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Thursday, 22 May 2014


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If there is one positive (if you can call it that) that I see in the difficulty inkjet prints seem to have in gaining the same value as other types of prints, it's that it makes certain print purchases more affordable for budding collectors. I know that's not something people trying to make money from print sales might want to hear, but I certainly appreciate being able to buy a few prints each year without having to take a second job.

Hi Mike,

Don't leave the topic too quickly please, I think this is something that needs to be worked out, especially if one wants to sell prints, or be represented by a gallery. This is a good topic for us to discuss, as I think many of your readers are familiar with film & darkrooms as well as digital & inkjet.

I responded to your earlier post too by indicating how I describe my inkjet prints - perhaps there is a better, or more concise way of saying it, and I would be open to anyone's input. I just agree with some of the others that we have to be careful with the terminology or acronyms or initials at this point.

Also, I mentioned that galleries don't seem to have a problem with inkjet prints for colour, but are a bit wobbly when it comes to b/w fine prints.

I am a long time darkroom guy, but I really like some of the great inkjet, baryta, fibre based papers that are now available, and the ability to do all kinds of dodging/burning and "bleaching" that would have been a major pain in the darkroom. I am now scanning my old negs and trannys on an Imacon 949, and going the photoshop/inkjet/fibre based route.

Now with software and digital print options like pigment inks or piezography (which I haven't tried) we still have to put the work in to get a great print, it's just that now we can use different methods.


I bet you are spot-on regarding vintage inkjet prints. People will talk about that certain look and depth you can no longer get from the ubiquitous superior future-tech printers.

Looking into my crystal ball, I foresee the return of a digital light table/enlarger, that combined with new light sensitive paper allows you to dodge and burn and and do other edits while standing over it (at actual print size, but fully zoom capable). Then you place the paper on the table, press a button, and the image "magically" appears. The paper would only be sensitive to the table, so no darkroom needed. Something like that.

A friend of mine that deals specifically with the art-photography market loves modern archival iris printing, his view, is that scanning a neg into the computer, and making all your 'moves' on the file, is the way to go. Then you can 'edition', without printing the whole edition, but more as an 'on-demand' thing. Prior to the iris printing era, he was actually investigating copper plate, and a lot of other methods that would have been simplified printing vs. the dodging and burning of each subsiquent print.

Re: "P.S. That ghost story this morning? Completely made up. :-)"

Um, aren't they all?


I saw the recent Hine exhibit at International Center of Photography. The few modern prints were awful compared to the vintage ones, bright, blown highlights, etc. Hine's were deep and dark, wonderful printing. It was wonderful to see the "art" side of his work in additional to it's powerful documentary and social commentary aspects.

In this day and age of push button printing there is no excuse not to print your favorites. What gets me though, is the newest and greatest papers; I want to try them all and what a mess that could create. Oh the wheel of technology and the Luddite of fine art makes us believers a little crazy at times.

at a certain point, the photograph as displayed ephemerally on some sort of "screen" will become the artistic norm, accepted as art, and (assuming suitable technology) the best representation of the photographer's intent; to experience photographic art will no longer mean standing in the presence of a physical manifestation; it will be a matter of simply seeing it

a number of questions will arise — do we limit digital access so as to create exclusivity (limited editions)? what in the world will artists sell? will there still be a sense of curation or reputation? what if a hundred million truly fantastic photographers each produce several mind-blowing images daily … and they are all a finger-tap away?

mind you i write this from a home filled with vintage prints, graphic works of various traditional types, a boatload of ceramic art, and thousands of books

"...he wished photography weren't so easy."

But, as others have said, that's just what makes it so difficult. e.g. http://www.paulgrahamarchive.com/writings_by.html (Second piece on page)

I think the reluctance concerning digital prints has to do with the perception that once the print has been "worked out" by the maker, it's possible to produce a very large number of identical prints, on the first day or months later. Producing even a modest number of "identical" prints in the darkroom is difficult. This plays into ideas about rarity.

In addition, if you examine darkroom prints within an edition closely--and I'm referring to very good ones--there are almost always subtle differences. The hand of the artist is there. There can be a tremendous amount of work in the creation of the digital print, but the machine takes over once the print button has been pushed.

I don't diminish the artistry involved in fine digital prints at all. I'm just commenting on perceptions concerning rarity and the hand of the artist.

There is a counter argument that I cannot reconcile. A friend of mine who is an accomplished photo-realist painter used to also produce incredibly detailed serigraphic prints. As soon as Iris prints entered the art market, interest in serigraphs and other forms of traditional printmaking plummeted. One would think that traditional prints, with their built-in limitations in numbers (as plates or screens wear out) and their subtle variations from print to print (hand of the artist) would have withstood this new challenge, but they didn't, at least for several years. I don't know where traditional printmaking stands in the art market today. I'd be interested to know.

My prediction for the next mass adoption printing technology is paperless printing with 3D printers. Printers will generate their own paper using 3D printing technology and lay down the ink at the same time. The characteristics of the paper will be chosen for each print, and printers will have simulation modes that will allow us to chose imitations of papers that we are using today.

Of course when that happens gallery curators will tell us that only pigment prints on real paper are actually art.

Re your response to my Post: Did Ansel Adams ever say why he wished photography was too easy? I know he was a concert pianist, which skill is decades in the making, but have no idea of how good he was. That background may (or may not) have colored his attitude. Or was it something else?

[I can't find the reference, so I can't quote directly. I think he did not say he "wished it was too easy," he said he wished it WASN'T so easy--that is, it was too accessible already and he wished it were more demanding. I just don't remember where I read this, and most of my books are in storage right now. Sorry. --Mike]

"...all the objections to inkjet prints within the photography market are very reminiscent of the objections to photography itself, back in earlier days."
Good point, Mike. 'Tis true.

Also, to your wider remarks regarding appearance differences it's also very true that many collectors and other devotees simply "do not like" the appearance of "digital" prints, especially b&w prints. The most frequent complaints I hear (when they're audibly uttered at all) is that they're too harsh and too sharp.

Of course they rarely are willing to admit that they might --- just might --- be using badly executed inkjet prints as their reference standard. (Indeed, during a dinner conversation a fellow admitted to me that his reference standard for "digital" prints was prints his grandchildren pull off Internet pages from their desktop inkjet printer. I almost choked.)

I did have a chance to at least slightly open a few minds during last year's Abe Morell show. The prints in that show, mostly quite large, spanned chemical and digital color and b&w technologies with breathtaking seamlessness. I challenged several chemical curmudgeons to identify the digital prints. None could do so, even at closer-than-normal viewing distances.

I have seen, and done, more than enough inkjet printing to know that the medium is no longer a valid basis for prejudicial judgement. If you see an ugly print blame the Printer not the printer.

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