Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Back to the Print, Introduction

Luminous Landscape is rolling out, with all the dizzying speed of a glacier bounding down its mountain valley, a series entitled "Get Back to the Print." This was launched, supposedly, in response to Kevin Raber's experience with a box of photographs, with the tactile feel, the longevity, the sense of history. It had the potential to be an interesting series, but of course it's turned in to a series of reviews of software and printers. This will presumably allow you to make enormous prints with hyperactive detail and precision color of whatever it is you've shot merely by spending enormous sums of money and time.

You know how else you can get prints?

Any number of online services. The local drugstore, grocery store, department store.

You know what else?

The prints are pretty good. If getting the shade of green to exactly match what you see on the monitor is somehow vital to your vision of your soulless interchangeable landscape, then by all means subscribe to LuLa and start wading through their incredibly boring videos (why they insist on overlong badly made videos full of ums and ahs instead of writing I do not know.) If you can muddle through with a little less precision, consider spending 17 cents a print instead.


Why do I print? I print for a couple of reasons. I print because a physical print defines an endpoint, a place where I can stop mucking around with the picture and call it Done. This is surprisingly important in this era of digital imaging and software. Sitting in front of a computer fiddling endlessly with something, anything, is an incredibly compelling activity and incredibly bad for us. I print also because the physical object has a purpose. I can look at it, I can put it on the wall, I can put it in a book. I am interested in presentation, and the print affords me possibilities for presentation. The computer, ultimately, does not. Yes, I can embed the pictures in an eBook or a Gallery or whatever, but ultimately it's always the same thing: a glowing picture on a screen.

I don't print for longevity, for future generations. I know perfectly well that my children will, at best, treasure a small handful of objects from my life, possibly including a 2 or 3 or 10 photographs. The generation after that will winnow the stash down to 1 or 2, and then it's gone. I am OK with that.

My approach to print and presentation embraces the ephemerality of it all. One of the beauties of the digital world is that it is, at least in theory, trivially easy to bang out a new print whenever I want. My presentations need not be robust, preservation of the physical object is simply not a priority. I don't even need to preserve it for a year, let alone for future generations.

In the following pieces I'm going to break down some details of how I stick things on walls, and how I stick things in books.

Now is the time to step out for a smoke and a coffee if you're not that interested in the details of cutting and gluing.


  1. In my opinion, there are two benefits to be gained from doing your own inkjet printing: 1. Iterations while working on the picture can be done much more quickly; 2. Much nicer papers. While printing services mostly use resin-based papers (which feel a bit plasticky IMO), there is a variety of fiber-based inkjet papers available. If you print to have some physical object in your hands, then it is nicer when this object feels well in those hands.

    Making your own inkjet prints is not rocket science and doesn't require watching boring videos. There is absolutely no reason to make a fuss about colour fidelity, since colour perception depends on lot of parameters beyond control of the printer. In my experience, getting gamma and brightness of the monitor right is much more important. I use a simple colorimeter for this, but the Windows calibration software (via Control Panel) and a bit of experimentation would probably work, too.

    I think inkjet printing is fun!

    Best, Thomas

    1. The last line is the best! I am all for fun!

      My personal trials with printers, like so many people's, was very negative. Endlessly clogged print heads, endless expense on inks, and eventually just packing it in. At this stage in my life, I have other things I can do, even though I am aware (vaguely) that the situation is quite different now.

      My local place will actually print onto a pretty wide suite of quite nice papers, but I have not experimented with that. For my purposes, these days, basic machine prints are working well.

      It's nice to have the "beautiful papers with beautiful finishes" in reserve, though!

    2. Yes, if you need non-standard papers or inkjet instead of C-type, there are always commercial printing services (e.g. WhiteWall). But they're not cheap.

      Looking forward to the third installment of this series (books). They offer a book binding workshop at a local art supplies shop next month, and I am still pondering whether to enroll ...

    3. I do remember the times when inkjet printing wasn't that good and convenient (remember the first ever Epson Stylus Photo?). But last year I decided to try that route again because I wanted to play with all the fancy types of paper available now. So I bought a Canon Pro-100. The printer itself is not too expensive (esp. in the US with all the rebates you have), inks and paper are.

      In short: you should give it a go, Andrew. You can pull out beautiful and consistent prints anytime. With little fuss too, unless you're affected by some anal disorder (you know, the dream of having prints matching PERFECTLY what you see on the screen). And yes, you will have more fun than ordering prints from an online service.

      Apart from this, thanks so much for this excellent little series on printing. You're full of surprises, I wasn't expecting this kind of thing from you.

      BTW, what happened with your/our Collaboration Project?

  2. Lately I have resumed showing prints to my "model" and portrait clients. Reactions almost always go to the extreme -- it's either "Wow, those are gorgeous" or "meh." But I enjoy the prints, both as representations of the photograph and as beautiful objects.

    Regarding the Thomas Rink comments, for many purposes lab prints are just fine -- certainly nicer than anything I got sending negatives out for machine prints. However I still enjoy fine tuning a print and the look of a fine print on a natural-look paper.