New Originals: Reprints in Photography

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By Hanako Murata, J. Luca Ackerman, Tatiana Cole, and Peter Mustardo for PMG
Presented in part at the PMG session of the 2017 AIC Annual Meeting in Chicago, Illinois

Since its inception, creating multiple prints of the same image with the negative/positive process has been a defining characteristic of photography. However, due to the ability to create multiples from one source negative, the status of a photograph as an “original” object has been controversial and ill-defined within the fine art world. This article will discuss some of the many issues surrounding reprints and multiples in photography from a conservator’s perspective. Further discussion will center around the results of a survey on the topic.

The fact that there exist multiple prints of the same image is not new, as multiple original objects can exist simultaneously, such as editioned prints. In recent years, “reprints” have emerged much more frequently, in various forms and with various conceptual, material, and economic implications. Some “reprints” are not printed on the same photographic materials nor even with the same process as the original, while others are created for a limited time and are intended to be destroyed. The movement of creating reprints seems to be gathering momentum and is likely to continue into the future. We will certainly come across more of these reprints in the future as new originals. This complicates the notion and status of the original, and challenges conservators, curators, historians, galleries, collectors, artist estates, and contemporary artists to define what an “original” is in photography. This practice is not codified and creates both confusion and opportunity. It is worthwhile to understand past and current trends, to discuss the impact of newly created reprints, and to debate and determine what constitutes an original print in the field of photography today.


Author Hanako Murata conducted an online survey in 2017 to gather and share current thoughts among professionals on the topic of “multiples” and “reprints” in the world of photography. The survey targeted those who create, present, sell, collect, exhibit, research and/or conserve photographic works in twelve different professions in the U.S. and Canada; artists, artist’s estates, galleries, photograph curators and conservators (in institutions that are known to hold large collections of modern and contemporary photographs), photograph conservators in private practice, independent scholars, photograph dealers, auction houses, art advisers, certified photograph appraisers, and insurance. The survey results of 46 participants compiled here do not represent each profession equally and it is not possible to claim that they reflect each profession’s viewpoint as a whole. Nevertheless, even the small number of responses was indicative that this topic is worth openly discussing.

Types of Multiple Prints

What are the types of multiple prints in photography? Non-editioned works may have been created over long periods of time throughout an artist’s life. These multiples were printed for sale to collectors, galleries, and/or for museums and/or for exhibiting, gifting, or exchange by the artist. In the last half of the twentieth century, “limited edition” works became especially common due to the increasing market value of photography. These include editions in various sizes, formats, and processes, as created by an artist in his/her lifetime and/or posthumously by the artist’s estate.

As photography has been established as an art in its own right within museums, galleries, and on the fine art market, various new practices and terms defining multiple prints have been created. Widely adapted terms for newer multiples include; “reserve prints,” “exhibition prints,” “posthumous prints” (editioned and not), and reprints that are created for the replacement of original prints. “Working prints” or “proof prints” are intended to exist for different usages and not as the final artwork. Unfortunately, “unauthorized prints” also arise as fine art photographs are sold on the market for increasing amounts of money.

During the survey, it became readily apparent that there is little consistency in use of terms related to reprints and multiples. Differences also depended on a participant’s profession, background, place of employment, country, and the time period being considered. Even among photograph conservators the understanding of these terms varied widely (see Table 1).

Table 1. Various types of multiples and reprints (working definitions)

Editioned Print/Copy
New Edition
Limited Edition
New Limited Edition
Series of prints from a single negative. A numbering in the series or lettering system to indicate X out of a certain number created or will be created (i.e., ed. 3/25)
Reserve Print/Copy Prints acquired and kept by an institution to replace the original after deterioration by continuous display if no longer presentable.
Exhibition Print/Copy
Master Print
Prints that were created for exhibition use only and not for sale purposes. Also, a print that is designated as the master print or final print by the artist. Sometimes, master prints can be prints that guide a printer or the artist.
Posthumous Print/Copy
Estate Print
Foundation Approved Print
Prints made from an original negative by a professional printer or printing studio authorized by the artist before their death or by the artist’s estate posthumously.
Prints created to replace a physically damaged or chemically deteriorated original print. Also, an artist-made print, from a negative or file, after the first print was made.
Working Prints / Proof Prints
Artist’s Proof (AP)
Printer’s Proof (PP)
Hors de Commerce (HC)
Bon à Tirer (BAT)
Trial Print (TP)
Prints made during production for quality control, personal use, or other reasons.

