Many photographers artificially limit the number of prints they will produce from a given image by offering numbered editions or limited editions of a given size of print. I don't. If you like my work you will be able to buy it, as I will not make an arbitrary limit on how many prints I make of an image.
The concept of limited editions comes from the world of fine art printmaking where the original was a plate carved by hand by the artist to create a printing plate. The plate was a one of a kind and was then used to make the fine art prints.
The process of making prints from the plat would cause wear to the plate, and there was therefore a limit on how many prints that could be made. And prints made early would be of better quality (vintage editions) than later prints when the plate started to wear down. The first print made would therefor be the 'best', with a gradual decline in quality until the edition was completed. The plates were then destroyed since they were, to all intents and purposes, useless anyway.
So this is the foundation for limited editions and vintage prints, but with photographs there is no such limitation. No matter how many images are printed from a digital file the quality of each image will be the same, and print #1 will not be better than #97. This means that any limit on the number of prints that will be made of an image is artificial and arbitrary and is usually done to create an artificial limit on the number of prints intended for sales, to generate a perceived exclusivity and thus justify a high price. This is pure business and has nothing to do with the artistic merits of the work.
As time go, we change and our creative vision does of an image will change too. Often I will see new ways to express or improving an image, and each time I fuss with the digital file, I will try to change it a bit to more closely match my creative vision. Sometimes that might be a little tonal adjustment, sometimes a contrast change. And occasionally I will go all the way back to the original image file and start over. But each print is individually printed, dated, and signed to make it possible to track any changes I do to an image over time.
Because of this I would generally consider the later prints, or editions if you like, better that the early ones because I perceive them to be the more mature interpretation and vision of the image. Additional editions may also be a result of technology improvements.
As a result of my thinking on this, I offer my fine-art prints in open edition only. Each print is individually printed, dated, and signed. I feel that the practice of limited editions is somewhat obsolete because of continuing improvements in printing technologies and my improvement as a print maker. I would therefore like to offer the very best photograph I am capable of making today rather than sell a print from an edition of prints made in the past. It will also allow me to sell my work at a lower price than what would have been necessary if I had decided to have limited editions.
While I'm not limiting my prints to a finite number from any given negative, positive or digital file, I have a limited amount of both time and energy. In that sense, all my work will be limited as there is just so many prints that I will be able to make in my lifetime.
To make it possible to keep track of my prints and how they have changed, I have chosen to adopt the provenance system used by Brooks Jensen (editor of LensWork). All of my prints have a text that specify the edition, printing number, the date of their production, the source file, the precise number of copies I made that day, the number of this print, and the edition number of the print.
The designation "Third Edition, Second Printing" on an individual print would then mean 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.
Ronny A. Nilsen
Norway, February 2008
Here is some links to other articles where the author explains their view on limited editions: