After my “smaller is better (or is enough anyway)” rant yesterday, I got to thinking about the end product for most of us in terms of accuracy of representation and satisfaction in our work.
My favourite form of presentation and the one form that I think heightens photographic work when well handled, is printing. Printing adds the element of tangibility and longevity like no other form. All things digital are transient, but a a good print can actually become part of a living space for many years, immune to break downs, financial upkeep and in compatibility issues.
I think one of the things that stops many photographers from printing their work, is the lack of control they have over the end product. Ironic considering that it is exactly that control that makes the print transcend digital media.
The reality is, prints do not look like digital renderings. You can calibrate hardware, soft proof and install the best paper to printer profiles, but 1:70 contrast ratio, reflective only, paper prints will never look like 1:1000 ratio, backlit screens.
Their magic is that they don’t. What paper prints bring to the table is the subtler but no less powerful strength of image depth and reliable permanence. The screen catches the eye, the print holds it.
There is also the not insignificant aspect of viewing location. A screen image is encountered in a chair, in bed, a train or on a couch while you are searching for it (like inspiration) and many others like it. You do not find it and leave the screen locked to it permanently, you move on to the next, then the next.
The paper print is encountered in a hall or a wall space in a living room* on it’s own or amongst matching friends. It is usually where the light is the best and distractions of other media are eliminated. They become part of our identity and your living space like the books on our shelves or the clothes we wear.
To get the best out of your images in print you have to process with these differences in mind. If you go to a lab for your printing it is unlikely you will be satisfied by the result you get unless;
The lab is a pro lab, capable of adapting to your requirements or,
The lab is consistent in output, allowing you to adapt to it,
You then pay attention to presentation (location, framing, mounting etc.)
The best approach for some is to home print. This gives you a steep learning curve (one I am not an expert at by any means), but allows you to experiment, then be consistent in your own processes and control the important variables such as paper type and presentation.
I can only recommend printing at home from the perspective of someone who has had some mild success doing so. That success has completely over shadowed the prints I have had from a lab, proving to me that small but critical choices in tone, colour, exposure, size/shape and paper can make all the difference, even if you are technically fumbling.
Although technically flawed to my mind there are 30 odd prints hanging in the class rooms and halls of my wife’s school supporting their student wellbeing movement. This is my greatest achievement simply by being physically real. All of my other work relies on the limited longevity of the digital age.
If you never print your work, all of it has the life span of your internet accounts, your hard drives and your updating and back up habits, while the humble print sits on a wall, being seen by those close enough to you to be in their space, for many, many years.
We should surround ourselves with their gentle visual stimulus. Screens are a distraction, useful for information gathering, but they lacking the stasis required to influence us passively, as we pass by or stay and discover.
*Each afternoon, a print (not a photograph) that we picked up in Japan “comes alive” as the low evening sun strikes it. Every so often that print catches my attention and can take my breath away as a series of yellow windows in an otherwise mono-tonal image take on an obvious glow. I might visit this image if it was a book marked page on the web, but it would not have the ability to get my attention, relying totally on me deliberate searching for it. It always feels to me that I do not take possession of an image in any true sense unless it is in print form or in a book. This goes for my own images also.