Diane Miller Fine Art Photography



Original prints vs. reproductions:

Prints from "digital negatives" made by the artist, or made to the artist's approval by a fine-art printer, are considered to be original prints in the same sense as darkroom prints, and are not considered to be reproductions. 

Archival Pigment prints:

In accorance with current fine-art practice, my prints are made on high-end inkjet printers. This printing method is often referred to as the giclée process ("zhee-clay") and represents the highest standard in fine-art digital printing.  It is common to see reproduction giclée prints of paintings, where an original art work has been photographed and copies printed.  Although the term giclée is widely applied to such reproduction prints, the term giclée does not connote a copy per se.  It is merely a printing process -- one which is often used to make copies of original art because of its stunning quality and versatility of media. 

Since the term giclée has been misused widely, many photographers now refer to their prints as archival pigment prints.

Prints can be made on a variety of acid-free fine-art papers -- matte watercolor-type papers, high-gloss or eggshell photographic-type papers, and true artist's canvas.  These prints use long-lasting pigment-based inks, which insures that the colors will be extremely stable under normal display conditions.  The lifetime of these prints in indoor conditions is in the range of 70 to 200 years, depending on the papers.  I do my own printing up to the size allowed by my studio equipment and have larger prints made by specialty fine-art printers.  For most prints I prefer to use watercolor-type papers, which give a rich print whose surface is free of glare, letting the image present itself with no distractions.

Canvas prints:

I love the look of prints on canvas because there is no glass between the image and the viewer.  I am not attempting to present a faux-painting, but rather to allow the image to be immediately accessible.

I use only the highest quality canvases, especially formulated for the long-lasting pigment inks of fine-art inkjet printers.  Properly printed and protected, they can be expected to hold the vibrancy of their color for well over 100 years.  However there are some post-printing issues that must be addressed in order to make these prints quality pieces that are a lifetime investment.

A major consideration is protection of the surface, which is exposed to moisture, pollutants, oxidants and light.  It may be sprayed or brushed with a protective coat, but this material becomes a part of the surface and must be carefully chosen, of the highest quality and properly applied. I use PremierArt ECO Print Shield, which is especially formulated for this purpose.  It has been tested by the industry-standard Wilhelm Institute and found to increase print longevity very significantly.

An equally important factor is mounting.  The long-standing method for mounting paintings on canvas is by stretching over a wood frame.  This can be done with inkjet prints, but there is danger of cracking or flaking, especially at the corners. The back of a stretched canvas is exposed to the same damaging airborne pollutants as the surface, and in addition the canvas can sag or become too tight with changes in temperature and humidity.  If it is ever necessary to re-mount the canvas, it may no longer be flat and is often substantially damaged.  There is now a much better way.  Canvas prints can be dry-mounted onto acid-free foamboard, and can ssubsequently be removed without damage.  The best foamboard is Nielsen Bainbridge ArtCare, which is not only acid-free but also absorbs and disables damaging compounds, extending the life of mounted prints significantly beyond that of other products.

My canvases are mounted and protected in this way.  The image is perfectly flat with a non-glare satin finish, and both surfaces are protected.


Limited vs. Unlimited Edition Prints:

My long-standing reservation about offering photographic prints as limited editions was crystallized by an article by Brooks Jensen in Lenswork, No. 36, Jul – Aug 2001, page 54ff.

The concept of limited editions began with prints made from inked plates of wood, stone or metal.  With each print the plate wore slightly and eventually degraded to the point where the quality of the prints was unacceptable.  The sequential numbering of each print was meaningful in that the lower numbered prints had more value because they were from a less-worn plate, and the limit on the number was an assurance that even the last print was of a quality acceptable to the artist. After that limit was reached the plate would be destroyed, assuring no inferior prints would circulate.

This is not the case for photographic prints, darkroom or digital.  There is no degradation in quality with subsequent prints, and in fact there is generally an improvement in quality, resulting from the artist’s refining of his or her vision and interpretation of the image with subsequent prints.  This evolution is shown clearly in exhibits of Ansel Adams' prints which trace the printing history of various images and show the improvements he made with subsequent printings.  As Adams said, the negative is the score and the print is the performance.  The refinements to a darkroom print generally involve the dodging and burning of various areas, to lighten or darken them, improving the artistic statement of the image.  Digital files can be improved in similar ways.  In fact, the power of the digital darkroom to make such adjustments to an image far surpass what can be done in a traditional darkroom, and allow the same aesthetic adjustments with color images that had been the exclusive province of black-and-white prints.  Just as in darkroom prints, the artist may make refinements in an image as it is revisited for subsequent prints.

There is also an improvement over time in materials and methods, which allows better prints of an image.   This is particularly true of digital prints. Therefore the idea of lower-numbered prints having more value is turned on its head.  It is the later prints that more truly represent the artist’s vision of an image.  For this reason, sequential numbering of prints is meaningful and desirable, although its meaning is quite the opposite of plate prints.

As to the issue of limiting the number of prints, by means of a limited edition, in the case of darkroom prints or digital prints made by the artist there is in fact a limited number in that the artist can only produce so many, even though no artificial ceiling is placed on that number.  Although digital prints are more amenable to mass-production than darkroom prints, continuing improvements in printing quality motivate the artist to produce prints on a one-by-one or as-needed basis, because in a short time a better print may be possible. I make prints as needed and do not mass produce or mass market them, therefore my prints are effectively limited in number.

There are also other issues which argue against limited editions for darkroom or digital prints.  Unlike plate prints, these images can be printed in different sizes and on different media.  Just as darkroom prints can be made on different papers and with different developers and toners, digital prints can be made with different printers, papers and inks.  Often a change is mandated by materials no longer being available.  If a limited edition were to be issued for a photographic or digital print, should each of these variations be a different edition?  If so, multiple editions are mandated, or else the artist is limited to no improvements in an image.  And if subsequent or multiple editions are issued, as has been traditional for darkroom prints of a different size, the edition limit number shown on a given print cannot reflect how many other editions may be issued.  In other words, there is still great leeway to print a large number of images of even a "limited edition" through the issuing of multiple editions.

I prefer the method of simply numbering each print sequentially as it is produced. This allows me the opportunity to incorporate improvements to each new print and allows the most truthful and complete information to be presented about each image, by documenting its place in the printing history of that image.

The method I have chosen incorporates the following guidelines:

  • Each print is numbered sequentially as it is produced.

  • Each print that bears a number and my signature is produced by me whenever possible and therefore ultimately limited in number.

  • In cases where a print is made by a commercial printer (because it is too large for me to print or requires media on which I cannot print) I will assure that it is accurately numbered and that it meets my standards for the quality of the image.

  • Each print may reflect an evolutionary improvement over its predecessors, by slight changes to the digital file or the printing materials.

  • Each may be a different size, and occasionally a slightly different crop.

  • If significant changes are made to an image, subsequent prints will be designated as State 2.

  • A certificate of authenticity is attached that gives relevant information about the print.

  • I keep a detailed log of each print produced which serves to document the printing history of each image.

  • If a large batch of prints of an image is commercially produced, they would be treated as a poster and not as a numbered edition.  They would be not be signed or numbered.

These ideas do not preclude limited editions from being produced under some circumstances, but rather justify "open editions" as my normal methodology.

-- Diane Miller