« The Importance (or Not) of the Print(ing) | Main | A Chacun Son Gout* »

Friday, 11 June 2010


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.


The last time I saw a copy of Black & White Photography (admittedly over a year ago), they still had that feature. I agree that it's great fun.

Best regards,

Well said, Mike.

Count me in with Vestal on many occasions.

One other note...digital now allows for easier replication of the 'final' print interpretation. On the other hand, some might argue that only silver printing captures the desired subtle tonalities in the first place. But, that's another topic.

And you know, it's a good thing people still print, because if they didn't, if all we ever did is to look at our pics on screens, then all the mega-pixels we've bought in the last decade would be down-sampled out of existence anyway.

I think you have finally arrived at the point. In the end it is what pleases oneself, how we get there is of little importance... except as a topic of endless discussion. Perhaps the next topic can be "Is what I do ART and how can I tell?" Steve Willard

Mostly I'm in agreement, so I'll talk about the exception.

The "final form" thing, of course, is the exception. If I'm editing my image for a profiled monitor, it should look very nearly identical on any other properly profiled monitor. A color-managed workflow means getting consistent results (within gamma limitations) from any device you use. An archived file with profile embedded will be displayable on future technology as well. I don't think we'll abandon the idea of color management, though of course it's possible the details will change enough that the files will need to go through conversion software.

A print may also represent the artist's darkroom skills, rather than his vision. (And the same is true for a digital file of course.)

Hi Mike, I'm quite enjoying these little forays into printing in TOP recently. As a regular reader of "Black & White Photography" I can confirm that the print interpretations by two printers is an ongoing feature in their publication.

You know, it would be an interesting project for a while to have a weekly "post-processing challenge". If people would provide images for this use (I'll come up with at least one camera original or scan a month if you want to try this; wouldn't take too many people at that level to have one a week, and that's the most that seems likely to be useful), you could make it available for people to try to "prepare" or whatever word we want to use for digital work, display them all in an article after the cut-off date, and discuss people's printing vision. The image originator might need thick skin :-).

I think this would be really really educational (guessing that people actually would comment on the results).

The English magazine Black & White Photography does indeed still carry that feature, wherein two expert printers make an interpretive print from the same negative, showing intermediate steps and creative choices on the way to the final result.

I've actually found this feature rather disappointing, mostly because the negatives chosen seem so consistently dull. Visually uninteresting, thoroughly ordinary scenes of household clutter or barn contents appear to predominate. Sort of like seeing what Michael Schumaker could do driving a Yugo with bald tires at Monaco.

That seems to have disappeared from the latest issue of B&W magazine. Unfortunately. The need to include more and more digital review/sales type articles has diluted it a bit, in my view of course. Still, next month they're 'doing nudes' - so not really falling into the Amateur Photographer mould then...


"it fixes the image into final form, or the best approximation of final form. That is, the print that the artist makes or approves is often the best, most stable and most durable embodiment of the way the artist wants her image to look."

For photography which thought of itself as art, this was always true.

But it was less true for news work. Aren't fine prints made _after_ the photo became famous in say time magazine a different kind of artefact? It might be better to think of the printed page as the real version.

And it wasn't true for movies, and certainly not for TV shows. Arguably photography is moving more into this space. Digital screens haven't been around for long, but they aren't going to go away soon. Some of Ctein's comments seemed to imagine hanging screens in a gallery, as we do paintings, but I'm not sure this is a relevant mental picture. You can't really hang "dr strangelove" in a gallery either, but that doesn't stop it from being visual art.

I always learn a lot from this blog/digital magazine/call-it-whatever, but I think I've learned more from this discussion about the art of photography than I have in quite a while. Thank you, and thank Ctein.

Something else I've learned from you Mike: tastes change, and subtlety is good.

When I look at my earlier prints (or digital files) I see that I printed darker tones…much too dark and much too much contrast.

Now I prefer lighter, low contrast images…for now!