Editioned Prints

The practice of making limited editions is not new since the negative/positive process allowed photography to follow the practice of traditional printmaking. From the second half of the twentieth century the practice of editioning prints has increased dramatically as market value and demand has risen.

The survey results show that subsequent editions that were created after the initial editions were mostly made in larger print dimensions. The survey also showed that subsequent limited editions in different print sizes started to arise in the mid-1970s among contemporary artists. Today, some artists are creating editioned works with varying dimensions at the same time. In some cases, collectors can choose not only an image but also the size of the print that they desire.

There are also limited editions with different print dimensions that are made using varying printing processes. The majority of artists listed in the survey used digital printing technologies for their subsequent editions. In many cases of earlier editioned chromogenic prints, the new edition was made using inkjet print technology. This trend seems to have started around the year 2000 and will likely continue into the future, as it is driven by the demise of the analog photography industry and the correlating decreased availability of these materials.

The photographer William Eggleston, whose early limited-edition works were originally created using the dye-transfer process, was a central figure in a court case that legally challenged this topic. His iconic images were later reprinted, enlarged, and issued using digital printing technology. In 2012, a complaint was filed in federal court against the artist by a collector who argued that the new edition of larger dimension inkjet prints diluted the value of the dye-transfer prints from the first limited edition. The U.S. District Judge Deborah A. Batts dismissed the collector’s complaint saying: “Although both the Limited Edition works and the Subsequent Edition works were produced from the same images, they are markedly different.” This case Sobel v. Eggleston (12 Civ. 2551) officially set legal precedent for artists to create new limited editions from previously editioned images not only in different sizes but using different processes as well.

With all of the complications of editioning in photography, the question was asked in the author’s survey: “Should photographs created today be editioned and why?” Only one participant chose “No” and a total of 66% participants chose “Yes” or “Sometimes.” The practice of editioning is certainly accepted in the contemporary photography world and will most likely continue (Figure 1).

Figure 1.

Reserve Prints

The term “reserve print” in this paper refers to a reprint that is kept aside until it is needed and used to replace the original print because of damage or deterioration. In general, museums started acquiring a set of reserve prints when contemporary chromogenic photographs were entering collections in the early 1980s. The main reason for this was to compensate pre-emptively for the aging of chromogenic dyes in the future. Having a reserve print can ensure a work’s long-term preservation by extending its life within a collection and ensuring the possibility of future exhibition of the reserve print.

Exhibition Prints

The term “exhibition print” in this article refers to a print that is created for exhibition use only and not for sale purposes, although traditionally the phrase “exhibition quality print” refers to a print of utmost quality. The exhibition print is initially created to preserve the original collection print and to allow display under less strict exhibition conditions, such as longer exhibition times, higher light levels, or less than ideal environmental conditions. Making an exhibition print also allows the display of an image which is chemically sensitive or physically vulnerable. In many cases, such exhibition prints are destroyed at the end of the exhibition period. Sometimes, modern facsimiles have been used as exhibition prints; they can be described as surrogates for very sensitive historical processes. Also, exhibition prints allow for the display of an object with minimum protection (usually at the artist’s request), such as unframed prints affixed to a wall with push-pins or similar hardware, or of images printed for wall coverings, etc.

Figure 2.

Figure 3.

In other cases, exhibition prints are created when and where there exists no original print but only an original negative, transparency, or digital file. In this case, most institutions generally state that these prints are made for the exhibition or clearly note the later printing date on its exhibition label.

Notably, only twelve respondents said they destroyed exhibition prints after an exhibition, when asked, “What happens to the exhibition print after the exhibition?” Exhibition prints are apparently often kept for future display, thus replacing the function of the original print, or are acquired as a new collection object (Figure 2). It seems that the function and definition of an exhibition print has become broader and more ambiguous. As  such, it seems especially important to fully label and indicate when an exhibition print was created, because the future of an exhibition print might not be as originally planned.

