two prints from one negative

Discussion in 'Ethics and Philosophy' started by scootermm, Sep 14, 2007.

  1. scootermm

    scootermm Subscriber

    Jun 10, 2004
    Austin, TX
    ULarge Format
    Okay, I wrote this up recently, it is something I've thought alot about aand am interested to hear what the rest of the photography world thinks, it is by no means authoritative, all encompassing, or correct, merely some thoughts...

    Each negative results in 2 prints

    I hate reprinting negatives. This is something I’ve been fearful of facing for years. Fearful for many reasons: 1. A mainstay of the fine art photography world is the concept of editions; a photographer/artist sells a limited number of prints from a given negative, slowly rising in price as he/she sells more and more. This is a common practice among fine art photographers and “not so fine art” photographers; the internet is strongly populated by them (the former and the latter). 2. One of the key benefits of photography is that you CAN in fact, make another print similar to the one previously produced, given you have the control and knowledge to do this, this is a key aspect of photography.

    In regards to #1, I have always shied away from the concept of editions. I’m going to print a negative how ever many times I feel like it, and if I’m going to sell them, then I’ll sell as many as I choose. In regards to #2, this is a wonderful aspect of photography, but one that is a bit of a curse as much as a blessing.

    All this was spawned by a recent need to reprint a collection of negatives I made while visiting New Orleans in late summer immediately prior to Hurricane Katrina. Many of the locales I happened to choose to capture where devastated by the flooding and weather. I had previously made two sets of the 7 best negatives I got on the trip, it was/is a coherent portfolio of images that I was proud to give to my sister and to sell to a good friend of hers. My sister asked that if I might “reprint” them in order for her to use them in a fundraising auction she was coordinating. This is without a doubt a wonderful idea, but I hated the concept of actually pulling out those “old” negatives and reprinting them, I would need to dig out some “normal” black and white silver gelatin paper, mix up developer/stop/fix so that I could make the prints. I didn’t want to do any of that. The photography gods were watching out for me, as I already had a set that I had printed along with the initial 2 sets. Phew. Saved.

    But this experience brought up my overall feelings about reprinting when the need arises. Lets be honest, I don’t sell a lot of work, in fact not much at all actually. I’ve had three exhibits to date (one solo and two group ones), not a single “normal” print sale – by normal I’m referring to selling a print to someone in the general public and/or a collector, the only single print sale I’ve had from an exhibit was to a close friend who didn’t even manage to attend the exhibit. I digress, back to my original train of thought, given the rarity of print sales, and the fairly regular exhibiting I’ve been blessed to steadily continue, it brings to light a certain fear I have. This fear revolves around one of the key outcomes a photographer may hope for from an exhibit, prints sales. This may sound insane to some, why would I be fearful of print sales? Selling a print means putting it in the hands of someone who felt it beautiful/worthy of shelling out their hard earned dollars to own and “exhibit” in their own manner. Selling multiple prints of a given negative means it connects with multiple people and means you make that much more money. Money is needed to practice photography, even if you are a minimalists, film, equipment, chemicals, paper, trays, ink, etc, it all costs money. So obviously selling more prints means helping to fund the continued practice of photography, this is a cold hard truth, one that has been abundantly clear for me in recent months. So in that light, why would I be fearful of print sales whenever I am preparing for an exhibit? Well, because I have no desire to reprint a negative. I don’t enjoy it, its work in that negative sense of the word. The older I get the less and less time I have to practice this astonishingly rejuvenating practice of photography, I have a job to go to, chores at home to do, commitments on the weekends etc (and I’m not even married, nor do I have any children) yet I still find the time I get to devote to darkroom work or out shooting to be rare and sparse. When I manage to carve out a weekend morning to shoot or print, the last thing I want to do is reprint a negative I have already printed. I don’t want to reprint something I’ve already done. I want to grab from that unending stack of “unprinted” negatives and explore one of them that has yet to see the UV light make it a positive image. So, when I am preparing for an exhibit, there is always a sense of fear that comes over me, one side of me – the practical one – says “yeah I hope some of these prints sell so I can continue to fund my love/passion”, the other side – the true and deeper part of me – says “I just want to continue to exhibit and share my work, but focus on creating new work and continuing to capture my vision”. It’s a mental conflict, but it makes sense in my mind.

    So where does this leave me, or better stated, what/where does this bring me to?

    2 prints from each negative. I’m tempted to embrace this concept wholeheartedly and entirely. Each negative I choose to print, when I come to the point where I have printed it to the best representation of my vision, and then I just print another one. Now there I am with two prints. One will be for exhibiting, the other for sale. That’s it. No more prints from it. I move on to the next negative or I move on to going outside and capturing more and more negatives.

    This concept is so incredibly enticing to me as an artist and photographer, and at the same time is so incredibly simple, one I want to fully embrace and accept and at the same time it seems as though it could prove to be extremely limiting and potentially isolating, but then again I’m not in the situation of be a proficient seller of fine art photography.

