Ansel Adams wrote three fundamental books during his lifetime that are considered must reads for photographers The Camera, The Negative, and The Print. The point of these writings was to explain the importance of each according to him, and ultimately how all three things resulted in the photograph. Undeniably, the camera is now, and was then the most important part of the equation, obviously without the camera there cannot be a photograph.
Regarding The Negative, despite the seeming resurgence of film, this volume today would be better titled The File. The intent of course is to state the importance of the image in its raw state as that thing which will, ultimately once printed, result in a Photograph.
The series ends with The Print, stating the obvious, that to the author, a photograph does not exist until the finished print is created. More importantly in Adams’ view, until the photographer has made a print that conveys their exact vision. However at the time of his writings it must be stated that not all photographers were printers and not all printers were photographers. Indeed, many famous photographers left the printing to someone else, only giving direction as to how they wanted the final image to look through cropping, dodging and burning.
Currently we seem to think that an image posted on the internet social media site of choice constitutes a finished photo. Now most photographers have become editors, spending far too much time fiddling around with every image in the editing software of their choice, and then, oddly, not printing it. Now, as then, an image does not constitute a photograph until it is printed. Whether created with a home printing set up, quite akin to the film darkroom of the past, or outsourced to a professional printer, it doesn’t matter and is the photographers choice, but the result is the same, a finished photograph. On a side note in the pre-digital era, many photo labs advertised “Photo Finishing” as their service. This meant that they developed and printed your film, thereby “finishing” the process started by the photographer. The obvious conclusion can be drawn, no print = not finished.
Why then is a print an actual photograph when a digital file on social media isn’t? Because despite what you might believe, a photograph is a thing, and things can only exist in reality. Basically, if you can’t touch it, it is not a thing, it is just the idea of a thing.
I know there are some people who will say that digital art is now a thing due to the progression of technology. No, sorry. I have yet to see, or hear of a strictly digital art exhibit, of any consequence, wherein all art is viewed in a gallery setting on screens. When I came to this realization, I had to ask why? Could it be because the public at large still considers art to be a tangible thing? Then photography by extension would still have to be a tangible thing. Even if it doesn’t always rise to the standard of “Art”.
Aside from just completing the photographic process by printing (whatever method you choose), it is also a way of “future proofing your work. Most prints when created on a proper photo printer, on photo paper, are to some degree archival and could be expected to last 25 or more years (with certain inks and papers, Canon promises 100 years, I think the jury is still out on that claim though). That should be enough of a reason to print. Consider it the final step in preserving your work once you have taken the standard storage precautions with your digital files.
Stay safe, see the world your own way and thanks for reading.