The making of a photograph is a process that can take weeks, months, even years. Failure is par for the course, yet, every so often this pursuit reaches its natural conclusion in the deliberate act of printing: a photograph is born.
Without printing there can be no photograph.
Indeed, in our world awash with images, photographs are increasingly fewer and farther apart. There is a subtle, but important, difference between the two. An image is an abstract, pliable, thing that can be visualised simultaneously many different ways in an unlimited number of physical locations. A photograph is a tangible, essentially immutable, physical object that can only be seen in one place at a time, its exact size and appearance per the photographer’s wishes.
The making of a traditional silver gelatin print is a complex process and there are many different variables in play that can't be controlled with an absolute precision, so each hand made print is unique.
It starts with the choosing of a suitable paper and working out an exposure that would allow to transform the broad dynamic range of a film negative to a much narrower dynamic range of the paper in a satisfactory way; often multiple exposures and localised exposure control is necessary. And while experience and modern technology help, in the end it is an iterative process of trial and error.
Once the paper is exposed it needs to be developed, fixed, usually bleached to reach pure white tones, and finally toned to make it resistant to air pollutants; all in all some half a dozen or so different chemical baths are involved, as well as repeated washing in running water to remove residual chemicals.
After the print has been fully washed, it needs to be dried and pressed flat, and finally it usually needs to have some small blemishes retouched using a very fine brush and specialist retouching dyes.
If that sounds like lot of work, it is because it is: the making of a great silver gelatin print takes hours of work over multiple days, and things can, and do, go wrong at any of these stages. But the end result is worth it, the silver gelatin emulsion can render tones of gray in a way that no InkJet (aka, giclée) printer can, and, when correctly framed under glass using archival quality mount and a sealed frame, it can be expected to last 100 years, perhaps more.
It has been observed by photographers far better qualified than myself that prints don’t sell, and it is often said (even lamented) that the recent democratisation of photography is to blame. Yet, I wonder if the real reason doesn’t lie elsewhere.
Is it not simply that so much of our imagery doesn’t merit printing? Prior to the digital revolution print was just about the only way to view images, but the new technologies facilitate the brief viewing of a picture that deserves but a short glance much more effectively.
To make it worth a print, an image needs to have some enduring quality beyond the momentary interestingness that attracts the Likes and Faves. There has to be more to it than high contrast, the rule of thirds, and all the other clichés. It needs to have something that makes it worthwhile to look at again, and again, ... and again.
So if you spot something among my images that you think has that quintessential quality, something that you just have to own the print of, drop me a line.