I have been a photographer all my adult life, beginning in the days of using film. Back then photography was all about the photo, and especially, about the print. Until about 1996 I shot all film, and owned a number of different cameras in various film format sizes. My kit included a Hasselblad, Mamiya RZ’s, Nikons, Olympus, Pentax, Leica, and even the APSC film cameras, which were the last big thing in film cameras.
I had a busy photography studio and my lab bill alone was over $175,000 USD. I shot a lot of film, both negative and transparency films. I shot 35mm through 4×5 and the occasional 8×10. Except for the transparency film everything shot on the negative film eventually found its way back to a print. The print could be a contact sheet, 4×5 or 4×6 or even 31/2×5 proof and in the end finished prints up to 40×60 inches in size. Many of my transparency images made it to print too through Type “R”, Cibachrome or C prints via an internegative.
Back then, photography was all about getting to the print. We didn’t have social media, computers, internet or anything like what we have now. Yep, you have heard it before, some old guy preaching about the good ole days. Though you’d be wrong there. I was one of the first to fully embrace digital, and to shoot only digital, (around 1996). In many ways in my career I was a pioneer in regard to digital (a story for another time).
What happened though, is that slowly I became won over by the dark side. I had a lot of digital files and that is where they stayed. Way back then if you wanted to have a print you’d have to write a negative from the digital file onto what was called a film recorder and then process the negative and print in a traditional method with an enlarger and chemicals. This was called Hybrid Digital Imaging. Kodak loved this time. They got to be leaders in digital imaging and still retain their consumable film, paper, and chemistry model. With all the work involved just to get to a print, one can see why at that time we didn’t make too many of them.
There was a price to pay as a digital pioneer. Resolution was low and cameras were both big and expensive. Some were so big they had to be tethered to their own hard drives or a regular laptop. However, many photographers were seeing the light – digitally that is. Color labs were adapting to a Hybrid Digital Workflow. While everyone saw digital photography coming, no one knew it was going to come so fast. I co-authored a patent on this Hybrid Workflow and if you are interested in reading the process you can do so here.
Photographers would shoot film, send it to the labs for processing and scanning and then get the digital files back on a CD (DVD’s weren’t yet invented). The photographer using early computers would show clients images using the computer and then crop and place an order with the computer. The files selected along with ordering and cropping data were sent back to the lab where the film was kept rather than sent back to the customer. The lab loaded the roll of previously scanned film on a high res scanner and then advanced to selected frames and rescanned the image to a high res image. This image then went to high-end CGI Indy workstations where they were retouched using the same programs that were being used for special effects in movies. Photoshop was just becoming a program people were noticing. Then they were cropped according to cropping data and a new negative was written and that new negative was used to make the final prints and eventually the original file, the lynew retouched negative and final prints were sent back to the customer. Yes, believe it or not that was cutting edge technology back then. It worked too. Eventually CRT, LED and Laser printers that could expose photographic paper came into play. Inkjet technology was still just relatively unknown with its own set of inherit problems. As you can see a lot has changed in 20 years.
In my own photography life with this method all my small prints and images were a thing of the past. My family photos were narrowed down to a few prints and the bins of photos I had with family pictures were now not even filling a shoebox. I thought it was great in a way until decades later.
Zoom Ahead To Present Day
We now live in a society that is moving fast and everyone has their nose into their mobile devices. They are shooting and sharing photos all over the place but they are not sharing them the way we used to. I am now afraid that what I embraced so early has come around to haunt me. All my images, nearly 40 TB worth are spread out between two different Raid Storage Devices. Everything is nicely tucked away in organized folders, keywords, tags and years. I can find images using a number of criteria from camera, lens, date shot, subject etc. And all that is good as long as someone wants to see these images on a computer screen or mobile device like an iPad.
Honestly I have gotten so caught up into this digital realm that I forgot what photography is all about. I have 41,514 photos and 222 videos just on my iPhone. These same images appear on my iPad and my MAC using the Photos app. I rest assured because they are backed up to the cloud (that didn’t exist until a few years ago). It is cool, I can find a photo on my iPhone that someone can look at and pinch to see close up. I can share my images on Facebook and get likes from thousands of friends I don’t even know. In the present day I am happy, my friends who share their work that way are happy and life is wonderful. Or is it?
