In Praise of the Print

January 18, 2015  •  Leave a Comment

When the tourist photographer returns from a trip, he/she often brings back images that represent the amazing places visited. The photographs become souvenirs more powerful than any they could have purchased from the nearby souvenir shop. These photographs are often shared with family and friends digitally, sitting around a laptop or maybe as they are streamed to a TV. I wonder sometimes if the transition from prints to images on a screen makes these souvenirs less powerful. I think the answer is yes. Holding an object in your hand makes it somehow more important, more powerful than pixels that rearrange themselves so quickly.

Fine art photographs are no different in that respect. A work print can lay around the house, a final can hang out on a wall. You might catch a glimpse of it now and then. It doesn't require that you make a conscious effort to look at the pictures, they just become a part of your daily existence. Guests might notice and interact with the image which sometimes results in a conversation revealing a perspective on the image that never occurred to the photographer.

The sharing of images on a computer screen is subject to someone determining how long each image is visible, inevitably resulting in a pace that is not ideal for everyone involved. Prints allow the viewer to linger on a particular image, move in close or step back, skip over an image altogether, and back-track as desired. This freedom allows each viewer to customize their own experience.

Some of my own fine art images are printed quite large and hang on the walls in my house, and while I may tire of seeing them on my computer screen, I still enjoy them as prints. One reason, for certain, is that the light falling on them changes continually. It may be soft indirect daylight, a streak of direct sunlight, or warm artificial light from a nearby lamp. The character and personality of the image are transformed as the quality of the ambient lighting changes, whereas an image on screen always looks exactly the same.

It's interesting that while I spend a lot of time tweaking the color of my prints under specific controlled lighting conditions to get them exactly "right", it's unlikely that they will ever be seen under those same lighting conditions. While I believe it is important to go through all the processes that result in accurate and predictable color during the printing process, I have no problem letting go once they leave my idealized lighting environment, setting them free so to speak. It is my fervent hope that my prints will find a new home and take on a life of their own.

 


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