Monument Valley, 2011
With the advent of digital photography, and even more importantly, the internet, our ability to share and experience photographs has changed dramatically. The wet darkroom, once so necessary for creating prints we could touch and feel, is much less common than it once was, and if I were a betting man I’d wager that the majority of digital photographers out there have never printed their own work, and never had the joy of seeing their work large and framed, never felt the richness of a rag paper with their art on it. That impoverishes all of us. High tech, but low touch.
I have always printed my work, though there have been notable hiatuses in my printing, the last 2 years among them. Sometimes I’ve done it myself, to varying degrees of success, and at other times I’ve had anyone from mPix.com to professional printers do my prints. But no matter what, sharing photographs on paper is a beautiful experience. That alone is why I print, and have returned to printing as a student. But there’s more.
I think photographers, and this is something my girlfriend taught me, need to live with their work. Not just on an iPad or laptop, but printed. Large. You need to feel it. Need to live with the lines and tones and moments. Feel the colours. Doing so reveals the flaws (dust spots on the sensor, anyone?), and the weaknesses. Could those lines be stronger? Could there be more tension? Are the colours right? In short, it can return us to craft. It can focus us on more than the momentary experience of seeing a photograph on Facebook, and give the image the dignity of being created in the real world.
For me, this return to printing has pushed me back from the edge of laziness. To see, in 17×22 inch detail, the flaws in my work, has pushed me to become more diligent. Not because I want perfection, but because my art deserves better than to be treated with the flippancy that digital can encourage me towards. And because, like the rest of this past year, it slows me down. It forces me to pay attention. It opens me to renewed receptivity. And, perhaps this is the real reason, the prints are simply more beautiful in my hands and on walls than they will ever be on my screens.
I encourage you, even if you never print at home, to print your work. The artist’s life is about creating and sharing, not creating and hording. If you don’t have a printer, look into mPix.com or WHCC.com and do some test prints with them, or go to your local Costco and try them out. But print your work. Do one a month and at the year’s end you’ll have 12 beautiful prints. Do two of each and at the year’s end you’ll have 12 to keep and 12 to sign and give away as gifts. The ability to see and experience the world, and express that experience through your work, is a gift; keep it moving.
If you’ve not read it, and printing your work yourself intimidates or frustrates you, take a look at Martin Bailey’s ebook, MAKING THE PRINT. It’s $5 and worth every penny. I wish I’d had it 5 years ago.