I've been reading a book by Brooks Jensen entitled, The Creative Life in Photography - Essays on Photography, the Creative Process, and Personal Expression. I've enjoyed reading lots of what Jensen writes and it's made me nostalgic for doing photography in a way that mimics or emulates what I used to do in the days of the black and white darkroom. One of Jensen's contentions is that the photographic work we create isn't really finished until we've actually made our final expression: The Print. Everything else is just "work in progress." Along with the idea of moving to images to completion is the encouragement to think in terms of folios and projects instead of just sporadic and unconnected prints.
It's odd. Nowadays my work seems split into two separate universes. There is the universe of digital where everything is tucked away somewhere on a hard drive or backed up on a DVD and the only expression of the work is as a small file presented on the web; generally on this blog. The work is harder and harder to find and since it is so cheap and easy to create the quantity of work done and warehoused is so astronomical that it defies my easy re-acquisition and becomes, in my mind, a mass of digital clutter. I rarely go back and re-visit work that's stored in a none visual way and so I've lost ready access to the continuity of my visual creations in a way that's both paralyzing and depressing.
If work is stored in ones and zeros it tends to remain in ones and zeros, hedged against some day in the far future when I might have the time and inclination to sift through and reconstruct it....
But there was another universe that started back in 1979. It was the universe of the darkroom and the black and white print. Everything, EVERYTHING, that seemed valuable, fun, personal, sexy or engaging didn't really exist to me until I printed it and once I printed it there was a real, physical manifestation of my vision that I could easily share with others. The sharing took place via portfolios, prints on the walls of my house, my bakery, my favorite gallery and on the postcards I would make by hand and send out to friends and clients. The expression, the making of an image all the way to the print required a commitment to the image. Each print cost time and money. Each print became a valuable physical proof of a memory or a vision. And a significant object in itself!
We tend to think of this schism in terms of film versus digital but it's not that way. For years I toyed with inkjet printing and spent much time printing images like the one at the top of this article on various papers and with various printers. Somewhere around 2004 or 2005 the print, as a deliverable to clients, fell off the map and the at the same time we experience the rise of "photo sharing" websites that would house and display our images for us at no cost. Somehow this displaced our emotional need to hold a physical manifestation of our images. I started to move away from "the print" in favor of the cost free/time free sloth of the internet gallery.
The last printer I owned that I bought just for making photographs was the best and the worst printer I've had. It was the Epson 4000 and when it worked it produced really gorgeous black and white prints at sizes up to 17" by however long the roll of paper was. Really gorgeous images! I continued to print as I had in the darkroom and continued with a revolving show of framed and matted prints at Sweetish Hill Bakery that had been part of my artistic expression in the community since the early 1990's. I'd made the jump to digital but without abandoning the printing aspect that made so much of the work feel REAL to me.
The Epson 4000 (along with photo sharing on the web) put the nail in the coffin as far as my printing was concerned. The technology was flawed. The printer clogged whether I used it constantly or not. I would go through hundreds of dollars of ink and paper just to get it all up and running again only to have the damn thing let me down at the worst possible moments. The moments in which I had an emotional investment in getting a great print out of the machine when I wanted it. When I was receptive to the process. Let's face it, if you are working hard at your job and you have a limited amount of time to print your own work it feels so frustrating; almost like an intentional betrayal, to have the process grind to a halt and require hours of trouble shooting. You start trading family time and work time in the service of the machine and not really in the service of your art. At a certain point you just say, "Fuck it" and move on.
I gave the printer away to another photographer. I don't know whether I did him a favor or cursed him with a new monkey for his back. I bought a Canon 9000 that prints beautiful invoices and an occasional large photograph that might be needed for some background art in a shot or something. But at the moment that the printer with fine art potential left the building I never printed my own work in earnest again.
The lack of a physical target, in retrospect, has blunted my creative process. Without the need to print well and large of what use is it to have technically super-duper cameras? Who cares about all the tech stuff if everything you show is going to end up as a file that's 2100 pixels on the long side? Why bother with a tripod? Why bother to get up in the morning and shoot your own work? And, in truth, I've spent the last 10 years working for clients and watching my own engagement with my personal work diminish. But because of Brooks Jensen I think I'm about to end the cycle and re-engage with a way of doing my work that was organic to the whole process of seeing, shooting and presenting. I'm planning to
buy another printer with which to print out my personal work.
I tried having other people print my files but it's not the same. The immediacy of the feedback loop is missing. The analogy of watching the print come up in the developer, knowing it's too dark and immediately trying again. That's how it works best for me.
To this end I am researching printers. I've eliminated the Epson printers right out of the gate because of my memory of the endless clogs. I've narrowed my choice down to a printer that seems to check the boxes I want. It prints up to 13 by 19 inches. It has special inks to help with black and white. It's well reviewed by customers on Amazon and it's in the arbitrary price range I've set for myself: Under $500.
The printer I'm thinking about is the Canon Pro-10. I haven't clicked the button yet so I'm asking the VSL brain trust at large to chime in and let me know your feelings about inkjet printers. What do you think of this model? Am I messing up by not biting the bullet and buying the more expensive Pro-1?
Does anyone else make a printer that's worth considering but not yet on my radar? Is this whole "must make prints" thing some sort of psychological dodge to compensate for something else? Am I experiencing a photographic mid-life crisis? Will a printer and the intention of printing again just isolate me even more in my lonely little studio in the middle of paradise?
What do you print with?
How big do you print?
Are Epson printers really the tool of the Anti-Christ or am I letting my prejudices from long ago color my choices?
Does everyone else but me still print?
How did I get so lost?