If you've been reading this blog over the past two months or so you'll know my feeling about prints. By this I mean the making of photographic prints and why they are necessary and why it is an important skill to be able to make your own.
Before I dive into this somewhat loaded topic, let's look at past and present practice in photography. Over its history photographic prints have been, for the most part, the common currency in art photography. They were made either by the photographer or a skilled lab under the photographer's direction and they could be exhibited and traded as valuable objects and indeed, many of them were. An original Frederck Sommer or W. Eugene Smith print is a sight to behold. Lustrous, luminous, detailed and glorious, it can stand on its own against the best paintings, sculptures, drawings, etc. Just as important, fine vintage prints are a tactile and visceral connection to the artist that made them.
Then along came digital about 10 years ago and inkjet printing and Graham Nash Productions and terms like gliceé (a really a bad idea) and it was clear there was a struggle to try to grasp the concept that once a file is finalized an exact duplicate could be produced at the push of a button today, tomorrow or ten years from now. At the same time, the art of printing was fractured by new and emerging technologies combined with many false starts, digital gurus sprung up out of nowhere, each with their own rules for master printing (and frequently screwing things up) and many photographers gave up the idea of printing their own files, or indeed, printing the work at all. Add to this the compounding effect of the web, individual websites, and now tablets and it seems as though the need for a print of a photograph is peripheral at best and unnecessary at worst. For most of the world a photographic print is not needed and undesirable. And yet, it is impossible to escape the fact that really good printing, while unusual these days, is the best it has ever been. This gets me going as fine printing is about as fundamental to me as a career photographer and artist as can be. However, the screen has become the primary way I present my work to the masses. And its good, particularly if you look at the site on a good monitor, but prints it is not. Then don't get me going if you're looking at my site on a smart phone! ARGH!
Okay, let's try to be rational and calm down a little and move beyond hyperbole and rhetoric. And let's be clear, the dust has settled considerably. Contemporary inkjet printing is a reasonably mature technology and much of the complicated parts are below the surface as it isn't something most people "need to know". Nevertheless, printing for yourself can be daunting , whether it is is conventionally using a darkroom or making digitally sourced inkjet prints.
Let me state my case:
The photographic print, in art circles, is still the object of choice for collectors, archivists, gallerists and curators. It also has proven marketable, relatively stable, and of long lasting worth. The print functions as "currency" in that something like a Fred Sommer print can be thought of as rare (he only made about twelve prints a year), valuable (prints are currently selling for from $15,00 on up to over $125,000 each) and as likely to accrue in value. To bring it back to earth, will a print of mine ever be thought of in those terms? I doubt it, but that is out of my control for the most part and probably determined after my death. But what I can do now and can control is how I realize my work as an artist while I am living and that is to make excellent prints of what I photograph. You should too.
Because (here comes the point), beyond all the reasons written above, the print is the thing that shows how good you are. It levels the playing field in that your work, printed well, shines. It is instant credibility and puts you in contention in the big leagues. Your work, printed poorly, simply eliminates you. And worse, marks you as an incompetent for possibly all time.
Sorry for so much writing and no pictures but some imagery here seems like it would go against the point of the post: learn to print well to present yourself at your very best. Even if you don't print your work yourself, because you've learned how to make excellent prints, you will do better at getting the best out of whomever is printing for you. You want to be higher up the food chain of expressive, art photography? Have your work shown, reviewed and talked about? No matter how good your shooting is it won't matter unless you are making the best prints possible from your work. Make excellent prints of your work.
A sampling of prints, from 1976 to 2012.