The Wake Up Call
A few months ago my brother and sister and I had to move my mom into an assisted care facility. During this move we had to make a lot of decisions about what stuff to get rid of, put in storage and move to the new place. During the few days of doing this we came across some boxes, (like the old banker files), filled with photos of my parents, my sister and brother and the family adventures we had. Some of these images were over 60 years old, which I knew because there I was as a baby in my mom’s arms.
Wow, what a treasure trove of memories unlike anything we were expecting, memories of us as kids and as adults during family visits later on—priceless photos.
They were all disorganized and just thrown in a big box. The fun for us was digging through the images and dividing them up based on who was in them. We laughed and we cried as we dug deeper into the box. All of us were making large stacks of photos that we wanted to keep. That night was filled with memories, love and reminding us of how much fun we had when our kids were younger and the fun my brother and sister and I had when we were kids ourselves. I’m sharing some of these images in this article.
Later that evening I started to wonder what it would be like in 20 years if my kids have to move me into a care facility. What are they going to do – pass around my iPhone 25s Plus? Will it have 250,000 images on it? Will there even be a cloud? What happens to all these digital images? Have we forgotten what photography is all about?
We have all heard the expression . . . You can have all the slides, negatives and files of your work that you want but when you die it’s the prints that hold the largest value.
Today it seems people are more focused on getting old photos into a digital version then getting the digital version out to a print. I walk into camera stores and see magazine ads stating send us your prints and we will digitize them. I am now asking, “Why?”
As a result of that one evening, I went back to my roots and realized photography has always been about two things—the joy of taking the picture and the satisfaction of seeing it in print.
You can pass a print around. You can touch it. It has its own magic. It makes you remember, it makes you feel and think. As humans we are meant to touch and hold. While many of the books I read now are on my iPad, there is still something totally satisfying about flipping through pages in a real hard copy book. The same goes for a newspaper. I have all my newspapers delivered to my iPad. But, when I travel and there’s a newspaper in the hotel lobby, I cherish it. There is something to be said for the feel of paper between your fingers.
All of this got me thinking and making new choices. First I am going through my iPhone and Photos app and I am selecting images and moving then into an album that will be printed. I intend to make 4×6 prints of these images as well as possibly making a few books from them. The Photos app makes it very easy to do this.
I bought an Epson PictureMate PM-400. It sits on a table in my basement with all my photo gear. It works off my home network wirelessly. It’s a small device and it allows me to make prints at anytime I want, right from my mobile devices (iPhone and iPad) as well as my laptop from the Photos app. Epson has a couple of good apps that allows for a bit of control in doing this. That little printer is spitting out prints at all odd hours of the day. It’s not uncommon for me to sit down to watch a TV show and go through albums and images on my iPad. If I find a good one, especially ones with families or pets, I simply push the print button and at the end of the night go down to the printer and there they are. I load the printer with more paper and it’s ready for the next round. It will take me a while to make up for all the lost time in printing, but every day I have a stack of images that is a lot more fun to view as prints than when they were on the iPhone and iPad. At the rate I am going I’ll need a pallet of paper and ink.
It’s a slow process and may take years but one day I will have a box of images that my kids will have a chance to go through. I hope they will have an evening that was as emotional and happy as the evening my brother and sister had.
I’m suggesting you might want to think about the future and what kind of tactile record of your family you will leave around for the generations to enjoy. Do what I am doing and get back to the print.
It Doesn’t Stop Here
In my next rant I’ll be focusing on Getting Back To the Print with my fine art photography. I have a lifetime of work that I have done of places from around the world as well images of some amazing people who I was fortunate to cross paths with. I make a lot of prints already of my work. I have a nice work area/gallery to do all of this. But, I am re-thinking everything in this regard. How do I store prints? How should I price my work? Where can I display my work? I’ll be talking to a lot of different people on these topics and we’ll be sharing them with you here on LuLa.
We will be focusing at Luminous-Landscape on Getting Back To The Print over the coming months. We will cover printers, software, paper and all aspects of making a print. It
will be a busy December for us as we start some major work on this topic. We’ll share more in a few weeks.
If you haven’t started to make your own prints perhaps you want to think about doing so. If you are already experiencing the joy of making prints then our articles can help you revaluate what you are doing and how.
We look forward to sharing the theme of Getting Back To The Print with you.