Background On Lorraine Anne Davis Of Black And White Magazine And Her Article On Digital Prints
Lorraine Anne Davis MA, MFA, a fine art photography appraiser doing business as Archive & Collection Management, LLC, with offices in Los Angeles, Santa Fe, Houston and New York has been appraising photographs and photography collections since 1984. She writes feature articles and two regular columns on appraising photographs for Black and White Magazine: For Collectors of Fine Art Photography and has contributed to many academic publications. She studied under Amy Conger, PhD and Peter Bunnell at Princeton. She printed for the Chicago Albumen Works and worked as Bernice Abbott’s printer and archivist. She also was the assistant director of the Paul Strand Archive, a curator for Galerie zur Stockeregg in Zurich, Switzerland and the Pfeifer Collection also in Zurich. She is a fully Accredited Specialist of Photography in the Appraisers Association of America and carries a Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice (USPAP) certificate as set by the Appraisal Foundation in Washington, D.C. She has signed and adheres to the AAA’s Code of Ethics. She is available for lectures and workshops on appraising, preservation of photographs and collection management for collectors and institutions.
In the April 2009, Issue 66 of Black and White Magazine, Lorraine Anne Davis wrote an article for her column titled, “Concerning Digital Reprints.” In the article, Davis wrote that there is no longer any argument against the legitimacy of digital prints in general, but there is still a question regarding digital “’reprints’ by photographer’s estates or of public domain images whose negatives were created to be rendered in traditional analog processes.” She mentioned that Imogen Cunningham’s Estate, the Ansel Adams Gallery and Edward S. Curtis’ public domain image printers were producing digital prints. She made the argument that these digital prints were not only of little value themselves, but that they were undermining the value of the “original” hand-made prints by the artists themselves.
The Effect Of Digital Prints On Value Of “Original” Prints By Ansel Adams, Imogen Cunningham And Edward S. Curtis
While I have much respect for Davis and for those who admire her, which are numerous in the industry, not to mention that she has been helpful to me; in this case, based on considerable evidence, I disagree with part of what she wrote and agree with part of it too. In the case of the Ansel Adams Trust, the production and sales of their “digital replicas” that are high quality digital photographs of Ansel Adams’ prints, have had zero negative impact on the value of Ansel Adams’ hand-made darkroom silver gelatin prints. In fact, the digital prints and their promotion has brought more attention to Ansel Adams’ work and allowed for a wider economic diversity of buyers and gallery patrons. Since it is difficult to find some Ansel Adams prints, the digital prints also make more of the images readily available.
Scott Nichols of the Scott Nichols Gallery in San Francisco, who also happens to have the largest private collection of Brett Weston prints in the world, said that Imogen Cunningham’s heirs “flooded the market with cheap digital prints” and this devalued her collectible “original” prints. Certainly I have heard from a number of sources that Imogen Cunningham’s heirs have made a number of mistakes in representing her, but I imagine they are sincere in trying to do right by her work, which can be proven by the reality that they corrected course and changed the way they are offering the digital prints. Imogen Cunningham digital prints are no longer available through Pottery Barn and other online discount art retailers. Meanwhile, black and white prints by Imogen Cunningham herself have retained and gone up in value during the recent downturn. They are still very strong in the market and may have been strengthened by all the publicity over the modern digital prints. As they say in journalism school, “All publicity, even bad publicity is good publicity.”
As for Edward S. Curtis’ digital prints, Davis herself said:
…In the case of Edward Curtis’ “original” digital prints, made from scans of original photogravures, there are so many vintage, original photogravures available of his work that to purchase a digital facsimile is similar to purchasing a facsimile of the American Constitution when one visits Philadelphia as a tourist. The facsimiles produced for wall decoration might be pleasant enough, but anyone who collects photographs, even on a small scale, can for the same amount of money buy an original work of art.
In other words, Edward S. Curtis’ vintage photogravures are already so common and worth so little that digital prints were equal to them in value when they were first issued. In this case, obviously the digital prints do not devalue the “original” prints. If anything, the issue of the digital prints may spark more sales of the photogravures.
How Are Digital Prints Valued? Are They Collectible?
Davis goes on to delineate one aspect of print value:
The value of a photographic print is affected by the type of print it is, whether it is an “original” executed directly by the artist, or under the artist’s supervision, or it is one, two or more generations removed from the original.
One evening at an opening at Smith Andersen North Gallery, Stefan Kirkeby introduced me to a collector interested in vintage black and white prints from photographers like my father who were students of Ansel Adams and Minor White in the first 10 years, now called the Golden Decade, of the revolutionary professional creative photography program at the California School of Fine Arts, now the San Francisco Art Institute. This collector said that he did have digital prints in his collection, but that he did not want digital prints of that era. I don’t blame him for not wanting digital prints from that era when he could afford vintage darkroom silver prints. However, what he did not realize is that unlike many of the other Golden Decade photographers, my father, pioneer landscape photographer Philip Hyde’s renown was not limited only to the time period when he was making black and white prints as an apprentice to Ansel Adams and Minor White. Ansel Adams had more students than any other photographer in history. Yet Dad is known for being one of only three of Ansel Adams’ thousands of students who Ansel Adams invited to teach side-by-side with him in his Ansel Adams Workshops in Yosemite Valley. Dad is also known for participating in more environmental campaigns than any other photographer, making many national parks and more wilderness than any other photographer, being the primary contributor to the Sierra Club Exhibit Format Series that popularized the coffee table photography book, and perhaps most pertinent to this discussion, Dad is known, along with Eliot Porter for having introduced color to landscape photography.
