The Magic(?) Of A Print - RJ Wilner

Posted: 03/03/2019

This print of an image captured at Botany Bay on Edisto Island in South Carolina was awarded first place in a local camera club 'Color Prints' competition last week.  With some pretty impressive competition involved, I was honored to receive the award.

But were it not for this competition, it's highly unlikely I would have ever had this print made. Many of my photography colleagues seem to hold prints in special regard as though there's something magical in holding a print in their hands. More than a handful of such individuals have been known to say things like...'An image is never complete until a print is made.'

To that I say...'Pfffft.' For me, a print is nothing more than an alternative means of viewing an image. There's certainly nothing magical about them. And holding it in my hands...'Meh...no big deal.'

There are 2 advantages to having a print....
  1) The trueness of  the color/contrast/overall quality of an image viewed online can be rather variable and sometimes significantly different than the photographer intended...depending on the tool used to view it. A 'web browser' frequently induces it's own color cast and contrast. And the fact that most computer monitors are never 'calibrated' introduces a variable from machine to machine. A print depicts what the photographer aesthetically intended...at least until it starts degrading.
  2) One of my favorite aspects of photography is the frequency with which viewing one of my own transports me back to the moment of capture. It's as though Scotty beamed me back to that very moment and frequently I can recall, and seemingly relive, the moment I captured the shot. While that in and of itself isn't an advantage of a print, having it hang on a wall and viewed at one's leisure offers the possibility of reliving those moments each time it's viewed.

Unfortunately, the disadvantages of a print outweigh the advants for me...
  1) Prints are expensive to produce. 
          a) Having a commercial lab do the printing can be pricey...especially by those companies who do have a reputation for producing quality work. 
          b) And doing the printing oneself is even more so. Learning how to make quality prints is not a trivial task. It's a craft requiring a lot of skill that is raised to an art form by those who do it best. And that just addresses the 'knowledge' portion of the equation. The expense of the equipment needed to make quality prints is not an insignificant factor. If one is content to never print anything larger than say...16x20 inches, an entry level 'enthusiast' printer can be had for roughly $7-800 (US). If you want to print BIG, one can expect pricing to start in the $2k range and go up from there. And that's just the cost of the printer itself. The cost of paper is not trivial....especially 'big' sheets. And the inks to keep such printers functioning....oh my goodness. The inks alone are a never-ending black hole of expense.
  2) Though not a requirement for a print, it's fairly common to have prints matted and framed before hanging them on a wall. Another expense. And another aspect one can do on their own given the knowledge and time needed to output quality work. Another craft that can border on an art form. And like generation of the print itself, another piece of the puzzle that can be outsourced to a commercial enterprise. An industry unto itself that a city of any mildly large size probably has at least one shop in town. 
  3) The above two items simply address the production of a print and getting it to the point of being able to hang it on a wall. Now that we have a print worthy of hanging in plain view, where do we hang it.(?) For optimal viewing enjoyment, it can't be just anywhere. Preferably, it should be in a location where daylight won't produce a glare that impairs the enjoyment of viewing the image. Look at the image above. Notice how it's shot at a bit of an angle.(?) That wasn't an accident. I simply couldn't shoot it straight on without incurring an ugly glare that made viewing all but impossible....and certainly not remotely enjoyable.  And that's a 'lustre' finished print...not glossy. Look at just about any online shot of a print a photographer has posted, and the number of times where there isn't at least some glare across the print are few and far between. In my own house, it's surprising how few suitable locations I would find to hang a print . While I'm sure it's different for every house/building, finding a good viewing location to hang a print can be surprisingly difficult.
  4) So we've got the print and decided where we wish to hang it. Now we need to decide how to hang it. While there have been improvements in the mechanisms utilized to hang prints on walls over the years, I suspect the large majority of hanging 'wall decoration', be it a photographic print or any other form of decoration, still involves making at least one hole in the wall. A hole which, almost assuredly, will need to be fixed by someone at some point. Yet more expense.

To sum up, I just don't grok the 'magic' of a photographic print. I recently purchased a 27 inch monitor for $150 to use as a second monitor for my desktop pc. For the price, it's a decent monitor capable of 1080p viewing. Nothing special, but sufficient for it's intended purpose. And for me, the above image looks every bit as good viewed full screen on that monitor as the 16x20" print. So, if you enjoy having prints more than viewing images on an electronic screen....good for you. I am certainly not trying to 'sell' anyone on the notion of not printing their work, and thoroughly encourage everyone to choose whichever means of viewing photographs brings them the most enjoyment. I'm just growing weary of those who espouse the 'magic' of a printed image as though some glistening pixie dust emanates from a print and transforms it into a museum worthy work of art. What works for you doesn't necessarily apply to everyone.


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