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Wednesday, 14 February 2018


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As a maker of prints, I'm reassured that people still have a need and a desire to decorate their houses, condos and apartments with art. This desire to personalize living space with furniture and art doesn't seem to be abating given the popularity of home renovation and decorating TV shows. While new media continue to spring up, it doesn't necessarily replace the old media. For example, electronic picture frames don't seem to have caught on as a replacement for ink on paper prints. As long as builders continue to build rooms with walls, there will be a demand for good art.

In my younger days, decades ago, I used to host an annual Summer Solstice party for a large group of friends and acquaintances. One of the statements every year on the invitations (which featured an actual photographic print, btw) was "A new tradition every year."

Indeed, things are changing in photography and it's really not possible at this point in the change to predict where it is going. Photography may be headed toward non-existence as we have known it. Or not. One of the features of that party, back in the days before VCRs, was a 16mm sound projector with old movies. Abbott and Costello doing "Who's On First" projected on the side of the house 2 stories high. It was novel and unusual at the time. No one would care today.

For me, I cling to the hope that making prints will become a more and more special thing as fewer and fewer of us do it. But, no matter what happens with the technology of making and displaying images, the need to create them will go on and time, technology, and culture will sort out how that all happens.

Reads like another good book project to come.

Well, I have a not-quite-new tradition that I began when I found T.O.P. some time in the early 2000's: I read T.O.P. every day...so, is reading T.O.P. a tradition? Or a habit? Or an addiction? And does it matter? Be well.

Mike, I came up admiring Penn and Avedon. I wanted big negatives and big prints that would blot out the world- that you could just fall forward into. But I just wound up a multi year multi city portraiture project that convinced me that from 2010 on its been Facebook and the smartphone. Don't even bother trying to sell prints. I just took the website down. It wasn't worth the headache and expense. Like it or not, if you want people to see your pictures, put up with Facebook. People share and like and comment and do your promotion work for you. Instagram is probably good too, but as David Byrne sang: "I ain't got time for that now.." Or ever, probably.

I do a lot of landscapes, so for me a decent sized print is still the goal.
But of greater concern is that almost everything being photographed will be lost forever in a few years (or smart phone generations.) Old snapshots from 30 or 40 years ago bring back great memories of special events and now gone people. For that reason I've taken to producing one-off books, at my son's suggestion, so that some of those memories will live on for at least a few years.

Not an original observation, but we are living through another renaissance.

The psychic discordance between old and new photographers might just be a mirror of how new things disrupt old things throughout history (not least 17th century England, I'm sure). I'm struggling to produce a "zine" which could just as accurately be called a self-published photo-booklet but, well, zine is what the kids call it. Now, I've made prints and had prints made and submitted to shows back at the beginning of the digital era (and earlier) but those opportunities seem to be getting scarcer and maybe also the style has changed so that what I'm shooting isn't what collectives and group shows want anymore. Sometimes historical disruption is both technology and taste. Certainly, my colour street shots were sometimes the only prints of that style in the photo Salons in Vancouver in the early 2000's. Now I suspect the curators would have to beat them off with a stick.

The collective that ran the gallery I showed in is long gone now. Instead, I try to participate in various online communities and they are varyingly maddening, you might say. I won't enumerate the differing disjunctions I find among them. However, I should admit that just when I'm frustrate beyond compare, I find a good community in the strangest places (eg: the dev-it-yourself film community on Twitter is a surprisingly fun and supportive group).

The back to film crowd on twitter are charming but when they tell each other how long they've been shooting film, most of them seem to think two years is a long time. I don't know how to tell them that 1976 is my stake in the ground only because that's when I started to develop my own film. Obviously (obvious to old guys, anyway) I would have taken a few snaps with Dad's camera well before that. Of course, I'm old enough to be their Dad but I would be disingenuous if I grumped about that. Their camaraderie is infectious.

So, back to that zine. Some local galleries are also zine stores and local art-book fairs are also heavy on those same self-published photo-booklets. So, I don't have any idea where it will land, but perhaps this is where it will touch the ground for me for now, as soon as I figure out how to produce a zine. They didn't teach me this part when I took that Photoshop course 18 years ago and the Lightroom Book module seems to output files tailor-made for a certain online printer but of limited use for anything else.

The print isn't going anywhere anytime soon. In fact, the more we are bombarded with screen imagery the more valuable it becomes.

The recent Irving Penn show at the Met in NYC was notable not just for the truly amazing work but also for the public reception. The prints demanded attention on the wall - and received it.

I suspect this is precisely because we no longer have a democratic tradition of the print and so these objects, although familiar to many, seem uncannily present in a way we don't quite remember them being - and a real treat for those for whom the experience is brand new. It amuses me that this is itself a very photographic quality - the sublime hidden in the seemingly mundane.

It may also be that photography is now better understood as an art form and so is better appreciated.

And it needs to be said that the experience of viewing a print is simply different from screen viewing - the primary difference residing in the subtle, psychological difference between viewing reflected and transmitted light.

