Fallen TreePhotographed at Deam Lake with a Crown Graphic Press Camera on 4X5 Kodak Tri-X.
In October, I was privileged to participate in the Sleepy Hollow Festival in Vevay, Indiana. Artists of all media, mostly locals, were present for an outdoor art fair, accompanied by live music, food, and traditional craftsmen from all over Southern Indiana. I spoke to over a hundred people about art in general, and about my photographs in particular. Most of the comments about my work were favorable, but there was a question that came up regularly throughout the day. People asked me, “Why do you make prints?” It’s a great question, and I hope I gave a great answer.
First, let me tell you about a couple who came early to the art fair and walked from booth to booth, speaking to each artist about their work and asking for the story behind the art. When they got to me, they immediately targeted on this print, Fallen Tree, and asked me to explain the image to them, why I had photographed in the first place, what techniques I had used, how I had printed it, etc. We spoke about the print for nearly an hour, forcing me to remember details I thought I’d forgotten, and making me realize how often I don’t really look at my own photographs.
Toward the end of our discussion, the couple, who turned out to be art history teachers from Cincinnati, gave me their take on my print, why they liked it more than any of my others, and what it meant to them. It was an eye–opening experience.
In the digital age of photography, the art of the print is often overlooked. We are bombarded by so many images every day that we only give them a sideways glance, and then move on to the next picture in line. While it would be impossibly cumbersome to print every photograph we make, there are good reasons to print our favorite images:
- If your hard drive goes down, it can’t take images on paper with it. The photographs we print become more than pixels in an electronic river. They are more or less permanent images bound to a physical structure, and can be stored and kept safe just like all other valuable papers. You can even make multiple copies to give to friends, upping the chances that at least one print will survive.
- Speaking of survival, prints create a legacy. I once read an article written by a photographer whose friend had died, leaving hundreds of little yellow boxes of slides (remember those?), all unsorted and uncategorized. The man’s widow had asked the photographer for help in organizing her husband’s pictures. She was totally overwhelmed by the great number of unnamed slides, and had no idea where to start. After much debate, the photographer tried to categorize his friend’s images, but with little luck. Years of work went into a storage box, waiting for the widow to pass away and for her children to be left with the burden of the unmarked slides. Think this doesn’t happen now? How many images do you have stored on hard drives scattered throughout your office and home? How many of those images would your family know to preserve, and how many are just there because they haven’t been sorted? Several years ago, I began sorting through images, both digital and film, to go into a “legacy drawer.” I’ve steadily made prints of images that are important to me for one reason or another, creating a separate catalog that describes the photograph and why I wanted to preserve it as a print. I’ve also given some of my favorite prints to my friends for safekeeping. When I am gone, at least some of the work I’ve done will be preserved.
- A print gives a photograph a quality of realism. When we hold a print in our hands, whether a print made at some long–ago drugstore, or a print we’ve made with our own hands, the connection to the image becomes stronger. The pure physicality of the print, the tactile quality of the paper, and ability to hold a part of our world in our hands and inspect it as closely as we desire, bonds the image to us in a way that a digital picture on a screen never can.
I hope that you will consider printing at least part of your work. Whether, like me, you choose to print your images yourself, or you decide to send out work to a lab, the prints you create will give your work a chance to last beyond you, to serve as a reminder to future generations that you were a photographer.