Most of the archival lightjet and digital prints we make are of the most prominent color images that are nearly out of stock or sold out now because Dad made so few dye transfer and Cibachrome prints of them to begin with. He made in nearly all cases only 2-8 prints of each image. The other archival lightjet and digital prints we make are of Dad’s damaged or age-faded original color film transparencies. A relatively few of our digital prints are made from the black and white negatives, in fact nearly all of the black and white digital prints are made from scans not of the negatives, but of Dad’s prints. I would not suggest to the collector to acquire archival lightjet or digital prints instead of vintage prints, but rather to consider them whenever the “original” color prints are no longer available. For the lovers of darkroom silver gelatin prints, we plan to come out with modern black and white prints of some of Dad’s photographs too, those of which we have no more prints available.
Provenance Of Philip Hyde Archival Lightjet And Digital Prints
Our color archival lightjet and digital prints are made by master landscape photographer Carr Clifton, who has been a photographer now for more than 35 years and a digital printer for over 15 years. His mother introduced him to my father when he was a young teenager before he even had a camera. He had made a number of home movies but told his mother that he thought he would rather be a still nature photographer. He received advice on a starter camera, photography school and other aspects of getting started from Dad and this began a life-long mentor relationship and friendship.
The Sierra Club’s printer, Barnes Press, in 1966 had damaged two of Dad’s original color film transparencies from the Exhibit Format Series Book, Navajo Wildlands. Someone at Barnes Press had mishandled the transparencies with their bare hands and put fingerprints in the sky of the photographs, “Horse at the Mouth of Canyon de Chelly” and “Stormlight, Canyon de Chelly,” two of Dad’s most important images. Starting in 1998, using Photoshop, Carr Clifton restored the sky and removed the fingerprints. He then made large, detailed, sharp as any ever, digital prints of the two photographs. My father was blown away. Marveling at the new technology, he authorized Carr Clifton to print digital prints eight years before his death in 2006 and two years before he lost his eyesight in 2000. Dad even signed at least five, maybe a few more of the digital prints. Since they were authorized and overseen by Dad, just as Lorraine Anne Davis mentioned in her article, our archival lightjet and digital prints cannot be considered posthumous prints, but have collector value as photographer authorized prints. Having Carr Clifton and myself printing my father’s photographs is comparable to the printing of Edward Weston’s prints by Brett Weston and Cole Weston.
For more on our process, intent and the provenance of our archival lightjet and digital prints, see the blog post on Landscape Photography Blogger called, “Why Photography Galleries, Curators And Collectors Like Limited Editions.”
Why and How Intent Impacts Print Value
In her article Davis quotes Richard Benson’s writing about his 2009 exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York called The Printed Picture:
When a picture is skillfully made drawing or painting, its meaning surely derives to a huge degree from the intention of its maker. But when a picture is a reproduction of a drawing or a painting, the case is very different, because the form and therefore the meaning of this second generation picture are then heavily influenced by the technology used to produce the reproduction… When the picture-making system is photography, though, everything becomes muddled, because even in original work—photographs taken out in the world—the mind of the maker has to share the driver’s seat with the form of the picture as it is shaped by the technology of photography. And when a photograph is reproduced, things get more difficult, because such reproductions can only be made by re-photographing the photograph. It then becomes very hard to tell whether the person doing the reproduction or the technology itself might be in charge.
While this may be somewhat Orwellian in perspective, it certainly describes much of what is happening with not only digital photography today, but with Photoshop and other post-processing computer technology. Meanwhile, Davis goes on to clarify her position:
As an appraiser, I feel it is safe to say that high-end, artist-made or controlled reproductions will maintain their relative value as compared to the originals. However, one should be aware that when purchasing reproductions of a photograph, no matter what technology was used, that the intent will influence the value.
To this end, we have worked extremely hard and spent tens of thousands of dollars to be sure to apply my father’s aesthetics to our printing process and to match how he printed his dye transfer and Cibachrome prints as closely as we can when we are “developing” or “post-processing” in Photoshop the archival high resolution drum scans of Dad’s original color film transparencies to be made into either archival lightjet prints or archival digital prints. For more on our intent, our process and what steps we have taken to cause Philip Hyde archival prints to go up in value and increase attractiveness over time for collectors see the blog post also mentioned above, “Why Photography Galleries, Curators And Collectors Like Limited Editions.”