Regardless, the recent photography shows I have attended feel anything but staid and traditional. In fact, they seem quite the opposite.

Contrast this with screen installations, which used to draw more attention in the past but now, at best, seem to garner a shrug. Yeah, whatever; I have one of those at home.

It's true that as a medium of exchange between photographers, especially amateur photographers, the print is no longer relevant. But as art, it's time is now.

Hi Mike,

Your "new tradition" hit my funny bone, similar to encountering a "First annual" somethingorother. Let's just try it first and then see whether it becomes a tradition/annual to-do.

With umpty-gazillion photographs both taken and disseminated daily I don't believe anybody is equipped to predict whether fine photography has a distinct future. I hope so but we have a post-millennial generation who will never experience still photography's analog side in meaningful numbers and so, negatives, prints and the like are considered as quaint artifacts.

Meanwhile my teen can produce edited videos with music soundtracks using nothing but her iphone. I can't begin to comprehend how what once took a literal truckful of equipment can now be mimicked by a four-ounce device and some software.

Pardon me, I have to go shout at a cloud.

I think of a high-quality print as a "precious object." It is different than an electronic image.
I hang with a bunch of art photographers in Atlanta, and there is nothing quite like a large, beautiful, photographic print. Printing images on these new printers is amazing and it printing your images takes you to the next level of articulating your vision. In my opinion, it makes you a better photographer.

Touching on commments raised previously, I would argue there’s a difference between photography for its own sake, and the gazillion images on social media that are taken, shared, commented on / liked, and rapidly replaced by the next. The former is about experiencing the image, and something you are willing to come back to time and again. It will likely become even more niche, with its own developing traditions. The latter is about experiencing the moment, briefly, and moving onto the next moment. Social media has its own cultural norms (I don’t think traditions is the right word as things change so quickly). The two will overlap, given the shared medium, but I wouldn’t conflate the two.
Photography may end up being a novelty or hobby, like blacksmithing, horse & buggy, bullock teams, and other technologies from by-gone eras. Mourn not it’s passing, enjoy the ride while it lasts, and look to the horizon for the next wild ride :)

This work, and others, by Jim Lo Scalo, is what inspired me to buy my first DSLR. I shot a lot of video and produced a few 'reels' in Jim's style, but now my walls are covered in prints and my coffee table in photo books.

I’m wondering if the time has passed, from both a financial and convenience standpoint, to eventually sell my vintage print and book collections. Auction results for prints are down for all but the most iconic and exceptional pieces (and some contemporary work), and dealers for prints and books are vanishing. New and younger audiences have emerged for things like old cars and vinyl records, maintaining interest and profitability. I’m not so sure that the same will be true for vintage prints and books from 20th century ‘masters’. At least I still enjoy them while I have them. And have never stopped enjoying the making of my own prints, silver and digital.

Last year I read Russell Shorto's "The Island at the Center of the World" about your neck of the woods in that same 17th century. Not really sedate either; Recommended reading.

I'm imagining that somewhere in the late 60s some people may have thought their new tradition would be to hold evening get-togethers with slideshows with Ektachromes from their Pen-f (double the amount of photos, compact lenses, more depth of field, "w00t"). Only grandma still glues those photo prints in an album...

I get the impression that photo books are very much part of the present tradition for artists. Lots of interesting new books, not a dying tradition.

And anyone who is serious with social media should understand that /they/ are the product, not the photo they just uploaded. A tradition for the performance artist, maybe.

I think this OT post on New Traditions is an Instant Classic!

In 2013 I participated in the '1st Annual 24 Hour Movie Marathon" benefiting The Grand Cinema, a local non-profit independent cinema. I watched 11 movies in 24 hours, while raising funds for the theater's conversion to digital projection. It was a hoot, and great fun. Now I can honestly say I've completed a marathon. I'd do it again, but alas, they never had the 2nd annual...


Maybe because I am getting older and feel less ambitious but I seldom print anymore as well. And if I do? Few if anyone views them but me anyway.

Somewhere in this blog some time ago existed the subject of music and the best ways to appreciate it. Though live might be the true experience the fact is I do more appreciating via my Bose buds than anywhere else. Sure one can up the quality from that level but home in my down time it's the way to go for me.

Now uploading images on line is somewhat the same. Viewing images on screen look pretty damn good to my eyes. Yes a near perfected print might be better but mostly likely I'll never actually see that print. But we can see and appreciate each others work on the backlit screen. Not a bad thing at all.

I too am a person who values the printed photograph. My photo group lately shows images with a projector and quite often it misbehaves, ruining the show. I secretly giggle. Prints never seem to do that.

Not all change is for the better, eg the diminution of the importance of the print. Interestingly both Brooks Jensen of Lenswork and Kevin Raber of LULA have published discussions of the new "digital picture frames" that cost a lot of money, are doubtless beautiful, but ... where's the print? I'm told that Bill Gates' home has these frames and that those fortunate enough to be his guest are asked what art they like and it will appear on screens in their quarters.

