How to Sign an Art Photography Print?

Discussion in 'Business of Photography' started by rfader, Dec 24, 2012.

  1. I'm sending a group of prints to a dealer who's interested in my work. How and where do I sign them? Is there a protocol for this? In pencil on the front border? On the back? All advice is appreciated.
  2. What sort of prints are they, on what sort paper? Are they mounted, like in a window mat? If so, are you showing a margin between the edge of the image and inside of the window, or does the image fill the window? There are a million variations on that theme, so start by mentioning the medium and the way it will be presented.

    Having your contact information on the back of the print is always a good idea, regardless.
  3. Robin:

    I strongly urge you to visit a museum or two and see how the masters do it. Then choose one method and stick with it.
  4. Matt, they are boxed prints with a border, no mat, just straight prints, 14x11 on Hahnemuhle photo rag, 308gsm. I have room on the bottom for signing. I've been told to sign in pencil. Does this sound right?
  5. For that sort of situation, yes - I use pencil. I like a fairly hard lead, to reduce smudging. Understand that risk if the prints aren't separated as they're handled - pencil can be messy that way.

    If I'm worried about how it's going to be handled/stacked, I use a Sakura Microperm pen. I like them in a grey, rather than black - but that's a matter of taste!
  6. You NEVER sign a photograph on the front, unless it's a photo of you, and you're autographing it.
    You can sign the mat, typically in pencil. This is common for 'craft fair' type photos, but you won't usually see that in SoHo, or any place like that.
    Typically you sign the back print in a corner. You write your name, the date the photo was taken, and the title. If the print was not made the same year as the photograph was shot, you should write what year it was printed as well, but it is not necessary. If it is a print made by an individual (other than a lab), then you should write their name along with the date. If you made it yourself, or you used a lab like Miller's, then don't add a printing credit. If it is an edition, you need write how large the edition is and what number that is, ie 1/20. Keep in mind that if it IS an edition, your dealer might get very upset if you ever make any more copies than promised. You might be okay if those extra copies are postcards, or made to donate to a fundraiser, or some other special thing that is different than how you would sell a print normally, or you might not. If you decide to make an edition, talk to your dealer first.
    I like to use a soft pencil lead, as it's less likely to press through and show marks on the image side. But it's really up to you. If it is a coated print, be sure to use something with archival ink, and NEVER use a ballpoint, as that will most definitely show on the other side.
  7. My opinion:
    It is silly to say that there is a rule about signing, particularly one about never signing the front of a print. It is your art, sign it. If you sign only the mat, what happens when it is rematted? I sell two kinds of prints, one I consider my "art." The other are just photos that I don't claim to be an example of what I'm trying to do as art. Regarding the art--I try to leave a slightly wider bottom at the bottom of the print. I sign, title, and number the print in that lower border with a pigment pen. You should not use a regular pen and you should not use a Sharpie. My experience is that pencil doesn't adhere to every surface on which my photos are printed. So far, the pigment pen has worked on every surface from rag to Kodak Metallic. If I buy someone's photograph, I like it to be signed. I consider the signature important to that for which I am paying, which is not only the print, but the artists vision that created the print. I want the artist to be a part of the print. For those I sell that I don't consider my "art" my name is usually on the print as part of the print, but not as an original signature. It is printed along with the photograph. If I supervise the matting of a print, or if I mat it myself, I also sign that mat in pencil.
    A note about numbering, I consider trying to number something as a limited edition to be silly in these days and times. So far, my numbering system is to number each print with the year printed and then serially within that year. I figure that if something of mind ever assumes collector value, that will lend some value. If I ever get to the point where I want to offer a limited edition. I will print them, number them and then take steps to erase forever all copies of the digital file. I doubt if that will happen,.
    mickeysimpson likes this.
  8. Thank you all for your thoughtful responses. I'm really surprised that this thread is the only evidence of advice on this topic. Can't thank you all enough.
  9. John-
    While you do make some good points, dealers generally prefer numbered editions. The number doesn't affect the value at all, but it is a promise to your dealer that they are selling something limited, that cannot be easily obtained. I've referenced this before, but google the Eggleston lawsuit.
    As far as signing the front goes ... the theory is that you're supposed to know whose work you spent a bunch of money on, and you won't need to be constantly reminded. While I'm hardly an expert, I have been to a lot of expensive galleries selling worth in the tens of thousands, and none of those images are ever signed on the front. If you buy an Arbus print, it is because you know that it is Arbus, and you don't need to be told.
    On a related note, most Arbus prints are made by her daughter, Doon. They're signed 'D. Arbus" on the back. You need to check the date, and know when Diane Arbus died, to know if she made the print herself. Sneaky!
  10. Spearhead