I enjoyed the discussion about the value of a print as a permanent representation of the artist's vision versus a jpeg image seen on a monitor which is subject to the vagaries of monitor calibration. However I think we must admit that there are vagaries in the print making process. There is some variance in paper in the same batch. In the darkroom the dodging and burning is very subjective and difficult to control such that there are always some differences in print interpretation from the same printer. On modern ink jet printers the nozzles change ink distibution depending on time between prints, although my Epson 4800 is surprisingly consistent. Prints may feel more prestigious because they are uncommon; afterall, the jpeg distribution list, if we think of each monitor's representation as a copy, is so huge that it approaches absurd. I like viewing a print with other people because it feels like we are sharing the same view. I am reminded ironically of my photographer friend whose eyesight has lost so much acuity compared to mine that we probably are seeing two different images in the print even though we are viewing the same object in person on the same day.

All very sensible. I would add that barring catastrophic loss, prints are more likely to be around in thirty years than JPEGs--although, of course, we can't be sure of this. Yes, I backup, and I backup my backup, and I keep a backup hard drive in a second location. But in my experience, digital technology will sooner or later let you down. I have forty-year-old prints that look like they were printed yesterday, but I have lost MS Word docs I created ten years ago--not to mention docs written in the 1980s in Wordstar on a CPM computer. I try to print the stuff I like the best because there is a real chance that sooner or later it will be the only version of the image extant.

I've found all this very interesting, but when we look at Ctein's comparison,we aren't looking at prints - we're looking at screen images, which could have been arrived at by any number of editing means. What for me is a more important discussion is the physical difference between a print, and something viewed on screen. And that discussion cannot really be pursued online.

Excellent summation, Mike.

The sticking point for me, when considering a print as the definitive expression of an image, is that most of the time I have no control over the final viewing environment, or as you so aptly put it, "...the ways in which prints are still approximate and malleable...". As a result, every print I sell or give away is a compromise, made to look at least "acceptable" under a variety of lighting conditions.

I'd be interested in hearing Ctein's take on lighting. Does he make prints that are optimized for controlled lighting conditions, like a D50 viewing booth, or does he judge a print based on an educated guess about the quality of lighting that the print is most likely going to be displayed under? Those conditions can have as much effect on the appearance of a print as the variations in quality and calibration of computer monitors have on the appearance of a digital file.

When I find myself running around the house and the studio with a print, trying it out under different lighting conditions, I'm often reminded of those ubiquitous little monitors that every recording engineer runs his final mix through...

"I think you have finally arrived at the point. In the end it is what pleases oneself, how we get there is of little importance..."

You say that like it's easy to do. I worked very hard at improving my skills over the years, and yet I still don't often get the point where I'm really 100% happy.



The most important aspect of printing is (obviously) the refrigerator...

If my wife is pleased enough with the prints of the photos I take of the grandkids to attach them (the prints, not the grandkids) to the refrigerator door, I will get no grief about money spent on camera gear. (Which also benefits TOP, since I purchase on line kit through the links provided).

And the comment of pleasing oneself reminds me of Ricky Nelson's "Garden Party" - "You can't please everyone so you've got to please yourself." Mr. Nelson learned it late in life, and for him it was a painful lesson, but at least he learned.

Interesting couple of days on TOP - thanks!



I have maybe a hundred images that have never been printed but should be.

My question is, what do I do with all those prints? Put them into portfolio books? Wall space is very limited.

(Note that this isn't a digital-only question.)


One other aspect besides seeing an image as a final fine art print is to see it under proper lighting. It is important to remember that a print reflects light to the viewer, and as such the quality of the light has a major impact on how the print will be perceived.

That can also be said of the surround of the image, whether the color is neutral (for color works) and whether the room incidental light is washing out the print in peripheral perception.

The quality of the light is particularly important, both in color temperature and CRI.

And if we have come this far, why not finish the image ala Steigletz by properly framing it, supporting the print, and glazing with Tru Vue or other non-reflective glazing. It all matters, and few rarely meet the challenge.

I say this as I have two proof prints taped to the wall... :)


Dear Mike,

"That is, the print that the artist makes or approves is often the best, most stable and most durable embodiment of the way the artist wants her image to look."

Really? Outside of the Library of Congress, that is?

