Despite the ubiquity of images that are shared entirely in digital form, via computer screen, tablet and smartphone, a print remains the ultimate expression of a well-conceived photograph. Images shown on a tablet screen can look spectacular, but a print is tangible in a fundamentally different way. The paper (or canvas or other medium) itself adds to the image and the essential process that a photographer goes through to create the physical print will naturally refine your vision of the image.
Prints make your images tangible. Prints enhance your images with material qualities and the associations they bring with them. Synthetic or organic? Reflective or nonreflective? Smooth or textured? Uniform or irregular? Sharp or soft? White or cream? Transparent or metallic? These and many other factors will have an impact on the technical quality in your images and on the associative reactions they produce within their viewers.
Prints define the scale of your images. What’s the appropriate scale for an image—miniature, life-sized or larger-than-life? Do you want people to walk up to a building-sized mountain or hold the print in their hands? Scale changes the physical and psychological reactions people have to images. They draw close to small prints and sometimes hold them or even carry them with them wherever they go; large prints immerse people in images that may fill their entire visual field until they pull back to view them from a distance. You can change a space or even create new space with prints.
Printing makes your images more durable. Historically, it’s the images that were printed that survived. Putting new technology disaster stories aside, there has never been a precedent to help us determine how long digital files will last if properly cared for. In theory, they should never degrade and can be copied indefinitely without reducing their quality. Whether people will perform the required maintenance to ensure this is the real question. One day in the future, media and format migration may become automated, but it’s not now. Consider prints your ultimate form of backup. Though they can deteriorate on their own, if properly produced and stored, prints need little or no additional care and no know-how to retrieve and use them.
Because they’re physical, prints are easily bought and sold. It’s harder to command a higher price for intangible things and harder still for them to hold their value or appreciate. In recent years, there have been unprecedented escalations in the value of photographic prints.
Images in print are more rare, as well as less accessible. (Often, this contributes to both their market and personal value.) Prints take up physical space, and why would you let something do that if it wasn’t important? Of all the images you look at in a day, how many of them are prints? No one carries thousands of prints in their pockets or on their cell phones. No one makes millions of prints. How many prints do you make? Most of us don’t make enough prints. Making a print is a statement.
Different Viewing Experiences
Prints encourage images to be viewed in different ways. If you’re like most people, only the most important images to you have been printed, and only a few of those are displayed at one time or for long periods of time. We look at images that are printed differently than images that are not. Do you look more frequently and longer at images that have been printed or images that haven’t? Prints persist. They remain in our environment consistently and require little or no conscious effort for us to consider and reconsider them, yet often they demand that we do look at them more consciously. Making prints can become a part of the decision-making process to focus more attention on a select few images. When images are printed, they’re no longer lost amid so many other less important images. When printed, your images become more significant.
What Printing Can Do For You
When you make a print, you consider your images more carefully for a longer period of time and often multiple times. This adds up. It’s quite likely that along the way you’ll find many ways to improve your images. Repeat this process many times, and you’ll find that your vision as a whole will improve. Inevitably, when making a print, some things are gained and others are lost. The sacrifices you’re willing to make offer still more opportunities for you to clarify your vision. What do you want people to appreciate most about your images? Let this question be your guide as you first explore possibilities and later make decisions about how to present your images.
The many new opportunities that making prints presents will challenge you to clarify and declare both your artistic sensibilities and your creative goals. How would you like your images to look? How would you like others to look at your images? What do you want to accomplish with your images? How do you want people to interact with your images? Do you want to present your images as casual, everyday, highly accessible, utilitarian artifacts or scarce, highly refined collectibles? The way you choose to print (or not to print) your images will encourage people to look at, interact with, share and value them in entirely different ways.
Prints offer invitations for others to carefully consider not only what you’ve seen in individual images, but also your vision as seen through many images. Once you’ve made many prints, you’ll understand your vision better, other people will understand your vision better, and you’ll understand their vision better, too.
The things you make your images into will guide the viewer through a reenactment of your journey of discovery. For you, part of your journey of discovery lies in making prints; for them, part of their journey of discovery lies in appreciating the prints you make.
Read more about printing in my series of blog posts, “The Making Of The Print,” at www.johnpaulcaponigro.com/blog/category/the-making-of-the-print/.
John Paul Caponigro, author of Adobe Photoshop Master Class and the DVD series R/Evolution, is an internationally renowned fine artist, an authority on digital printing, and a respected lecturer and workshop leader. Get access to a wealth of online resources with his free ennews Insights at www.johnpaulcaponigro.com.