I love print.
I even love print on print action, and sometimes even print on print on print action. Printing forces you to apply critical thought and focus toward your work, and THAT my friends, family and foes, always makes for a better photographer. As many of you know, the “Print is Dead” war mongers have been running the halls of injustice, for YEARS, trying to quell the paper insurrection, which I have to admit is really damn funny. These toads are the same toads who ran the halls in 1997, 2001, 2003, 2006, 2009, 2011 and even today claiming “Film is dead!” while developing more actions and filters to mimic….ah, film. And yes, I just saw ANOTHER print ad with a photographer claiming they finally found a digital paper that looks and feels like….well…..analog paper. For the LOVE OF GOD people can we put this dead horse to bed?? Proof that if you pay photographers or give them something for free they will say just about ANY damn thing. All that matters is that you actually print.
I’m not really sure why anything has to be dead. I look back on the Toyota’s of the early 1980’s and frankly I wish we had those back. They were insanely good. Just because a new cloth interior was introduced didn’t mean I ran around the Road and Track test facility yelling “Kill it, kill that Corolla!” Luckily, print isn’t dead and why this is so great is that printing is so great. Printing is fun. Printing can be insanely challenging (the darkroom) or effortless (FTP to local lab) and like I said before, it makes you a better photographer. We clearly don’t want to pay for things we don’t need or want, so when you approach your work with print in mind it forces you to make choices. Which of my images is good? Which ones are REALLY good, and then finally, which ones are good enough to print?
You see where I’m going here. EDITING.
Good grief has our collective editing ability been blown to bits. It has. There is no denying this. Sure, some of you out there, like me, relish the edit and understand that editing AND sequencing is an art form(one where my ability fluctuates). But the editing elite is a tiny minority in a world of bulging “select” folders.
It’s not uncommon for someone to come to me looking for photo advice. It’s not uncommon for people to come with tens of thousands of images. Now, I’ve never had anyone attempt to show me quite this many, but I have had more than a few come attempt to show me far too many images. Now, if someone is starting out, rabid and so excited because they think that everything they shot is incredible, I’m okay with this to some degree because enthusiasm can translate to POTENTIAL. If you are going to be a great photographer you need to want it more than anything you have ever wanted.
What I’ve noticed is there is no perceived penalty in the digital space. So leave it in, no big deal. Maybe I’ll show the reviewer all four or five of these and get their opinion. This really doesn’t happen with print. Print forces you to study your similars and understand which is the best and ONLY that image survives to print. Reviewers have great appreciation for this.
I’ve noticed I have a very different feelings when someone approaches me with an iPad and someone else approaches with a box of prints. Now, there are exceptions to this rule. I’ve had people open their box of prints and haul out a STACK of a hundred plus images, and I’ve had someone turn on their iPad and show me ten images. However, MOST of the time, the reverse happens. iPad or laptop portfolios contain FAR too many images and print portfolios tend to have less fat and are more thought out.
Recently I met with someone who asked me to look at their work, which is what prompted this post. This person was starting out and was very enthusiastic, so consequently they get a total pass. But I told them, “Print the best twenty images.” And just so you know, their project contained tens of thousands of images. No exaggeration. Editing from 20,000 to 20 is no easy task, but the sooner you realize this is what it takes to really be a photographer the better off you will be. Remember, it’s supposed to be fun. You are focusing your work, making it tighter and thus more impactful. Fun people, fun.
And I want to emphasize again this process is extremely entertaining. Those boxes you see in the top image were made as I went along, during those time frames and projects, and those images were printed really just for me. I can’t remember the last time anyone opened those boxes, but the projects feel complete because I went through the process, made my tight edit and made the prints, one agonizing image at a time.
Also, the PRINT is HUGELY important in the history of photography. The print is the final chance you have at putting your fingerprints on an image because prints range in color, density, tone, texture, etc and should reflect YOUR work. If your prints look like everyone else’s then you might want to work on that. And technically perfect does NOT make a great print. Great prints have feel and mood. A few years ago I was at a festival and a very good photographer was having prints made at one of the vendors who sold printers. They accidentally printed his images with the wrong profile, which gave all the images a gold fringe in the shadows. The technicians apologized and said “Sorry man, we’ll reprint them.” The photographer said “No, that is exactly what I want.” The technicians said “Ya but that isn’t right and those aren’t technically correct.” Photographer said “Who cares, look at the print, it’s beautiful and what I am looking for.”
The images I have on the wall at home are all prints made by photographers who not only make distinctive images they make distinctive PRINTS. I’ve got tintypes, Cibachromes and even silver prints where the photographer is a master of printing in only the bottom half of the grayscale. I would venture to say that fifty percent of what makes these photographers so special is their printing ability.
It is not uncommon these days for me to run into a “photographer” who has never printed a single image. No, I’m not making this up, and I don’t mean in a darkroom. I mean they have never printed an image, period, with any method. I always feel bad because I feel they are missing out on half the fun. My advice, just play. Try a half dozen different methods or flavors and see what sticks. Each technique you employ will typically have a method of print that best suits your needs. TRI-X prints really well and easy in the darkroom, but TMAX 3200 is a nightmare for me. However, TMAX printed digitally looks insanely good. This took me a lot of hours and a lot of frustration to figure out. See, I just saved you a few weeks of you life. Book, print, color copy, wet plate, I don’t care. Any of them. All of them.
Go forth. Print.