Okay, maybe we've entered the golden age of incredibly stable photographic prints via the miracle of digital printers. Keeping fingers firmly crossed on that one. But I would opine that historically prints have not shown themselves to be a particularly durable rendering, their THEORETICAL longevity notwithstanding. Putting aside color, with all its notable problems, I've looked at a lot of photographs from the 1940s, thru 60s to find examples for restoration instructions, and I have to say that a very small minority of those photographs were in what you and I would call pristine condition. The vast majority showed significant changes in tone or color, base staining, fading, yellowing, and so on. From an archivists point of view, most of the changes weren't serious. From the viewpoint of someone with a critical eye, they were all substantially distorted from their original form.

With experience can look past these changes and envision in our head what the photograph must've looked like when it was created. But it's really our mental creation. Go back even further and we can't even make good guesses because none of the photographs surviving from those eras are in anything like pristine condition. The best we ever get to do is look at modern prints made on what are hopefully identical media to get an idea of what the characteristics of a freshly made print should be, and then we try to superimpose those on the old prints we look at. A dicey business.

Display standards do change with time, and we can in no way be sure that people looking at our photographs on screens 50 years from now will be looking at something much like what we're looking at today. I could argue yes, you could argue no, but both of us would be just guessing. But will those changes be LARGER than the ones we've seen in prints from 50 years ago?

I do like to hope that my prints will be a durable record of my artistic vision but that's just hoping. And -- except for the miniscule fraction of us working to established high-quality standards in known and durable media like dye transfer, pigment, and platinum printing -- most photographers don't even have much reason to hope.

~ pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com 
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com 

Dear Dave,

Since I've never printed for clients who needed prints for reproduction I've never balanced my prints for industry-standard D50 lighting. I've never known anyone to display prints that way. I balance them for the likely viewing conditions (better still if the client can tell me). It makes a huge difference, to be sure, but I can only do so much. I don't have any control over how the prints will be viewed, and sometimes my clients don't.

My default is to balance for bright incandescent lighting. This used to be a reliable choice; it's become considerably less so as compact fluorescent lamps have replaced incandescent bulbs. A move I heartily applaud from every perspective except the artistic one. It makes characterizing the display conditions sheer hell. Still, bright incandescent is a safer choice than almost any other.

I had to make a series of dye transfer prints once that were to be displayed under fluorescent lighting. It was not fun; serious nonlinearities in color rendering that I had to compensate for. Between grumblings, I kept myself plugging away by reminding myself that that is why they were paying me the big bucks.

~ pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com 
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com 

What I think of as the "best print" from any neg or image file doesn't just vary over time - it also depends on how I feel. One's "true intention" at the time of creating the image can easily become a "new intention" when revisited in a different frame of mind - even next day. One print is not necessarily better than the other, each just represents a different interpretation. That's why I don't go along with the school of thought that says the original print is the most valuable. Sometimes later interpretations by an artist are a better expression of her ideas.

Or as Mae West might put it. Is that an existential smile or are you just glad to see me?

If there is no one right way to make a great print, are there enumerable wrong ways to attempt a good print? Sometimes "don'ts" are helpful, too. (And is there a better way to apostrophize "don'ts"?)

I guess you named one (or is it two?): Don't let technique or theory trump vision or judgement.

"The vast majority showed significant changes in tone or color, base staining, fading, yellowing, and so on."

Of course, but how many of those were INTENDED to put the photographers' conceptions into some sort of stable form? Very few, I'd guess.

What proportion of photographers in history have had any sense at all of wanting their prints to look a certain way in order to express their intent? A tiny number--a minuscule proportion, anyway. Most were made for some immediate or evanescent purpose with no thought for anything beyond that. I'm not saying that EVERY print embodies the way the photographer wanted the picture to look. That would be absurd. I'm just saying they can have that potential.

I've seen pictures from as far back as the 1850s that DO look very good.

In any event, when a photographer intends for a print to express how s/he wants the picture to look, it often does so...for a while. Long "enough," anyway. What else can we do? Things decay; nothing lasts forever. My prints from the 1980s still look the way I wanted them to look at the time. How are your dyes from that era doing?



If those variations between most individuals are not too great, it does not matter to most individuals. For some, such as you, it does.

One theoretical approach would be to develop color profiles for each persons subjective color perception and use some algorithm to convert from one person's profile to another person's profile in a way that's aesthetically acceptable most of the time.

Of course if I were an alien who sees color in ultraviolet and you were human, infrared and green primaries, no translation would be possible.