    Maybe that’s okay.
  2. David Brown

    David Brown Member

    Feb 16, 2004
    Multi Format

    Do I need to come down there and get you drunk? Laid? Or just slap you around? :tongue:

    Have you been reading Large Format Forum again? :rolleyes:

    As someone who owns several of your prints (1 or 2 that I actually paid for), I can attest to the fact that you can, if need be, re-print. So, it gets down to whether or not you WANT to. Don’t want to, don’t do it.

    Painters make one, and then sell it. (See LFF) I know a painter (in the biblical sense) that once a painting is finished, she doesn’t ever want to even look at it again. So selling it for money is just gravy. But I digress …

    Making two or three prints of a neg at the outset is not a bad idea. I know of photographers who make, say, five, and then just “have them” in case anybody really wanted one. So, you just need to determine what is economically feasible for you to maintain in “inventory”, coupled with what you can stand emotionally, and go with that.

    I truly understand that going back and re-printing an image that you’ve done before seems like work. It is work! To me, all darkroom is work. I do not enjoy any of it, but it’s the only way that the film is going to get processed and prints are going to get made. I make myself do it, because every once in a great while, someone will pick up a print of mine and say just the right thing.

    But, truly, speaking as your friend and occasional collaborator, (and occasional patron), maybe you should play this by ear. If you are truly not selling that much work, then this is mostly academic. If you start selling more work, then more decisions need to be made, and at a later date, when you’ll possibly feel different. My advice is to wait and see. In the meantime, make twosies.:smile:
  3. david b

    david b Member

    Oct 20, 2003
    None of your
    Medium Format
    I have a friend who makes all of her work in 20x24 and only makes 5 of them. She sells most of them. And they aren't cheap.
  4. rkmiec

    rkmiec Member

    Mar 5, 2007
    4x5 Format
    if you keep a record of what you do when you print your first two then if reprints are needed send out the neg to one of the few remaing labs.they will do dodge and burn for a fee.if you have a print i believe you could send it as a reference.i think you should do what makes you happy.if it is two prints only then make that your thing.make sure you let people at shows know this way if they like a print they better get it now.the lab is just some food for thought for you.i dont hate the darkroom work yet and i hope it never comes to that but if so then i will be sending out my negs to a good lab.good luck and may you find more time to shoot.
  5. photomc

    photomc Member

    Jul 20, 2003
    Multi Format
    Matt, read this with great interest...much like I did the thread about making only 1 print over on LF. I think I do understand, I have negatives that I have printed that I am indeed tired of printing - But (and this is important I think) I also find that the better the negative (ie the easier it prints) the less I dislike printing it. Also, I am willing to try and get that last little bit I think is there - you have seen the results of that endevor and I feel it was well worth the effort.

    Now the difference could be that your work methods are such that once you have the final print you really are done with the work. Your recent post in the gallery might be one of those (not sure what your thougts are on that one) but it is a very nice work. Yet I think it would be a same if you were to leave it there - Now, I DO understand that when doing gum-overs you have actually printed the negative 2-3 times in order to have a completed work. This would be the same a someone printing 2-3 of the same negative on silver or even straight plt/pld.

    For some reason, darkroom work is not work for a matter of fact each session is kind of like Christmas for me. From negative development to final print wash it is indeed exciting - did I get the exposure correct, is my developing times on the money, what is the correct mix of metal salts, did I make sure that all the chemistry is ready...then there is the exposure is it correct for the negative, and finally did what I wanted end up what I printed? Sometimes the answer is No (more times than I want) but other times it is YES and that little rush runs through the brain and the world (or least my little darkroom part of it) is complete. Without fail, I will coat another sheet or 2 and reprint the negative right then - why tempt fate. In a few weeks or even months I might visit the work again, maybe add some gum layers or change the metal mix.

    Would hate to see you limit yourself to only 2 prints per negative, but could see you making only 2 and then setting the negative aside until you are ready or someone wants to purchase one.

    OR consider this...If you were to go the wet plate route, the in camera image would be the only one (not that you could not scan it and print "copies")...perhaps that is where this is leading you, the first part of the journey begins with the first steps (and that may be what this feeling is).

    Or I could just be full of crap and David needs to slap both of us around.
  6. Alex Hawley

    Alex Hawley Member

    Jul 17, 2003
    Kansas, USA
    Large Format
    Matt, my Lad:

    David is right; you've been reading the LFF threads again. :surprised: :rolleyes:

    I think you should do what you feel like doing. It may seem like a philosophical dilemma, and it is worth pondering, but there is no absolute rule of any sorts on this stuff (contrary to what some want everyone to believe).

    Personally, I don't mind reprinting negatives. I've made 23 numbered prints of Yate's Center Co-Op plus several un-numbered ones (believe you have an un-numbered one). Thirteen numbered prints plus a couple un-numbered ones are in the hands of patrons. The total sum made of this negative is a result of five printings so far.

