Before we leave the topic, I'd just like to quietly point out that all the objections to inkjet prints within the photography market are very reminiscent of the objections to photography itself, back in earlier days. Not creative enough, too mechanical and thus insufficiently expressive, too automatic, too easily duplicable (and thus not unique or limited), too common and accessible to everyone without discrimination, and so on*.
Of course none of that is actually true. Try getting a print today to look just like a particular photographer's print from an era past and gone—and you don't have to pick someone like Robert Demachy as an example, either; the films change, the papers change, the methods and even the visual taste involved is peculiar to each particular maker.
Ken Tanaka mentioned this the other day: when Walter Rosenblum made his own prints from Lewis Hine's original negatives and then used his status as a Hine expert to certify them as genuine, eventually people realized that the "fake" (modern) prints looked too much like Walter Rosenblum prints. In other cases where modern prints are made from historical negatives, too, experts (and sometimes even ordinary folks) can tell the difference. I saw some modern prints made from Lartigue negatives, and while I thought they were beautiful (I tend to like replicas), there was no mistaking them for vintage prints.
Another example. When Ctein and I were going through the back-and-forth process of printing my "Wisconsin #7" (the streetlight in the snow) for my last sale, we couldn't get it to look like my original prints of the picture—partly because I stupidly didn't keep a print for myself from the earlier sale, leaving Ctein without a guide print, but also partly because I was then using a paper that's no longer available and a printer that I no longer have.
At some point—with the accelerated pace of progress, probably sooner than we can guess—inkjet printers themselves will be replaced by a newer and more efficient technology—prints from which will look somewhat different. At that time, the prestige of "vintage" inkjet prints from the era when inkjet printers were ubiquitous will begin inexorably to rise—and thousands of photographers will wish they had made more inkjet prints of their old digital files when the process was still current and it was still easy to do so**.
[CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post said that Jim Hughes had mentioned the Hine/Rosenblum controversy. It was actually Ken Tanaka, who mentioned it in a comment to the "And the Winner Is" post. Apologies to both for the mistake. —Ed.]
*And thus, they're slow to be accepted as valid and valuable art...just as photography itself was slow to be accepted.
**I've been impressed by a certain development that I've seen in my own life and work. I was mostly a "darkroom nomad" during my heavy film-shooting years (from 1980 to 2000). I had my own darkroom a couple of times—never for very long—and otherwise I used darkrooms at schools where I was a student or schools where I taught. (Or just didn't have access to a darkroom at all.) I also was often short of having enough money for paper, too. Consequently I was always "putting off" making prints of negatives I liked; either I'd stop at the workprint stage and put off making the finished print, or I'd make one finished print and assume I could make more whenever I needed to.
In the meantime, the world changed. Even now I don't have time to make new wet prints from old negatives, and most of the papers available now don't fit the old negatives as well as they fit the papers they were made for. (See here if you don't know what I mean by "fit." Be warned, though, it's complicated.) Suddenly those old prints made when the negatives were made are indeed "vintage prints"—and I wish I'd made more of them when it was natural to do so.
Meanwhile, I'm doing the same damned thing now—I've got a collection of files awaiting printing, and I'm making the assumption in my head that I'll have time in the future to catch up. I guess I never learn.
P.S. That ghost story this morning? Completely made up. :-)
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Featured Comments from:
Bob Gary: "Absolutely the truth, I'm sure, for a lot of us. So, we all have generations of "vintage" print projects waiting to be done, and quite possibly may just skip the unprinted ones slated for the darkroom and print them out in inkjet. I've gone back to early 1912 negatives and had to scan and print for the present time, not bothering to "match" the end result with a corresponding original print. It's always going to be different. There always seems to be more old negatives than actual surviving prints that need to be done. And, there's as much fiddling with scanning parameters as there was with darkroom exposures and chemicals. Toss in the Photoshop techniques in lieu of the enlarger printing skills, and the current printing processes are just as intensive, yet different."
xtian: "I think you are absolutely & totally 'spot on' with your point. I would only add that this whole thing not only applies to inkjet prints but also to digital photography in general. I have said from the beginning that this bickering is a total rehash of went went on between painters and photographers beginning around 1848."
Richard Newman: "I think that part of the problem is that some people tend to consider the difficulty of the technique, time required to learn the technique, and the time required to create the image, as significant value factors in judging the quality of the image. Therefore, a photograph, which can be exposed, 'Photoshopped' and printed in a day cannot be as valuable as a sculpture, oil painting, or etching—even if the images are essentially identical. This was a factor in accepting photography as an art form (how could a Kodak 'point and shoot' print be valuable? Not much skill, or years to learn how to work the shutter). And it applies to print evaluation. They further justify it by pointing at the large percentage of prints that are mediocre at best, ignoring the fact that the vast majority of painters, sculptors and such were (and are) mediocre. If digital printing could be made more mysterious it might get better reviews."
Mike replies: Ansel Adams foresaw "electronic photography" (what we call digital), but if I remember correctly, he also said on a few occasions that he wished photography weren't so easy. :-)