OK, I confess, I don't know what I'm talking about...I'm just trying to sound knowledgeable!

Steve> "Is what I do ART and how can I tell?"

A good one. I think that the problem today is that even *if* someone would print their best images the best possible way, then go and hang them somewhere in a street cafe or wherever the owner of the place lets you hang them, and then to just quietly sit there and wait for people's reactions, there hardly would be any.

Most people wouldn't even take notice, sit down and read their newspaper maybe. Others might look but not talk.

I think that maybe the time for that is over; today more or less everything happens in the blogosphere, where you get instant feedback (and mostly only once; people like to "fire & forget"). Twitter is limited to some 160 or so characters (don't know the exact number, never tried it). Facebook users would possibly "like" some of your posts and links, and give you a thumbs up.

But to sit in a street cafe in Paris, and to hear "Ooohs" and "Aaahs" from people? No matter how romantic that thought is, I just bet it won't happen anymore, not even with an Ansel Adams (or any other artist's) print hanging there.

Just my 2(€-) cents...


David Dyer-Bennet wrote :
> The "final form" thing, of course, is the exception. If I'm editing my image
> for a profiled monitor, it should look very nearly identical on any other
> properly profiled monitor.

And I'll even add that this way of looking at an image may be actually more standardized than looking at a print in lighting conditions too far to those that the original printer used...

But apart from this technical quibble, I can't agree more ; the print allows (or perhaps asks for) the photographer to express her style and her vision further.

The last two monitors I've had didn't look anything like each other. They might have been profiled alike and they might have been showing colors alike. But they were very different in other visible respects. To say that all profiled monitors are alike reminds me of the argument in audio that if two amplifiers measure the same then they must sound the same. It's preposterous to me. And yet not to others.


I've spent the last year getting my ducks in a row for printing my own shots. Got a good Eizo monitor, a good calibrator and an Epson R2880. Bought books on the topic of colour management by Andrew Rodney and the late Bruce Fraser. I'm much further along than I was this time last year but I'm still not making many prints as I'm not fully there yet, but there I'll get. I'm quite sorry about the fact that so many of my shots have yet to make it to print because I've not dedicated myself to the craft of printing. I really want to change that

I'd love to see an article on TOP about a good working environment for a digital darkroom. Hopefully Ctein, yourself or one of the readers will write one. Right now I haven't got my walls painted munsell grey, haven't got D65 lighting, so I edit my my shots literally and figuratively in the dark.

What I find fascinating about this discussion is how often the comments bump up against what I would call "The Limits of Certainty." As much as we would like to speak with authority on how things should or shouldn't be done, or how prints should or shouldn't look, we are voicing opinions and preferences, not objective facts. It's all so virtual. We're forced to discuss prints while looking at JPEGs. We each have our own unique set of eyes and visual biases. We may be inspired to print one way on one day and perhaps another way the next. Ctein would print one of my images differently than I would, as would Mike. Which one of us is "right?"

We can discuss individual preferences, years of printing experience and artistic judgment for weeks, but what you ultimately up with is a print and a viewer. A print that the photographer is satisfied with and that the viewer enjoys enough to buy, frame and mount on a wall seems the best we can hope for. The great challenge is how to do it. Although (i.e. those who wish to produce excellent prints) all have the same goal, the most that other printers can do is give us maps to how they reached it. We then have to find our own way as best we can.

Mike, if anything I wrote or implied led you to believe that I have anything but the highest regard for your dedication and contribution to photography, I most humbly apologize. My view is that ultimatly one should strive to produce work that pleases oneself. I have very rarely had anyone ask how a photograph was made. Rarely do observers care how much the artist suffers(not that I consider myself an artist),in the creation of his work. Did I stand for hours in the rain,did I labour for months trying to learn Photoshop or did I pay someone else to print my file is of little interest to anyone but me, and this is where I think we are in agreement. Steve.

Some years ago I was looking into the purchase of Adam's 'Moonrise,' and looked at several available prints before choosing one. I don't think Adams ever arrived at a final form from this negative -- or from most of his other famous negatives, either. There was never any 'fixed and best' interpretation, but only the 'fixed and best' at the moment he was making that print. To go back to your analogy of the conductors, their performance interpretations may be characteristic of their style, but they are not always the same, either.

