The Print Part 2

In my last post, I stated that the print completes the photograph and results in the tangible thing that can actually be called a photograph as opposed to a digital image on a screen. Are there other reasons to print your work? Do you have to spend a good deal of money to print? If you are satisfied with the digital product, what is the point of printing?

There are a lot  reasons to print, aside from just the completion process. Firstly as I mentioned before it “future proofs” your work. Anyone who has been around the photographic process for any time understands the idea of preserving their work. You can have all of the digital storage you want. On site, off site, portable, and cloud storage. If you implement the standard doctrine of three places of storage with one portable and one off site, your work will probably be safe for the foreseeable future. Don’t count on it for the long term. There are several different types of digital storage that have become obsolete (like floppy discs) and some that are quickly becoming so (CD ROMS or DVDs anyone?). Prints in a box or album or whatever do not need a “device” to view, and will not become “un-openable” due to file corruption or obsolescence. Prints are always copiable and convertible to a digital format without destruction. In short, prints are as close to permanent as you can get. If you are any kind of serious photographer, it is the best insurance you can have. This doesn’t mean you have to print all of your work. Just what you think are the best images for posterity.

Thankfully I have prints that I no longer have the original digital file or transparency/negative for. They have been lost over the years, I still have the prints though, and wish I had more of them. 

Photography is not supposed to be transient. Rather it is supposed to have a sense of permanence. If you are around 20 years old or older, you probably have a relative that has boxes full of old photographs. Some may be in albums and none stored correctly. Of course, as digital photography has progressed, and as social media has become so pervasive people have stopped doing this. However, that old box of photos is a treasure trove of memories. It has preserved the past in a sense. Nostalgia. The digital environment will never be able to compete. There is no comparison to the joy of looking through a box of forgotten  photos or an old and valued family album and the quick scrolling through someone’s Instagram feed to see their latest photos. One is a quick experience that may elicit some comments the other becomes a deeper experience as you hold the photograph in your hands. What you are holding is a document of the past and it will exist into the future.

Prints can be had for very little expense. If you just shoot typical snapshots on your phone, you can take that phone to your local big box store and have 4”x 6” prints made for about 35 cents apiece. So you could have 100 prints for around $35.00 USD and go shopping in the process. When you get home, you can start your own shoebox of memories. Of course the same applies if you use a camera, you can just take your memory card and do the same. Of course for a little more money you can have bigger prints made. If you want higher quality or prints larger than about 11”x14” there are myriad online printers that can fulfill your needs at many different price points. Having prints made can be as simple and inexpensive, or as complex and expensive as you would like – your choice. The best part is  with any of these options you don’t even have to leave home. Even the big box stores have online options where you can upload your file, pay, and it will be shipped directly to you. Not having the time or the money really isn’t a consideration. 

Home printing is another story. The average budget priced all-in-one printer for the home will work in a pinch, but is not the best suited device for the job. In reality you should have a specialized and dedicated photo printer. Ranging in price from a few hundred to thousands of dollars for the printer itself, not to mention ink and paper, you are looking at an investment in equipment and consumables. Choosing and using a printer is really a subject in and of itself. There are other things too, like ICC paper profiles and monitor calibration. Suffice to say I, and many other people find it very rewarding and with a fairly budget minded set up, I can make prints up to A3 size (13”x19”) that rival lab made prints made by specialists

Ultimately, all things are impermanent and everything is transient. Neither a digital image not a print will live forever but the print will develop a life of its own.

The thing of it is to print. How you print and how frequently you print is your choice – even IF you print is your choice. But why wouldn’t you?

The Print

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.

Test print: Sony A7II, FE 50mm f/1.8, Canon Pixma Pro 100, Canon Inks, HP Advanced Photo Paper – Glossy

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.