you're right about what's driving Sobel. I admit I tend to assume the best of people, which means I look for some understandable motivation. But there is also what I call "rich entitlement stupidity" which roughly translates as "Because I am so rich, truly the world, nay the entire solar system, should orbit to my whim."

But the sense of wronged would not derive from any innocence on Sobel's part. When JC expresses such a sentiment; he's putting on the role of the naif in that realm. But contrary to hypothetical, logical definitions, the world of art has always operated by the rules Eggleston has followed. Even in the case of such media as etched plate and tone lithograph, even after destroying the plate or wiping the stone, artists would take precisely the same conception and composition and, as accurately as they could, render it in a different medium. Sometimes with astonishing similitude. There may have been, originally, only 50 copper etched plate prints of "Mike Johnston Descending a Staircase" made by the artist, but since then there've been 75 stone lithographs, 40 mezzotints and an unrestricted number of serigraphs. Similarly for sculpture, vis "The Thinker." It's the way it has always worked, silly and or venal as it may be, and there is no way a collector of Sobel's experience does not know that.

A minor nit: by no stretch can I imagine how a 60" inkjet print could be imagined as a "facsimile" of a 17" dye transfer print. They are as different as two peas from two very different pods could be. Unscrupulous artists, both "traditional" and photographic, have played fast and loose and unethically at the edges (e.g., trying to declare a series of 8.5 x 11 prints to be a different edition than a series of 8x10 prints) but, bluntly put, they are cheating and trying to game the system, and no one accords them respect. 17" dye transfer vs 60" inkjet doesn't come anywhere close to the boundary.

pax / Ctein
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com

Dear Bill Langford,

Uhhh, no he didn't.

pax / Ctein

You describe WiIliam Egglestone's Guide as "seminal" meaning, presumably that it was the source or origin of what came later. I have no desire to enter the continuing controversy about the true worth of W.E.'s work, but if you are looking for a colour photographer whose work was truly seminal, look no further than Ernst Haas who genuinely influenced whole generations of photographers, and who long pre-dated William Egglestone. He has a major exhibition at MOMA in 1962 and his first and possibly greatest book, The Creation, was published in 1971.

Unfortunately, Haas had a couple of disadvantages when it came to being announced as a major artist. He had a long and successful career as an editorial and commercial photographer and so could not be launched on an unsuspecting world as a "discovery". And he was European.

This may be the wrong place to say it, but I think people sometimes lose touch with reality over photographic reproductions. Whether many or few, they are only copies for Heaven's sake, however brilliant the craftsmanship of the person who set up the print run. Fools and their money.............

From Smithsonhttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jgV6Xevmz1k&list=PL02C9D10D0E9BD14Bian:

I consider "limited editions" to be artificial in photography (even more true in the digital era than with film). I find them actively offensive. I know the history as relating to actual print run limitations in art print media (etchings, woodcuts, and such). I just don't think they fit in photography.

Actually, I find them kind of creepy. And weird; partly they're a scam the artist is perpetrating on the collectors, but partly they're a key part of the mechanism by which the a living artist is prevented from profiting from their earlier work becoming popular.

I wholeheartedly disagree with the judge.

Put both prints up on a wall in a gallery and then ask non-lawyers, non-photographers, and non-art experts, what the fundamental differences are between the two prints and I would wager that they would say that one is bigger than the other and that's it (and they may notice that they look slightly different in finish, in the same way that gloss prints look different to that of matt prints).

And if you then told them that one was a LIMITED EDITION print but yet the second one was printed afterwards, i.e. after the Limited Editions had supposedly been completed, I also wager that they would then say that the first print can't then be a Limited Edition.

I welcome the judge's rulling as a photographer but in my "objective individual" mode I regard the decision as wrong; had I bought this artist's work I would feel cheated and wouldn't buy anything of his again.

This issue is somewhat like what some car manufacturers do to boost flagging sales. They make a supposedly Limited Edition car, even going so far as putting the words "Limited Edition" in the model name of the car, then folks go out and buy it, for the very reason that it is supposed to be rare, and then lo and behold not many years later the manufactuer makes pretty much the same vehicle with the same features but for general release. This of course irks the buyers of the supposedly "limited" version of the vehicle.

To my mind, these two prints would have been substantially different if say one was dye printed and the other was say an oil painting of the original image, or laser etched into aluminium; and even then I would be a little miffed that the image had been reproduced at all.

I guess the way around this is for artists to explain CLEARLY, and well in advance of the point of sale, that when they produce a "limited edition" that what they mean is that it is limited in production on a certain medium (paper, canvas etc) and certain method (dye printing, inkjet printing, etching etc). Having been forwarned, a potential buyer would then be able to decide whether or not to take the risk that the artwork they are considering purchasing may be reproduced at a later date on another medium or by way of a different process.

And this case epitomizes why (1) most serious art collectors look down their noses at photography as collectable art and (2) why those who do collect photography prefer to wait until the photographer is dead (and that of course means most art photographers won't make much money in their lifetime).


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