Posthumous Prints

The term “posthumous print” refers to a print made from an original negative by a professional printer or printing studio authorized by the artist before their death or by the artist’s estate. Estates are challenged to keep an artist’s legacy alive and relevant into the future. Posthumous prints often have been created to generate income for the artist’s estate. The quality of the prints and clarification of the labeling together are one of the key factors in “the importance of maintaining high standards to build trust and a reputation with galleries, the art market, and collectors.” (Steer 2016)

For labeling posthumous prints, survey participants expressed the need for an authorized estate signature, or stamp, along with a known printing date (Figure 3).


The term “reprint” refers to a print created to replace a physically damaged or chemically degraded original print. Each individual case for reprinting is different, and decisions to reprint are made on a case-by-case basis. However, through the survey it became clear that the practice of reprinting photographs is now relatively common.

In the survey respondents were asked whether reprints signed by the artist have the same monetary value as original prints. Approximately 40% of participants said that the reprint will not have the same monetary value as the original print, even with the artist’s signature (Figure 4). This indicates that although reprints might have their own monetary value, they are not fully accepted as true replacements. On the other hand, close to 21% of participants chose “yes” indicating that reprints signed by the artist do have the same monetary value as the original print. It is interesting that there are different opinions on this subject among different professions as well as within the same profession (see Figure 4).

Figure 4.

Some could argue that a reprint made using a different process from the original would not be the same and conceptually should not be considered a replacement equal to the original. Survey results revealed that 47% of respondents have come across reprints made with different processes; to find out how accepted this practice is among professionals, the survey asked “If the process of the reprint is different from that of the original, does this affect the monetary value?” Many chose “Sometimes” (meaning on a case-by-case basis) or “N/A” (Figure 5). Only one respondent chose “No.”

As with exhibition prints, it was assumed that the damaged original would be destroyed when a reprint was made. In response to the question “In your experience, is it common practice to destroy a damaged original print when it is replaced by a reprint?” professionals in institutions reported that they may have destroyed damaged original prints yet kept a piece of the destroyed print, or kept the damaged original print for educational purposes. Other comments also revealed that not all damaged original prints are destroyed when a reprint is created.

Figure 5.

Reprints in a Multi-Element Work

The term “multi-element work” refers to a work of art comprised of multiple prints or elements. To the question, “Is the authenticity of a multi-element work compromised if any damaged elements are replaced?” sixteen respondents replied, “sometimes,” thus emphasizing that the answer will usually be determined on a case-by-case basis (Figure 6). It can be surmised that there is wide acceptance if and when other conditions of reprints are fulfilled.

Most respondents agreed when asked about labeling. For the question: “How transparent should the information be when describing a multi-element work with replaced elements?” 60% of survey participants selected: “Fully transparent including which prints have been replaced, and their later printing date.”

Figure 6.

Answers to this question affirmed our observation that reprinting as replacement for damaged originals will become a more frequent practice, even if done in sizes and processes that differ from the original edition (Figure 7).

Figure 7.

Importance of Clarity

In 1970, California was the first state to pass a law designed to protect the purchasers of multiples of fine art when sold for more than $100 each under California Statute – Civil Code §§ 1740-1745.5, (Farr Act), Sale of Fine Prints. This law requires full disclosure of information, such as a “certificate of authenticity” for fine art prints, photographs (positive and negative), sculpture casts, collages, or similar art produced in more than one copy. New York State followed this law with its own in 1981 for each multiple produced on or after January 1, 1982.

Other states, including Arkansas, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, and South Carolina, have similar laws protecting consumers in the purchase of art multiples (statutes in those states are less rigorous and less inclusive than those in California and New York). New Mexico does not have statutes directly or indirectly requiring print-disclosure or certificates of authenticity.

“Article fifteen of the New York arts and cultural affairs law provides for disclosure in writing of certain information concerning multiples of prints and photographs when sold for more than one hundred dollars ($100) each, exclusive of any frame, and of sculpture when sold for more than fifteen hundred dollars, prior to effecting a sale of them. This law requires disclosure of such matters as the identity of the artist, the artist’s signature, the medium, whether the multiple is a reproduction, the time when the multiple was produced, use of the master which produced the multiple, and the number of multiples in a ‘limited edition’. …”

(New York Consolidated Laws, Arts and Cultural Affairs Law – ACA § 15.01. Full disclosure in the sale of certain visual art objects produced in multiples.)