    I've pondered the question about editions and have decided not to edition my prints unless there is some special circumstance that would warrant editioning. Haven't happened upon a special circumstance yet. I'm not editioning them even though the papers I originally printed on are no longer available. That kind of stuff happens and I'm not losing sleep not time over it.

    There have been several times when a version of a print has come to me, perhaps several months after the initial printing. When that occurs, I usually trash the earlier version save for one kept as a proof. Maybe then the original version becomes "limited" but I don't classify it as such. There's simply version 1 and version 2.

    That's my own take on things which may or may not be useful to anyone. But again Matt, you should do what you feel like doing. This decision is not terminal; you can always change your mind on it later.
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 14, 2007
  7. Maris

    Maris Member

    Jan 17, 2006
    Noosa, Australia
    Multi Format
    I've ruminated and agonised over some of the same concepts as SCOOTERMM described in his introduction to this thread.

    There are no easy guidelines or sustaining paradigms to fall back on while trying to shoehorn photography into printmaking aesthetics and practice. Making photographs is not printing and printmaker's language does not fit well with it.

    I try to use a new vocabulary to negotiate with potential buyers of my photographs.

    1. I never say "print"; always say "photograph".

    2. I never say "edition"; always say "alternative originals".

    3. I never say new "copy", "duplicate", "reproduction"; always say "new original production".

    4. I never say "matching multiples; always say "no two the same, guaranteed".

    5. "The only thing that matches old work is old work. If you must have it buy it on the secondary market from someone who wants to sell."

    Maybe it is just laziness or self indulgence on my part but it feels good, takes a rod off my back, to step away from the world of proofs, prints, editions, artist's proofs, fine prints, early/late states, limited runs, collectors sets, and so on.

    It is a pleasure to make photographs, just one at a time, as good as I can, start to finish, and in full, by my own hand.
  8. Vaughn

    Vaughn Subscriber

    Dec 13, 2006
    Humboldt Co.
    8x10 Format
    My habit with making 16x20 prints from 4x5 negs was to use a 10 sheet pack of paper (16x20 Portriga Rapid only came in 10 sheet pkgs). First sheet was the work print. It usually took me about 6 more sheets to get the exposure and burning down. That left 3 sheets to make final copies with. I work slow and thoughtfully, so this was usually a 10 to 12 hour printing breaks.

    After I made prints from several negatives, I would then pick two out of the three prints from each negative (so maybe 10 prints or so) and selenium tone them. Dry mount one from each neg and put the rest away.

    I have rarely gone back to reprint those negs again. I want to move on to new images rather than reprint.

    Now, I do not keep printing notes (but my taking notes are extensive). If I do on the very rare occasion reprint a negative, I want to approach the negative/image as if for the first time...I usually do not even look at existing prints of the image. But I must admit there have been a couple times I have compared the two versions and have tossed out the second set and have had to do make them again. But I am not interested in making carbon-copies.

    Maris, terminology is just a tool to grasp what one is doing -- and a poor tool at that. Whatever works for oneself. I take activity that can be of spiritual proportions for me. And I loved printing those silver gelatin photographs -- 10 or 12 hours of intense concentration on an image...not always successful, but that is okay.

    Now, I approach making platinum prints and carbon prints very differently -- I take the intensity I once spent in the darkroom and channel it while behind the camera, and make "straight" prints. While I never have done lithography or other types of printing processes, I suppose my the way I now work is closer to those arts than I was making silver prints. That is just the way I see it.

  9. ann

    ann Subscriber

    Sep 10, 2002
    I don't like to go back and reprint either, so your not alone.

    Over time , i finally decided to practice the following for prints that i felt where finished. I make 10 prints all in the same printing session. By the time i am done with mounting , spotting , etc. i may not have 10 left; who knows.

    Then, i place them in an archival profolio box with an intertissue between print. They make great gifts or sales, which ever comes first. It is rare i ever run out .

    With alternative processes print, i make 3 or 4 and that's all.
  10. Peter Schrager

    Peter Schrager Subscriber

    Jul 19, 2004
    fairfield co
    Large Format

    while I'm not presently selling many prints I'm always hopeful that I will in the future. to that extent I go ahead and make at least 10-15 copies in one session.
    I print with the idea of making portfolios and nothing but....
    now these are enlargements or contact prints. I'm of the opinion that nothing is ever the same in a working session and that the variables including paper; humidity; developers; etc. change from session to session. and while it is not exactly a chore it IS definately WORK and I always want to print something new or move on to a new project. chances are that even with notes I'm going to reprint in a different mode. my tastes may change and may want to render something either darker or lighter. if you check around you will see many of the more famous artists have done this.
    make your own rules and stick to them. that favorite paper you are using could change tomorrow and often does. print for today while looking ahead to the future!!!
    Best, Peter