Why do we make photographs? Why do we desire to make photographs so much that we can think of little else? For me it is simply because I have to make photographs. It is part of my DNA, and I love looking at other peoples’ images as well. Galleries are like spiritual sanctuaries of visual goodness. When I visit people I am endlessly fascinated by the images on their walls.
I love prints. I love making prints. Hours spent in the darkroom were invaluable to the experience of making a print. But in the end, the print was its own reward. A thing. Something to hold in my hands. Something I made.
We don’t print much anymore… none of us do, it appears. And that is something that I think we should remedy.
A print IS photography achieved. It is the final point of the work we do in many ways. It lives in a space not confined by a screen, nor in demand of electricity or Wi-Fi or a device’s battery life. It occupies a physical space in the universe… one that we configure ourselves.
Sure, we can make image after image for the Internet and work them again and again to find nuances unseen without the screen. I get that. I do. And I would never say we shouldn’t. This is a new medium to explore and shoot for and share with. Yes.
But we shouldn’t turn away from the physical print, the finalized culmination of all we can do presented in the real, natural world as an artifact. An artifact that we have made to our own specifications and that looks the same to everyone who views it.
And even then we may control who views it by the physical space it is part of. Images hanging in my office right now are some most people will never see. Ever.
The print exists. And that existence continues after the screens are turned off, the day becomes night and the years become shorter.
Prints can bring us to so many emotions, without the need for a device to interpret them. They are tangible reminders of that moment past — the one that will never repeat itself. Caught.
Just imagine: somewhere, right now…
… A young photographer is preparing for her first solo artist show. The prints are carefully laid out on the floor of her tiny apartment while she sits on the table and begins to see the flow… “This one will go first… then… this one…” The NYT critic will be there and he will love the work… and a new chapter of her life will be opened.
… A very old gentleman lovingly touches the frame that holds a snapshot of a much younger couple, laughing on a dock somewhere on the west coast. He smiles, remembering that day. Carefully he puts it back on the bed stand and whispers goodnight to his love of 46 years, gone forever now.
… A young man is entering a gallery with his parents. He didn’t want to go to this thing, but mom wanted him to meet her friend the photographer and see the work he had created. He doesn’t know it yet, but the prints on the wall will change his life, and all he will think of is photography. And someday that gallery will be hosting his work.
… A four-year-old points to a framed photograph of a handsome young man in uniform. “Daddy”, he says. The young woman smiles and says “Yes, daddy. Daddy loves you.” Someday the boy will understand the medals hanging on the frame, and the small white envelope carefully folded behind it. But not today… for today daddy is here with him in that photo.
… A couple stands in the living room of their very first home. They are looking at the bare walls and deciding where to put the photographs they have from two years of traveling around the world. What they come up with will be admired by every guest they entertain, and will inspire them to take another two years off to do it again… in their 50s…
… A high school freshman is staring at a photograph her uncle sent her from one of his trips to a far distant land. It shows villages of suffering people, many of them children. The box of photographs haunt her, and she begins to think about how to help the people in them. She decides to study science and engineering, and sometime in the not too distant future she will discover a way to get water to an arid land, saving perhaps millions of lives.
… Two young parents gently hold a print of a their baby girl, lovingly taken by a brave and caring photographer just moments before her life came to an end. They will never have their daughter, but the print will be forever in their lives. A gift of remembrance.
… A man waiting for a meeting in an office building notices a beautiful set of images on the wall. They are of an area of the northwest he had never been to. Later that year he is on an airline heading for that same place, cameras at his side.
The first time I fell in love with photography was, of course, with prints. I stumbled into a gallery in Carmel California while on vacation with my family. The gallery had Weston and Caponigro and Cunningham and Adams… oh my. My parents had to drag me out of there, and I am sure the lady there was happy to see me go… I had been asking her questions non-stop while I stood entranced by those images on the wall.
Yeah. It was for me.
And while good photography gear has always been important, the goal has always been the end product. I still see finished prints in my mind’s eye before I begin to shoot — the previsualization is of a finished, post processed and printed image.
My friend Steve Burger says it isn’t a photograph until it is a print. He loves to make prints and is a sublime expert at the art. His walls are covered with absolutely amazing images from his years as a photographer.
I know I don’t print enough. I need to print more. I want to cover my walls with images of life and joy and beauty and happiness. And of my family, and travels and friends.
It will be a point of refuge from the challenges of each day. One that I can see without having to sit at the computer.
Note: This is not an exclusionary process. It has nothing to do with all the amazing digital sharing that happens. I love the digital sharing and online viewing and participate in it fully. I am simply saying that we can add prints to our lives and have MORE, not less of a photographic experience.
About the author: Don Giannatti is a photographer, designer, and writer who has never owned a Subaru or an Escalade. He once owned a PT Cruiser, but that is a long and tortured story not fit for telling without a few beers. He lives and works in Phoenix, Arizona, and prefers Mexican food to anything else. In fact, there may not be anything else. You can visit his website here and his online portfolio here