    Spearhead Moderator

    The world changes because people do things to change it. If everything had to stay the same, we wouldn't have photography at all. People can sign wherever they want.
  11. Zack- Luckily, somehow, I don't see my long post I thought I madeyesterday. So, this will be the condensed version.
    About buying signed work: I like a signature, partly, for the same reason I like books that are autographed. I think that a lot of collector worthy photographs are not photographed because photography was not initially recognized as art by the "art world." I happen to think that artist should sign their original work. The identity, personality, talent, vision, etc. of the artist is an intangible part of the art and, for me, the signature is a tangible expression of some of the intangible aspects of all that.
    Also, in this digital age means that the truly original copy of a photograph is a series of 1s and 0s in a file. But, having the digital file, which itself can be copied in its entirety makes for better, unlimited production of photographs than does having your hands on the original negative. You mention needing to know the date Arbus died as some indicator of whether you have an original and for some idea of by whom it was printed. An original signature helps a bit in that regard.
    Limited editions have the same problem. Historically there have always been much less meaning to a limited editions than buyers have been led to expect. For me it is a matter of integrity not to offer something as a limited edition when chances are it is not. I might some time offer an edition for a particular reason. For instance, I might sell 50 prints at a special price for some special event. But, if I do, that event becomes part of what is identified and it is made clear to those that are buying, that the edition is limited only in that it is a purchase made for that event. I would probably reference the event where I number the print.
    The Eggleston lawsuit is a fine example of the consequences of doing it the old way. The artist and the dealer that issues a "limited edition" that is not really a one of a kind edition may be incurring collector wrath and some liability. I remember reading one time, decades ago, about a photographer that did limited editions and then he cut the negative into pieces which were then pressed between two sheets of glass as evidence of its destruction. That is the only incidence I recall where the photographer took steps to assure a limited edition was truly limited.
    I say, if we claim to be creating art, we adopt the historical convention of signing our print, an artistic tradition that stretches way into history before that period when photographs were not considered by most to be art. Claim your position as an artist beside all artists by signing your art work.
    Oh, well, not so condensed.
  12. John, there are a number of differences between photography and traditional fine art that make comparisons fairly difficult.
    For starters, paintings (et al) are traditionally signed somewhere unobtrusive in a colour and place that won't draw attention to the signature. This is clearly impossible in photography, especially analog photography, as whatever you sign the print with will be a different medium than the print itself, and will therefore stand out much more. I'm not saying you're wrong mind you, so much as I am explaining why there is a difference in preference.
    Also, photography is much more 'modern'; you find fewer signatures in modernist painting as well. If the signature is large enough to be read without a magnifier, than it is large enough to possibly disrupt the work.
    But as far as limited editions go ... I'm not sure we're talking about the same thing. Are you suggesting that letting buyer demand control how many prints you produce makes an edition 'limited'? Because if that is the case, than almost every product on the market constitutes a limited edition. Or are you suggesting that you destroy the unsold prints, and mark them as an edition of however many are sold? Because honestly, that seems like the same thing with a more positive spin.
    The purpose of an edition, at least in the art market, is to create rarity. Unlike a painting a photograph is not necessarily unique, so rarity must be created. In my Arbus example, Doon's prints from her mother's negatives are also limited. To 20 per negative, I think. Not 20 per year, or per edition ... just 20. Or 24, or 40, or whatever.
    As far as your referral to the fact that editions don't matter in the digital age ... well, they do, and probably more so. With the advent of film scanners, a negative could be scanned a single time and printed in infinite numbers, thereby solving the problem that analog prints have, which is that continued exposure to light and heat - and handling - will cause the quality of the negative to degrade over time.
    You are correct that an edition is largely irrelevant. This is because most editions don't sell out (or don't sell out quickly enough), and I doubt there are too many people on this board who have a large market for the resale of their prints.
    But if you're the sort of person whose work might be resold, then an edition that is small enough creates rarity. Say that you can sell prints for $2,000 all day long John. Now if there is no limit to the edition, the price will never go up, unless you raise it. Why would it, since anyone could buy one from you?