Ctein, whether he admits it or not, has become a collaborator with at least
some of his clients, and if I were a client and worked with Ctein in the way he describes, I would be somewhat abashed about not giving him credit as a co-creator. In fact, I'm not even sure I could work that way -- if I were working with a printer, he would be my 'assistant,' doing the donkey work, and I'm not even sure I'd want to hear his opinions.

The vision should be the photographer's own, uninfluenced by the printer, and if that means leaving an obtrusive branch or flat color, so be it. The photographer doesn't have to do the actual printing, but IMHO he should know the full range of possibilities and take responsibility for ALL aesthetic decisions.


Dear Mike,

I'm really surprised you've ever seen a photograph from the 19th century that looked like it did when it was made. I don't know of anything from that era that was that reliably stable. Those are truly exceptional cases

"Looking good" isn't the same thing. JPEGs will still "look good" (and be interpretable by computers, yes, really) a 100 years from now. Display standards aren't going to drift all that much, because they're close to where they should be. I didn't read your column to be about mere looking good, but about properly and accurately conveying the creator's visualization through time.

Nor did I read your column to be about the theoretical potential or exceptional cases. Even among photographers who aimed for permanence, the majority of old stuff I see has changed quite visibly.

I think you can make a good case that a print *can* provide a durable record. I doubt you can make one, based on evidence so far, that it routinely does. It's a potential mostly unrealized.

It's a point of view I've come to gradually over the years. I think pointing at the theoretical potential for print longevity as if that reflected normal reality is a mistake. It's like describing the human lifespan as 100 years. It doesn't reflect reality for the overwhelming majority of humans, and it leads to bad judgments and decisions.

Or... is that maybe a whole different column?

Just ponderin'... all of this DOES make one think.

pax / Ctein

but, the print does teach. when my prints of the 60s continually came with pasty skin tones from blocked highlights of overexposed negatives, I craved the full range of tones David Douglas Duncan got in the his gravure books on the the '68 democratic convention in Chicago. Prints affect us for that reason. sorry, not much sense here, just wanted, to post?

"As long as an image exists only as a digital file (or a negative, or a book reproduction, or an online JPEG, etc.) that final state hasn't really been "set," except perhaps under very controlled conditions like seeing it on the photographer's own monitor"

The digital file(unedited or incompletely edited), negative and online Jpeg are not necessarily equivalent states. An online Jpeg may well be in a final state for the purpose of display on the web. The same goes for an illustration in a book.

I understand that the issue you are addressing is one of control. However I have a hard time believing that master photographers only interpret a negative into a final print once. This may violate the ethic of producing a final and definitive work but the artist is free to reinterpret his/her work at any stage.

Images made for placement in a museum or gallery sale may have to meet a different standard but I'm not worried about that.

Personally I'm satisfied with displaying my images, such as they are, to a worldwide audience via the web. Need I remind you that everything that you display to your worldwide audience is web based? Not to mention that nearly everything that you recommend your audience purchase is bound into a book.

Don't get me wrong, if I had the time and money to invest in the proper equipment and training to produce outstanding digital prints I would do so. As it is I Have a dozen or so images a year printed using an online service. This is an iterative process that takes into account the deficiencies of my images and the variability of the printing process. Still I progress a little each time I interpret one of my images for the web or print.

Dear Mike,

"The last two monitors I've had didn't look anything like each other...."

What you said, fer shure!

Profiling monitors is like profiling printers. It just means they'll reproduce colors reasonably close to standard, WITHIN THEIR CAPABILITIES. That's it.

I've got three different Epson-made printers and two different Apple-made studio-quality monitors in this place. All profiled with the same equipment (yet another variable). Anyone wanna bet whether the monitors look exactly alike or the printers produce identical prints? And I ain't even crossing brands.

Yeah, they are reasonably similar, but nothing in photography is *ever* as precise or accurate as we persnickety sorts would like.

pax / Ctein

Mike: THANK YOU for clearly stating that print preparation is really image optimization under another name. And THANK YOU for commenting on the silliness of illustrating a print on a website.