I find it absolutely amazing and sad that anyone can simultaneously consider themselves a photographer who pursues excellence, and does not produce printed photographs.

More thoughts:

Compare and contrast the experience, on a social and individual level, of looking at images on one's own personal computer screen v. going to see an exhibition of those same photographs in a gallery/museum/venue.

What is the value of the shared experience? What is the cost of the isolated, individual experience?

In my CC class, I stress the immense value of the shared experience of students in the class, all going through a similar struggle - the creative process. The ups and downs, the frustrations and successes, the discoveries and uncertainties.

I tell them that they will have years, decades, of that struggle on their own, be it at computers or in darkrooms. The class we all work in is a unique experience, one not to be lightly tossed off. For some, fulfilling a requirement, it may be their only experience. For others, pursuing a degree, it may be their most fundamental experience.

Perhaps the same could be said about some person sitting at home, late at night or early in the morning, viewing images on their screen, compared to that person going out to the local gallery, museum, or venue to see an exhibition of prints (or projections) along with others.

I'm not sure what the answers are. Maybe in the end they all average out. But, in my book, they are not equivalent experiences.

Just a note that the Peter Ackroyd book is available under a different, original, title “The History of England Volume III "Civil War".”. Amazon UK reviewers claim it has been retitled for the US market.

A large print of Gursky's 'Rhein II' sold for $4.3m. Although originally taken on film, the image was printed from a digitised and edited copy.

What would the price have been if the digital file had been auctioned?

Almost twenty years ago I wrote an article entitled “Fear And Loathing In The Galleries”. I proposed that the time was nigh when art would be sold as digital files to be shown on digital frames.

Well... the digital frames are only starting to become decent. (Lumlan just had an article on them.) And to be honest I’ve yet to hear of any artist who succesfully sells digital art.

But... the print was there because it was the *only way* for people to enjoy pictures. Now there are screens everywhere. And more free art than anybody can consume.
Some of the pictures will survive for the future, of course, like usual only a tiny percentage.

But maybe the digital age is destroying the visual artist as a profession?

“Will posterity make sense of this period? Can there ever be art-historical agreement about the dozen most significant photographers of the twenty-teens in any given country? Seems unlikely. “
Well as far as Posterity is concerned the “twenty-teens” is an awfully short period, so I suspect you are right—seems unlikely.
But what I see going on is that the relative importance of those people and institutions that make decisions about “who or what is significant “ is diminishing.
I don’t think we can know yet if that is true, or if true if it is a good or bad thing.

I would bet that in the older cavedwelling days, there were popular people drawing animals at ease in the sand with a fine stick and a few grumpies hand drawing with pigments on very rough walls ......we just are not happy with blank walls ever since.

As both a commercial photographer and educator, excellence is a matter of fulfilling a function. I have no idea what photographic art is.

Our Photo department is funded to serve a vocational mission. The Darkroom has an exceedingly limited vocational application and our Technical Advisory Board voted 14 to 2 to remove the Darkroom from our degree and make film an elective.

We have stalwarts for the darkroom; a crusty old dude who can teach no digital, a former lab owner who's business failed, and an MFA without commercial experience. Yet all the shooting classes, including one of these same stalwarts, have long ago abandoned the darkroom, much as has Photojournalism. They have embraced the digital process for its superior time workflow, the shorter learning/feedback loop, and the greater color and file management.

The print is disappearing. Few noobs finish the basic darkroom/learning to use a film-camera class. Between the first day of class and the Roster submission 10 days later we lose 30-35% of the enrollment. Only 30-35% actually finish the class. By comparison the same sort of digital class increases enrollment by 23% with 60-65% completing the class. Only 18% of film class grads go on to take other classes in the program. The figure for digital is 34%. In my classes the figure is 53%.

Of course these differences can be effected by the nature of the curriculum and the Instructor (I am charming and interesting, all others are boring and suck ;) .) However, the time element is tough to escape. How long does it take to see if your focus was good on film vs. checking the LCD; the examples are numerous. And then there is the ability of students to work on their images on their laptops or computers at home and not have to find a darkroom, that speaks to other satisfactions.

In this context the print is neither evoked to any significant degree nor does it have place...except in our Gallery. If it wasn't for our MFA, and the Darkroom Club I instigated, we would not have prints. Prints satisfy traditional expectations fo Photography for the masses. The Gallery is a noblesse oblige, expected by the populous.

How long until the populous expects something quite different?

Someday, if we're lucky as a species and survive, people will look back on our time and find a huge black hole where the digital data used to be. They'll see a huge black hole, and feel profound sadness at this huge gap in their own history -- but also profound joy in knowing they are not so foolish as their forebears. Digital storage is the ultimate in ephemera.

I should add a caveat, though. If we get the point that we can encode the Library of Congress onto strands of DNA, I'll happily stand corrected, lol.

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