In the last post I discussed the concept of great printing with poor ideas or no ideas at all (Printing Theory 1). As soon as that post went out, a friend shot me back an email saying that her problem isn't printing of bad photographs but in deciding what is worth printing. She further added that very often she ends up not printing anything.
Of course, this really got me going.
Let me tell you why. Sorry if this comes across as teaching but it is what I am. By not following through you are denying yourself the full loop of experience you set out to create in the first place. If you've been reading my posts for awhile now this will be familiar but work in equates to work out, or effort in equals results out. One of the given tenents to being an artist is that we are on a trajectory to make the best work we can but then make better work in the future. If you believe that and are an artist photographer I believe you need to see the image produced as a print. Because that is the end game of what we do, the final form of our image, the full realization of its potential as a work of art, beautifully crafted and carefully realized. These days much of our seeing of our work and our editing is on screen. But for me this is a pass through vehicle, a way to see the image but not in its final format. I cannot know the image completely until it is down on a piece of paper as a print. My motto is, "when in doubt, print it".
Then what happens? Well, you have your image as a print, hopefully as well crafted as you can possibly make it. This then becomes something that can be stacked together with other prints to form a portfolio. I believe I've said here before that I don't hold much to single pictures. I like to sequence my work and, for me, the challenge is to put my images together somehow with others to form a larger story or execute a concept. You also have created something that has a finality to it. Of course, you can make another print, alter its shape or size, tonality contrast, saturation, sharpness in an infinite number of ways, but that print you've just made is the end result of your effort and you have brought your concept to some sort of fruition. I like that. The ending being the print, the finality of the print says it stops here. The very nature of being frozen helps conclude it and present it in all its glory, hopefully. But the print you've just made allows you to go onto the next and then the next. Your files sitting there on your hard drive, in the library of Aperture, Lightroom or Adobe Bridge? Not so much.
So, my advice, for what it's worth, is to print your pictures. This is really a "follow through" lecture. I know, it is wasteful of resources so why make prints of pictures that aren't at their best? Because you need to be invested in making them be their best. To close them out, to take the chance that you'll discover something, or that someone you show the prints to will see something in them that you did not, or that they will grow on you after several weeks pinned to your cork board, or stuck to the fridge or leaning on your mantel. Finally, the print you've just made lets you leave the image behind so you can go on to the next one. Sound systematic? Well, that 's because it is. It would seem to make sense to develop a way of working that produces tangible results, wouldn't it?
In addition, printing is a big time craft. Printing well is a real skill, it doesn't matter if it is wet and darkroom-based or made with inks and a printer. Learning to print, really well, will make you proud, impress your photo friends to no end, and allow you to have a sense of accomplishment. Try this on: with good printing, the work you make now will hold its own when compared to the work you make five years or ten years from now. Want to play in the big leagues? Learn how to print well. Nothing eliminates you faster than presenting your work with less than first rate print quality.
Another scenario: the portfolio reviewer sitting at the table looking at work at one of the premier reviews: Houston, Paris, Portland, Oregon, etc, is seeing work from all over the world at 20 minute intervals for three straight days. She is looking at portfolios from people aspiring to have exhibitions or have their work published. This is the big leagues of art photography these days, love it or hate it. If she is qualified, do you think she will pay attention or remember work that isn't printed at the highest of possible quality? Point made.