There are so many variables when looking at a print; the color temperature of the light, the color of the room, the texture and reflectivity of the paper; and these cannot be duplicated when looking at a monitor screen.

In all the content about printmaking on TOP, I have seen no discussion of RGB vs. CMYK. I wonder if Ctein prints from a CMYK file, or if it really makes any difference.

Finally, there are many instances when the photographer has no control over the print. For instance, one of my photos was printed in our local newspaper earlier this week, and it looked terrible. I wonder if Ctein has any hints for preparing prints for newspapers and magazines.

"The color of the room" you mention is interesting. My brother just opened a new doctor's office in Oak Park, Illinois (right next to Petersen's Ice Cream, if there are any Oak Parkers reading this) and the office has a long hallway, one side of which is painted a fairly strong yellow, and the other side white. As you might guess, the white side looks like a lighter shade of yellow--it's such a convincing optical illusion that Charlie likes to ask people what color the wall is. It really is hard to believe it's white until you cup your hands and try to block out some of the reflected light.

Phil Davis had a room in his house in which the walls were all painted subtly different shades and values. The effect was that it looked like the room had especially beautiful light--actually it was a deliberate optical illusion.


First, thank you for this intelligent, wide-ranging, and thoughtful discussion. (With the obvious exception of those wacko commenters you mentioned. Goes with the territory.)

There is so much to comment on that I'll just cull one brief quote from this piece:

"When I was editing the darkroom magazine, I saw an endless procession of "Zoner" wannabee work that attempted to mimic the style of Adams, but the surprisingly thing was that very little of it was truly successful. It wasn't because they couldn't copy his technique—he left detailed "instruction manuals" in the form of his technical books, and some people were slavish in their imitation, to the point of using the same developer and the same light meter. It's that they didn't have his judgment—they didn't see like he did."

This is, of course, a truth that every technique and equipment centric photographer needs to hear and register. (And, of course, many have.) If you put two photographers with vision in front of the same subject they will have no fear that the other will copy them - if anything they will be interested to see how the other interprets the subject differently.

Ctein - "I balance them for the likely viewing conditions (better still if the client can tell me)."

Thanks, Ctein. I try to do the same. Thus far, no complaints.

BTW- The universe will die a cold death...

In your response to Bill you mention a room painted in different shades and values - my bedroom growing up was like that (mom is an art teacher and painter) and the effect was really interesting.

It's good to hear that even a master finds the inconsistency of equipment frustrating!

Dear Mike,

I should be less concerned about being harassed by the Infant Euthanasia Society then by the Jonathan Swift Modest Gourmet Society.

I hear well-oiled babies are especially tasty. Perhaps that is the source of the objections.

I suppose I should make it explicitly clear to readers that it's not you and I who are arguing. I don't think either of us had any notion that a modest discussion of printing would develop all these elaborate practical and philosophical ramifications and implications when it started a month ago. Consequently we've been building this rather elaborate intellectual edifice (hopefully not a house of cards) where each time one of us brings up a point, the other one sees angles and consequences that take the conversation even further. It is intellectually intense, but not antagonistic.

Hopefully that's obvious to all readers, but just in case...

On the topic of things readers should know, I appreciate that you and some of the commenters have once again reminded the rest of the readership that an illustration is just an illustration, nothing more. It exists to illustrate a point made in an article. It does not constitute proof of that point. Its scope is limited to that point. Trying to read more into an illustration of the author intends will usually result in erroneous conclusions.

My illustrations last column served only to illustrate the kinds of changes I could make to a photograph at a client's request. Anyone attempting to glean more from them than that is wasting their time.

~ pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com 
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com 

Dear Bill,

The printer driver expects to receive RGB data. It handles the CMYK rendering internally. Unless for some reason you prefer to work on an image in CMYK space, don't worry about it. Just let the printer software do its thing.

As for printing from magazines and newspapers, that question should really be directed at Pierce, Peter Turnley, and Ken Jarecke. They can give you a lot more valuable advice on the subject than I can.

~ pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com 
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com 

Obvious, but when musicians perform a song it never "comes out" the same each time, and when you think about it, how could it, just too many variables. To a casual listener a song may sound the same each time. And of course songs evolve too.

There really are no rules in art no matter how determined some people seem to be to try to apply them.

