Every print at the point of creation is a precious object. Even if it is not for it’s potential as a photograph that is to be treasured and admired, the paper alone is a tangible object that is the result of a lengthy process of creation in itself.
Working prints are a means towards an end, that is the final print itself, and all iterations that exist before it is a pretender. The linear line of progression is readily apparent at the time of printing, but they can take on a life of its own after. This could be a year or a decade or even half a century after the creator is long gone. Even when labeled so, working prints assume the identity of a print itself, not quite finished but it is work produced by the hands of the artist. The same applies to early sketches and drafts by the old masters, many of which were never intended to be viewed, which turn into works of art themselves to be displayed in museums and sold at auction houses. This was never the intention of the artist, or perhaps it was beyond their imagination that drafts would ever see the light of day.
Modern artists on the other hand were already functioning in a world where anything the could be deemed to be of value. An artist was not limited to the work produced, but he/she became larger than life, so much so that the persona was the art. The more popular one became, the more valuable the work is perceived to be, regardless of its technical or subjective qualities.
In making photographic prints, I’ve always wondered which was the final stage of creation. It is usually the final print, but not always. Sometimes the intermediate can be considered as the completed work.
In an earlier project, I worked with the principle that the negative itself was the actual completed artwork, a culmination of all thoughts, ideas and effort in a physical form. The print is only a derivative of the negative, a process with infinite variables entirely independent from the so called ‘creative’ one that produced the original work.
One method is to put a signature to the work, which I have always been very hesitant to do. The signature of the artist is intrinsic to the work itself, and not a string of squiggly lines on a white border. Oh, how eager are photographers to be in the same league as painters and sculptors. Perhaps today in the age of endless reproductions in a digital workflow, the signature becomes an important mark of authenticity . A sign of confidence that the artist was somehow personally involved with the work, even if it was only a digital file attached to an email to the printer.
A better signature in the world of artistic reproduction might be the antithesis to creation itself: destruction. Unless clearly marked as a reference, working prints should be destroyed, and only then can there be absolute finality to the process.