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The Importance of Making Prints

August 7, 2010

We’re very lucky.  As photographers, photography collectors or lovers of photography in general we have the opportunity to experience the history of the medium whenever we walk into a museum or gallery.  Right there, hanging on the walls before us are the images of the medium’s masters, Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, Paul Strand, Imogen Cunningham, Alfred Stieglitz…well, I could fill this entire article with names of brilliant photographers but I’m sure you get the point.

Even though these great men and women are no longer living we continue to be influenced by the images they created because their beautifully printed images or the film they were made from still survives. It’s this great archive that allows us the opportunity to continue to enjoy and learn from some of photography’s greatest artists.

I wonder if this is something that will be lost to future generations of photographers and those that enjoy photography?  The ability to interact with and physically appreciate the art of photographers working today.  Without the physical recording of an image onto film and the subsequent necessity to make prints from that film in order for anyone to see your work many images live only in a virtual world, either online or on a hard drive.

While places like Flickr and Facebook have provided photographers with a way to get their images in front of more eyes than ever before they don’t provide a safe and secure place for them to be stored and viewed indefinitely into the future.

Regardless of how you store your digital files they are never truly safe.  Magnetic devices with moving parts such as hard drives will eventually fail.  Recordable media like CD’s, DVD’s and Blu-Rays are exceptionally fragile, one scratch and they may become unreadable.  In addition they are seldom considered archival and are always at the mercy of the ever continuing tide of technology.  Images backed up on DVDs today may not even be readable 15 or 20 years from now if DVD drives aren’t available to access them.  This forces image makers to continually make new archives of their entire library of images whenever a new technology decides its going to stick around for a while.  Certainly there will be photographers that do this and keep their images safe but how many?

At the same time isn’t there something about a tangible print that creates a deeper connection to an image?  Think about it, whenever you see something you like or a piece of history or something well-known, what do you want to do?  Touch it!  That’s why we’re surrounded by signs reminding us not to do so.  There’s something about humanity that deepens an emotional bond when we’re able to make a physical connection with something.  I fear that without the necessity to make prints that emotional bond between viewer and print may one day be lost.  In the end photography may come full circle, with the technology that is at the foundation of the mediums boom in popularity also being responsible for its eventual fall from emotional importance.

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One Comment
  1. You make some good points. Also, how many of us process to make it look as good as possible on the computer screen? Shouldn’t we be more concerned with the final print? Even with a perfectly calibrated monitor, there are inherent differences between prints, which are reflective, and monitors, which are backlit, that will keep them from ever looking identical.

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