"Obvious, but when musicians perform a song it never "comes out" the same each time, and when you think about it, how could it, just too many variables. To a casual listener a song may sound the same each time. And of course songs evolve too."

Ah, but that's a good metaphor, because what do musicians do when they go into the studio to record a song for an album? They practice, work out any problems, then they (often) record the song over and over, hoping for inspiration to strike and striving to get it just right. Then they pick the best version, they "work on" the recording to "perfect" it. They come up with a version of the song that becomes "the" version that goes on the CD and that listeners come to know and expect--the "album version" of the song--so much so that certain artists have to work to reproduce the sound of the recorded version in concert.

It's really not so different than what a good printmaker does. You work over the image to let it shine, let people see it at its best or as close as you can come.

Granted, some artists respond much better to this than others. Certain artists prefer to play live and let the "life of the song" be ever-changing (it was always said that the Grateful Dead were better live than on the "official" records, and Dizzy Gillespie just did not think in terms of albums--he was always very "in the moment," constantly extemporizing, constantly reacting and inventing. The album itself as the work of art just didn't appeal to him at all). Other acts (Led Zeppelin, the later Beatles) seemed very enabled by the restrictions of albums--working over the songs and the sequence and the sound to get it all just right, once and for all.

It's very true that not everyone will respond to the same impulses the same way. Some photographers are enabled by the idea of making the perfect print, others don't think that way. But recorded music is a very good analogy on multiple levels, I think.


I think with the rise of the internet and the cloud, the importance of prints will wane and wane again.

Good flat panel LCDs have a quality of light about them that I prefer to any paper print. Now that resolutions are getting better (esp. with technologies like multi-touch zoom-in / zoom out) I can see a high resolution digital picture frame / screen or three hanging in the living room, displaying family pictures and / or fine art images on a rotating timer, being the future of photography in the relatively near future.

We all only have a limited amount of wall space and there is an ever growing proliferation of amazing images, which cannot all be printed out and hung on the wall at $500 a pop.

You might enjoy recent controversial pieces in the New York Review of Books on the posthumous status of Andy Warhol "signed works" and what counts as an accredited final version, especially when the artist himself was self-consciously having fun with the whole notion. There's a lot of fairly dubious historical convention in the idea of the definitive work, and the more and easier the technology to think again and redo it, the less convincing such judgements become.

Yes Mike, I never thought of it that way. Excellent.

The expert printer mixes and masters the RAW file before committing the final recording to paper.

On the website "Live From Daryl's House," Daryl Hall and his band, along with Todd Rundgren, were warming up to perform Todd's great song "Can We Still Be Friends." Just before the musicians were ready to play, Todd says, "Let's print it!"

Hi Mike,

There's a more painful way to die than pecked to death :D


Several years ago, I found myself in a store owned by a (relatively) well-known photographer of scenic images in the southwestern USA. The sales clerk was bragging about how the images had been captured on film using a 12"x12" view camera, and how the photographer had studied with Ansel Adams. I pointed to one large print - which was beautifully done, by the way - and asked how it had been printed. "On an Epson ink-jet printer," came the answer. My point, then and now, is that sooner or later everything goes to digital.

Hey Mike, don't worry about it. Of course you are going to "offend" some people. Good. If you didn't, then your work would be so amazingly boring. Don't even try.

One other advantage of prints over digital display that I don't see anybody has mentioned: Besides "fixing" the image in its final form, a print will also present the image at the scale intended by the photographer whereas digital files can be viewed at whatever size the viewer wishes, without regard to how this effects the quality of the image or the presentation desired by the photographer.

For instance, an 8x10 print is forever an 8x10 print whereas a 1024 x 768 pixel .jpg image can be viewed as small as 1-15/16" x 2-5/8" on an iPod or as large as a 52" diagonal on my TV and the photographer has no control over this.

Personally, I find this problematic, as I go to the trouble of optimizing each image for the size it will be printed at and maintain several different digital files accordingly. This is a luxury I don't have when displaying my images digitally and it pains me to think that my wonderfully detailed 12x16 prints will inevitably be viewed by somebody on a 52" TV and dismissed as being merely ho-hum as a result.

The comments to this entry are closed.



Blog powered by Typepad
Member since 06/2007