    Now say that you only made ten of those prints. You obviously have no trouble selling them, so there will be people that really want one and couldn't get it. This will cause the price of your prints to go up, as some of those people will want them badly enough that they are willing to may more than the original sale price. You don't get squat for that, but you DO have people who want your prints now, as they're considered an investment that could appreciate in value. Art galleries love this.
    So now your next edition can sell for $4,000 per print, as your work is already much more valuable than the $2,000 price tag that you put on it previously. You still only need to sell ten prints to get the same amount of money that you previously got for twenty, and you have the advantage of a dealer pushing you harder than last time, as they consider you a surefire way to get paid.
    Obviously not everyone will be able to take this route, and as a result editioning doesn't matter to everyone. But it is a very important part of business for a certain market.
  13. I agree with John. Signing the mat is lost if the matt is changed.
    For my prints, I use my initials, which is also my logo. It's the same every time, and I use Photoshop to place it IN the photo itself, in the lower right corner, up far enough that it won't be covered by the mat. It's not overpowering in size or opacity (usually around 30%). If possible, I'll use part of the photo to blend it in. Such as placing it in foliage.
    It's our "art", and artist's always sign their work.
    My opinion.
  14. Zack-
    The problem with limited editions is that too often they are not limited. They will be redone, if not by the artist, then by the artists's estate, or some other owner of rights to the work. The art world is full of examples.
    I don't sell enough to generate interest in a truly limited edition. If I ever got that way, then I would limit the number of prints available, but probably not to the extent of a true limited edition. In a unique situation, I might do a limited edition and then take steps to destroy all files. Even then, with the ability of a scanner, somebody might rip somebody off some day. I prefer my method. And I track who buys. If a market for my work ever actually developed, there would be enough info to determine the rarity of a print. One advantage to me is that, as long as I carefully monitor each print within certain parameters I set for each, I print on demand.
    Trust me, if I could sell a limited edition of a hundred prints for a price that averaged out to gross a half million or so to me, I'd offer those limited editions and destroy the underlying file. Till that day, I'll do it in a way that has meaning to me and my customers.
    We'll just have to agree to disagree about signing. You say I shouldn't compare photos to other forms of art such as painting and then you say more recent art is more and more not signed. I wasn't saying sign because it makes a photo somehow more legitimate as art. It is simply my opinion that art of any kind has greater value to me if somehow signed. I strongly disagree with your statement that photos should "NEVER" be signed. You disagree with me. No problem. How boring it would be if every body agreed with me. Peaceful and correct, but boring.
    Ricochetrider likes this.
  15. To the spelling guru who professed that "matte" is the only correct use, I refer him to either or Merriam-Webster online: He'll discover that "Matte" is also correctly spelled "Matt" or "Mat." If you go to various art supply stores online, you will see that is is spelled all three ways. So it's not only confirmed by dictionaries; it qualifies as "common use."
    To the poster who said NEVER sign prints on the front, give me a break! Virtually ALL artwork, photos or otherwise, is signed on the front. You can sign yours on the back, but anyone who sees it will wonder what the hell you were thinking.
  16. Spearhead

    Spearhead Moderator

    Virtually ALL artwork, photos or otherwise, is signed on the front​

    You've seen "virtually ALL" artwork? That's a fairly unusual claim. There's a few people that missed that:

    There's more, but what they would know. Their photos must be worthless if they signed them on the reverse.
  17. Love the links to Sotheby's. Great images and interesting with the signature, edition, and stamps on the verso. I am preparing for a major solo show and found this very informative. I also LOVE the image. Thanks for taking the time to find all the links, and share! Bravo!
  18. I agree with John. Signing the mat is lost if the matt is changed.
    For my prints, I use my initials, which is also my logo. It's the same every time, and I use Photoshop to place it IN the photo itself, in the lower right corner, up far enough that it won't be covered by the mat. It's not overpowering in size or opacity (usually around 30%). If possible, I'll use part of the photo to blend it in. Such as placing it in foliage.
    It's our "art", and artist's always sign their work.
    My opinion.
    MrAndMrsIzzy likes this.
  19. Nobody's ever offered to buy my work. Where should I sign them? o_O
    ajkocu likes this.
  20. Vincent Peri

    Vincent Peri Metairie, LA

    Hmm... I sign my photos
    at my desk...
    ajkocu likes this.

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