The thing that makes photography fundamentally so different from most other artforms is that identical duplicates can be created of the product such that photo one is pretty much just as real as photo five thousand. The audience doesn’t really know how many “original” artworks were created, and this dynamic runs counter to the need for unique, laboriously executed creations that seem to be fundamental in the selling of art. I’m not suggesting we want to make photography more commercial, but i am suggesting that it would only take one move to make it more like painting and sculpture and other more classical forms: there has to only be a single object created.
Generally I espouse the importance of the physical print in photography. It is the thing created by the photographer, the object that people experience. As a photographer you never know what image you have taken will be super popular — and traditionally you’d really want to be able to make a quantity of prints to sell. “Editioning” was invented at some point in the modern photographic art era, to limit quantities of originals, to let buyers assess supply and demand, and ultimately make it a better product for galleries to sell. But historically the masters generally didn’t make an edition, they would print some when they happened to be printing or when someone wanted one. New order? New print. Editioning was an attempt to rein this in.
Originally, i decided that i’d never print more than three prints of any given image. Sort of “radical editioning” — it would leave one for me, one to sell, and one more “just in case.” But I was informed: if you’d ever want a gallery to represent you, this is pretty much death. For awhile I settled on editions of nine. But depending on the day I found that was both way too much and far too few.
However, with the proliferation of digital photography, and the ease with which images can be shared, perhaps more than any time in history, i think the need to mass produce prints, so that anyone who wants one can have one, is archaic; i think the natural corresponding balance to the rise of digital imaging is simply this: only make one (signed) print. An element to neomodernism then is nudging photography back out of the art sphere, before the galleries changed photography, and the artists were just artists. This addresses that issue, by making the artist’s photograph a singular object, like a painting. Simultaneously the image might circulate widely: be popular on Instagram or in online media, but the photograph, the original, there is but one. And when you see a signed print from a photographer of an image, you simply know, that ‘that’s the one’.
I have to say, this new idea doesn’t sit well. I want to print more and make them available. But this discomfort is precisely why it appeals to me. Painters deal with this every day. I see no reason photographers cannot as well. It’s so easy for people to copy or print their own photos, and some form of mechanical reproduction is still part of photography, but not for the original. We simply have to agree that in this new era, even for pictures, there is only one, and done. The great photographer then isn’t the individual with the single fantastic image that everyone wants — the great photographer is prolific and consistent.
Let’s see how this goes.