With the continued refinement of digital printing technologies, designating who approves or who authorizes a work’s authenticity is a vital and crucial factor when creating reprints. All of the types of multiple prints discussed in this paper are within a broader category of “original prints,” especially when the approval of an artist or authorized person is obtained. It seems clear that reprints will be created in increasing numbers, which will challenge many of us in different ways. The definition of terms will also change over time. With the increasing value of some photographs, there is pressure to identify where in the spectrum of “originality” the particular print resides – this is the realm of dating and connoisseurship. Clarification is important at every stage; collaboration and communication between professionals is necessary to build an environment where reprints and multiples are produced, codified, and clearly understood.

The conservator’s role to preserve, conserve, examine, and study prints will expand to include past, present, and future reprints and multiples – the “new originals” discussed in this paper. Openness, transparency, and accountability in providing accurate and detailed information on reprints of all types are necessary for historical study, aesthetic appreciation, and the establishment of fair market value for any object capable of being so closely duplicated. Involving all of the stakeholders, most importantly the artists, in this appeal for clarity will make for a richer understanding of any artist’s work. Additionally, it will also enhance the fields of photo history and the conservation of photography.

The full article on this topic will be accessible in the forthcoming Topics in Photographic Preservation, Vol. 17 (Murata et al. 2018).


This study would not have been possible without the generous support of the many participants who took the time to respond to this survey.

Further Reading

California Statute Civil Code § § 1740 -1745.5. – (Farr Act), Sale of Fine Prints. (Title 1.2 added by Stats. 1970, Ch.1223. as amended in 1988 and 1994).

Christie’s. 2012. Photographic Masterworks by William Eggleston: Sold to Benefit the Eggleston Artistic Trust: Sale 2642: Auction. New York: Christie’s New York.

Jürgens, Martin, and Achy Obejas, eds. 2013. On Collecting Photography. Washington, DC: The Association of International Photography Art Dealers (AIPAD), 16-32. Accessed October 15, 2018.

Kennedy, Nora. W., Meredith Reiss, and Katherine Sanderson. 2016. “The Future Is Not What it Used to Be: Changing Views on Contemporary Color Photography.” Studies in Conservation, 61(sup2): 91-97.
Lerner, Ralph E., and Judith. Bresler. 2012. Art Law: The Guide for Collectors, Investors, Dealers, & Artists. Vol. 1. 4th ed. New York: Practicing Law Institute.

Murata, Hanako, J. Luca Ackerman, Tatiana Cole, and Peter Mustardo. 2018 (forthcoming). “New Originals: Reprints in Fine Art Photography.” Topics in Photographic Preservation, 17. Washington, DC: American Institute for Conservation.

New York Consolidated Laws, Arts and Cultural Affairs Law – ACA §§ 15.01., 15.03., 15.05., 15.07., 15.09., 15.10., 15.11., 15.13., 15.15., 15.17., 15.19. “Full Disclosure in the Sale of Certain Visual Art Objects Produced in Multiples.” Accessed October 15, 2018.

Oliver, Brooke, Esq. 2004. Expanding Art Markets: Prints, Certificates of Authenticity, and Art Licensing. CLE International. Accessed October 15, 2018.

Quick, Jennifer. Ed. 2018. Analog Culture. Printer’s proofs from the Schneider/Erdman photography lab, 1981-2001. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Steer, E. 2016. Interview: Muna Tseng on Keeping the Legacy Alive. Elephant. September 13, 2016.

Tarsis, Irina, Esq., 2013. “In Sobel v. Eggleston Limited Edition is NO Limit to Subsequent Editions.” Center for Art Law.

Accessed October 15, 2018.

Würtenberger, Loretta, ed. 2016. The Artist Estate: A Handbook for Artists, Executors, and Heirs. Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz Verlag GmbH & Co.

—Hanako Murata, Photograph Conservator, The Better Image,;
J. Luca Ackerman, Associate Conservator, The Better Image,;
Tatiana Cole, Conservator of Photographs, Private practice,; and
Peter Mustardo, Director, The Better Image,

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