The Importance of the Print

In my opinion, photographers who print are not pursuing photography simply to make visual records for posterity. Instead, our goal is to convey an emotional or aesthetic concept through our photographs. To do that, we need to look at images on paper or some other physical medium. Looking at an image on a computer screen doesn’t allow us to interact with it in a physical sense. When we see a print on a wall, we can step back to appreciate the entire image, then move closer to focus in on details. But, we still see those details in the context of the entire image -  unlike zooming in on a computer screen, which takes the details out of context to form an abstraction.

To my mind, an image on screen can never look as good as a well crafted print. The image on my screen may differ from the same image on your screen. But, the image in print is set and stable. We have a stronger emotional connection to a printed image. The tangible nature of the paper, it's tactility, texture and reflective characteristics compliment the image, complete it as a unique entity.  On the other hand, we intuitively know that the image on a screen is transient and it will vanish or be replaced in the next instant. There is no sense of permanence, hence no sense that an instant has been frozen in time for our eternal reverie.  I believe that we don’t process an image on a screen through the same mental pathway as we do a printed image. I wonder if an MRI would show activity in different regions of the brain of a person while viewing an image on screen versus a print.

I see evidence of this very often when a student or client comes to the studio to see their own work in print. I’m amazed by how common it is for people to say to me, upon seeing their image in print for the first time, “I never saw that in my image! Where did that come from?” as they point to some aspect of their printed image which they had missed on screen. This is particularly true in the publishing world when a client or designer comes to our litho printing plant to review the proofs for their book or publication. The number of things that are “caught” on the proofs which were missed on screen is usually quite high which amazes me. This happens despite the number of hours they may have spent slaving over every detail on screen. It happens far too often for it to be mere coincidence.