by Les Picker
I've read two articles within the past several months that each makes a strong case for photographic prints, arguing that they are more important and more meaningful than ever. With digital photography and storage media having won the day, most non-photographers would consider that laughable, but give me a few paragraphs to build my case.
In one of the articles the author makes a paradigm-shifting point, for me anyway. Nowadays we store all our imagery on electronic media. Wonderful, right? But how many of us started in the age of floppy disks? Were are those disks now? I actually saved my first novel on one of them (thank heavens it never saw the light of day... and never will!). But even if I found that disk, where am I going to find a player that can even read it? Now think of CDs. Like most of you, I stored thousands of images on them before DVDs rendered CDs obsolete. The point here is that technology moves at a relentless pace and at some point obsolescence becomes a real issue. I can't even count the number of photographers I know who have piles of CDs with, in practical terms, irretrievable images on them, whether due to obsolescence or to the number of hoops and amount of hard work needed to access them.
Then there is the issue of the compatibility of those older storage technologies with newer and ever-updated operating systems. Put them all together and you have impending disaster for image preservation and retrieval.
# The case for Prints
As I say during the introduction to my print workshops, if there is one unchanging aspect of photography, it is the primacy of fine art prints to judge one's work. From Matthew Brady's photojournalism during the Civil War, through artists like Edward Weston, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Ansel Adams and Dorothea Lange, to our modern masters, the photographic print has always been the yardstick by which great photography is measured.
Want another fresh perspective on electronic imagery versus the photographic art print? Ever watch someone flip through a collection of electronic images stored on an iPad, smart phone, laptop or desktop? It can make one suffer from vertigo! Each image gets maybe two seconds, click, next one, click, click, click.
Now, walk into a gallery or museum exhibit or private home with fine art photographic prints on the walls. You stop, you stare, you discern the subtle shading, the contrast, the tonality of the print, the drama and emotionality of the image, the lusciousness of the paper. It is an entirely different viewing experience, almost reverential. It's like the difference between a Big Mac and dinner in a fine gourmet restaurant. Sometimes a Big Mac fits the bill, but for lasting memories I'll take gourmet.
To reinforce that, I was at the AIPAD convention last year and watched as collectors snapped up original Ansel Adams and Dorothea Lange prints at $50,000 a pop and up. Those prints are still as perfect and enduring as the day those artists pulled them out of the developer. With today's printers, archival inks and fine art archival papers, prints should last two hundred or more years, if properly mounted behind glass.
As a printmaker I found these discussions to be enlightening and encouraging. My print workshops usually sell out quickly, so there are obviously other photographers who agree with my outlook. Long live the fine art photographic print!