So, a solid 18 months after promising to do so, I’ve finally started printing again. Good news, though not for the reasons initially imagined. The tactile “last mile” is actually so freeing.
So, printed, something like the photo above starts with a triple whammy unfair advantage.
But there are more interesting reasons for bracing and facing the unpleasant prospect of ICC profiles, high costs and unavoidable hit-and-miss.
Time and space roughly sums them up. And I have John-Paul Caponigro to thank for making me aware of those in a recent video of his.
Rather than space, think scale.
The essential nature of a print is being a physical object. This obviously mean you can hold it in your hands rather than look at it on a screen (or, worse still, a phone). It provides a very different appreciation of your photographs, which become crafted objects, much like a Fabergé egg, or a noodle necklace from Mother’s Day. And it lets you think of printing in terms of print size.
Now, much like the megapixel head-trash and French taxes, galeries catering to the needs of footballers in Qatar and oligarchs would want us to believe that bigger is better. But the beauty of printing is that it lets you decide the scale you want to give the image. How you want to view it, from what distance …
A four inch square will make viewers hold the print up close and personal, scanning little details in the most intimate fashion. An 80 inch print typically does the opposite, forcing viewers away as much as – rule of thumb – 3 times the diagonal. And some photographers like Ed Burtinksy or Andreas Gursky play on both levels, providing a grand scheme to be viewed from afar and luring eyes in via hords of intricate details. Not only does this require a large format camera to record, it demands a large format talent to achieve 😉
But the point is that we can give our photographs different personalities by deciding how small or large to print them. This adds a whole dimension to our abilities to wow audiences 🙂
But time is probably the most wonderful aspect of printing.
Deciding what size to print forces you to look at your photographs closely, trying to remember your initial intent, imagining how you would like others to discover them, how you would display them, or arange them on a page/table/wall. It makes you consider them differently, as you think about display size, the paper type, the print process.
That’s the freeing part mentioned at the top of the page. It’s quite amazing to watch videos of advanced printers. They make it obvious that, to them, cameras, files, resolution … are just a means to an end. That end is the print. And it is all that matters. It takes you from a frantic 30 frames per second to a satisfying 30 prints per year. That change of focus, and that change of pace need to be experienced to be understood, I must say.
This obviously begs the question of how to print. A vexing question, if you ask me.
Just like cameras evoled into a messy jungle of techno-babble and value inversion (resolution being more important than ergonomics or highlight management, for instance) printers also create a rather hostile environment for the aspiring artist. It’s a shame Steve Jobs wasn’t a photographer. Today, we’d have a stylish box with one butter that just … prints. Instead of which we have this other messy jungle of profiling, clogging, bronzing, metamerism, driver madness, ink prices, RIPing. RIP will one day be the way of the printer, at this rate.
So, for now, I’m not printing, not really. But sending files and euros to Picto, in Paris, and getting prints in return. This allows me to focus on prints rather than on the morbid technicalities, and to experiment with papers and processes. Above, you have piezography (neutral and slightly warm). Below is silver printing. Silver has deeper blacks but, so far, for my personal style, piezography has the (subjective) edge.
Still, this is both expensive and not as satisfying as printing at home.
So my thinking cap is on. What printer to get? Sadly, it seems that quantity goes hand in hand with quality in this part of the photo universe. There just isn’t an A4 printer that really does a great job. Which is a shame because I’d love to build up a little archive of A4 prints of my fave photographs and do the testing at home before purchasing larger prints from Picto or other labs.
Right now, the tiny Canon Selphy 1500 is rather tempting. Kyle McDougall, film-centric youtuber, does a good job of explaining the main interest of this little tool for work prints, particularly in the context of editing zines or books.
And that’s another pleasing topic. I’ve printed lots of travel albums over the years, and the idea on working on small books centering around a topic, rather than a trip, does appeal.
This leaves intact the problem of finding a decent home printer that doesn’t use up more space than the average Tokyo flat. I have no clue. My large Canon is gone, and I ain’t getting any that big anytime soon. A3 is my max, ideally A4. If you have any ideas, my eyes and ears are wide open 🙂
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