A small, long-neglected, print is now my primary bookmark – there is such a thing – and has become my most viewed (by myself) and loved.
In 2018, we spent some time in Scotland. The photographs from this page are all from this trip. At the time, I had a few printed, mostly in piezography b&w, in A3 or A4 format.
Those prints have now gone to friends and family.
I thought none were left.
But this photo of the Old Man of Storr (below) had inspired me to try a few variants on my staple Hahnemüle 315 baryta + piezography. I also had it printed in smaller format (roughly 5×7 inches) on a variety of other papers, including Japanese Washi, which had been a long time dream of mine.
When the prints arrived home, the Washi was a big disappointment. Piezography produced a far less punchy image on this paper than on baryta and the very prominent fiber – coupled with the smaller print size – gave the impression of a loss of detail.
The print looked diluted, and lacking in energy. I placed it in a drawer with other underwhelming experiments and forgot about it for years.
Until my recent printing sessions dictated a reorganisation of said draw and the little print resurfaced.
Viewed in isolation, without the competition of larger and punchier versions of the same subject, the little Washi started to shine. So out it went, from the pile of neglected experiments and into my current book as a full-page bookmark.
That’s when the magic started to happen.
If you read your books at a table, and at a distance, the effect might not be the same for you. But my relationship to books is much less formal. I’ll read in bed, I read on the plane a few hours ago, I read on a settee, and with the book quite close to me, because that means no reading glasses 😉
The repetitive close-up viewing of the bookmark print has forced me to appreciate it in a very different light.
First of all, viewing it from a short distance has brought the texture of that wonderful paper to the fore. It also revealed to my tired eyes that detail hadn’t at all been gobbled-up by that texture but was in fact superimposed on it, adding a lot of depth the the image.
If the transition from screen to print brings depth and materiality to the image, shifting from large and remote to small and intimate continues to magnify the attention you pay to the little details that get lost in the whole, often viewed on a wall. It isn’t rare for me to turn a page, see the photograph and just stop reading, to scan through it again, and again.
The boulder-riddled area at the bottom of the peaks, in particular, gets a lot of attention. The weaker blacks on the print (a characteristic of matte textured papers, presumably) means that not a spec of the image is lost to black shadows. There is detail to inspect everywhere. And the inner region of the large pillars is full of “I want to be there” mystery.
I can understand now, why some older people can look at an old photo of a loved one, over and over again. From close up, well printed images just suck you in. The featureless area behind the peaks, falling into the lake and into the distance provides so much endless depth that viewing it on the textured print feels like peeking through a misty window.
Printing feels like starting over, learning not just the basics of the technique itself, but those of human psychology also. A big punchy print provides instant impact and delivers enough power to energise a large wall. But printing small, on beautiful cloth and in a much more subtle tonal range, creates a sense of intimacy and immersion that has to be experienced to be believed. I’m humbled and in love with my little Washi jewel 🙂 🙂 🙂