Thursday, March 26, 2009

Trust me, the print looks better

When I recently invited a local photographer to bring work prints to our monthly photo group, I received an interesting response:

"I don't have ANY prints to share! I haven't had access to a printer for about 6 months, so work prints have become a thing of the past. I've been working from scans and the computer, and only occasional prints for a specific show... I'm not sure how I could participate right now, but if I do start printing again I would definitely love to come."

I think this statement neatly encapsulates the age we're living in. Prints are dinosaurs. I suspect that over 99.9% all photographs being made today never make it into print form.

So what does that mean? On one hand, it's great. Via the web I can encounter a universe of photos that would be logistically impossible to see as prints, and indeed my computer is the inteface for the vast majority of fine art photography I encounter. On my monitor I can get the basic idea of the photo and usually a general sense if the work appeals or not. So for browsing work, screen images are wonderful.

But to really see what's in a photograph, it has to be a print. I have yet to see an image which looks better at 72 dpi on a monitor than in optimal print form. A print is always better. When making photographs, you don't imagine what it will look like on a screen. You envision the print. That's the end result, the thing you fine tune around. Even people who say they aim toward a book as the final form --Friedlander or Gossage, e.g.-- would probably concede that a well made print beats a book image in quality. In photography The Print is the standard.

So what does it mean that prints are disappearing? I have no idea but I welcome any comments.

For me the situation is reversed and I've been cranking out prints like crazy the past few months, meaning I have extras. An 8 x 10 C-print of this image goes to the first person to request it via email (Sorry, no longer available):


BryanF. said...

sure, they do now, but do you believe that there won't be advancements in display technology that will slowly close the gap?

I'm not betting against technology, not after what I've seen the last 15 years.

Still, hopefully prints will be with us for a long time. I suspect they will....

George said...

I was very much on the 'what's the point of printing' end of things for years but since I've started shooting again recently, it's only becoming a real photograph when it's become tangible.

I've been on a printing tear and it's really challenging and liberating: I have to choose, of all these hundreds of digital frames is really worth preparing for a print?

Skye said...

I'm not sure that every print is better than viewing on a good monitor. For instance, Jeff Wall's work - the backlight is crucial, and a cheap way to reproduce that is on a monitor. I think it depends a lot on the kind of photograph.

Blake Andrews said...

Bryan, I suspect you're right and that the time will come when screens will rival prints in quality. I still think there is something nice about having a hand-made, tangible object to share or exchange or spill coffee on. It's a bit like Amazon's Kindle. Yes it is superior to a book in every measurable way but one of those machines will never displace books in my life.

George, I think there are many in the "what's the point of printing" crowd, and I was hoping to stir some of them to comment. You can probably go far with photography without ever printing anything, but for me it falls a bit short. It's a bit like making music on a computer without ever playing live. You can have a great time doing this and make good songs and distribute them, even get famous, etc. But isn't something missing? Perhaps not.

I think Jeff Wall's lightboxes are pretty different from looking at a computer screen, but perhaps that is the direction things are heading in the world BryanF hinted at: Large hi-res screens of light taking the place of prints.

Anonymous said...

I agree with BryanF. but would add this that in today's pursuit of a greener world perhaps the print and the inks and paper required to make it will become so yesterday or not green friendly as my kids say.Which requires more energy usage the paper or the electronic version. c.j.g. of eroticalee