This image is one I did last year.
It was printed on an oversized postcard by the client,
Zach Theatre. (they sent it out to a digital printing company)
I got a credit for the photograph.
They probably sent out 30,000 to my local market.
That's the kind of printing I like best.
I bought into it hook, line and sinker. At one point many years ago there were multiple printers strewn about my office. One for printing 17 inch wide color prints, another festooned with six different tanks of black, gray and other gray ink, and dedicated to black and white (excuse me!) monochrome prints, and several others that were either dedicated to printing office correspondence and contact sheets or waiting to be discarded due to their velocity toward obsolescence.
I had one particular printer which nearly drove me mad (not a far drive according to our collective mental GPS....) because it was so well reviewed by online writers and yet so nasty, costly and ineffective in person. I won't protect anyone here because there isn't an innocent party. It was an Epson 4000 printer and was, perhaps, the most dreadful and financially ruinous piece of "photographic" gear that I think I have ever purchased. And I've purchased a lot of gear.
The ink was more expensive and addictive per ounce than pure cocaine and about as therapeutic. The printer couldn't go a day without a cleaning cycle which helped spray away hundreds of dollars a week of ink printing fractured test patterns on white paper. Once in a while it would relent and turn out a decent print for me. I'd pick myself up off the floor (collapsing from the excitement of a rare moment of success) and rush to print more before the fickle machine did its schizophrenic about face and plunged me back into despair. That one could conceivably make any money using this printer in a for profit business was and is so laughable to me that I still have trouble understanding how Epson stayed in the printer business. (See quotes from P.T. Barnum).
I hear that in other, more civilized countries, the use and ownership of an Epson 4000 printer is actually the punishment for crimes like shop lifting and "creating a public nuisance". I know that a fan or two out there will write to tell me that I should have dedicated a humidifier to its area of the office but I'll sneer at them and match them two humidifiers and one tank of pure oxygen ( the idea being that maybe regular air conditioned air was not good enough for such a printer and perhaps its best work could only be done under hyperbaric conditions).
This started my downhill slide where dedicated photographic printers are concerned. I have one now but I only use it for printing the few invoices I still send to some clients in the mail (most accept pdf files attached to e-mail). The idea of having to print a portfolio, or even worse, a print for a valued client, sends chills up my spine and makes me feel as though the doors of my business will soon be closing.
So, what do I do when I need to give a client a print?
Hmmmmm. That hasn't really come up in a long time. Before the days of the iPad Pro I used to carry around a printed portfolio. I still have plenty of them here in the office.... Now, when I go out to show work it gets passed around as an iPad screen and it looks fantastic. Clients can even zoom in if they want to check details. My "portfolio" fits in a backpack and I can easily take it with me on a plane.
No single commercial client has requested a print from me in nearly ten years. None. Never. If one did come to me requesting a print (of any size) I would most likely send the file to the folks at our long lived commercial lab here in Austin called, Holland Photo. Under the watchful eyes of Brian, the owner, the staff would no doubt churn out nicely crafted prints that I would be happy to send along to our clients. But I'm not sure what our clients might do with them.
We used to do event work where prints were the final result of days of shooting. I'm remembering an awards show for Broadwing Communications that we did in Palm Springs back in 2001. I was tasked with photographing about 250 people as they walked across the stage and were handed an award. I'd take second shot when the awardee shook hands with the CEO. At the end of the evening I was tasked with running out to a lab, with which we'd contracted in advance, that would soup the rolls of color negative film I'd shot and print a 5x7 inch color print of every frame. I dropped the film off after the show at 11 pm and the client expected and got the prints back at 7 a.m. the next morning so we could sit around in the press room and stuff the prints into presentation folders.
I'm not going back to that. Not ever.
At one point in the roaring 1990's we had a client who will remain nameless who wanted to have images taken of their guests in western wear on bales of hay next to rustic fencing in the ballroom of a five star hotel in downtown. They didn't want the prints the next day they wanted them right now. And they wanted them sepia toned to match the event theme. We decided to do them with 4x5 Professional Polaroid film. There were 800 couples attending and each couple would be photographed. I did the math and figured we'd need four shooting stations in order to get the project done in one evening (please don't make me set up next to the cover band ever again!!!!!). That meant four 4x5 inch view cameras with which to take the shots; each outfitted with a Polaroid back. Three additional photographers to make the photographs. An assistant for each station to time the Polaroid before peeling it apart. Four studio lighting systems to provide needed and ample photons in a cavernous ballroom. And two more assistants to accelerate the drying of the "instant" film and insert it into theme specific presentation envelopes. We had to special order the sepia version of the Polaroid film by the case....
It all went off without much of a hitch. But I think the whole grinding experience soured me on mass Polaroid until such a time as they discontinued their instant film business. That job paid for a BMW automobile...
Until recently I would send over files for my personal work to Costco. If you took the time to download the printer profiles they provided you could get great 12x18 inch prints for about the price of a Coca Cola. Those are now going away because.....nobody wants prints anymore.
Instead of prints from events we put up huge galleries of images shot during trade shows, conventions and other events and the participants are invited to download or share whatever they want. I suppose we could add an "order a print" component to the service but I think we tried that a few times five years ago and out of 2700 people two ordered one 5x7 inch matte print....each.
I'm sorry to say (because I truly loved the black and white prints I used to spend hours and days producing in my cozy darkroom) but I think prints are all but dead. The screen is the center of all corporate communications. Even magazine and other print work is a small fraction of corporate marketing output these days compared to e-screen publishing.
The latest numbers I've seen from the advertising community suggest that 80% of all people get their information (and entertainment, and news, and advertising) from screens. Of those screens over 60% are attached to those things we used to call phones. Each generation of phones results in a bigger and more beautiful screen. You can view photos in a dark room because the phones provide their own illumination. You can take them anywhere. They are more or less indestructible and, if you do lose your phone you can buy a new one and reload all your backed up photos to it in no time at all....
It makes me wonder why anyone anywhere is printing anything at all.
I think it's a generational thing. I love prints. I still print stuff but only because I've been sensitized to the argument about archival printing and long term keeping. I just send a batch of sized files to the folks at Holland and accept whatever they toss back to me. If they ever go out of business then I think we will have hit the end of the print and we'll move on and become nostalgic for something else.
The real magic of photography is not HOW it is shared but that it IS shared. Paper or screen is immaterial except this one thing: 25 years ago I could print and print, and perfect and re-print and get maybe 12 prints that were good enough to put in a show. I'd pay enormous amounts of money (for a young photographer) to get them matted and framed and then beg a gallery, or a friendly restaurant, to let me have a show for a month.
Over the course of the month maybe 100 people would see the work at a gallery. Or maybe 500 people would glance at my work as they were being shown to their table at the restaurant. It was rare that anything sold. Now I can post a photograph on the web, on my own blog site, and have the reasonable expectation that in the next 24 hours 4,000+ people would see the work and many of them would share it with their audiences. My financial investment would be nil but my exposure would be orders of magnitude greater. And across so many more markets. That same photo might form the content for an e-mail blast to my client mailing list meaning that another 1,000+ people would see the image. If I added it to my LinkedIn profile perhaps another 2,000+ people would see it. In short order.
And with repetition I can actually make a photograph seem ubiquitous to large numbers of people.
Sharing. An Audience. An Art Form. Isn't that why we do photography? Shooting well trumps printing well. I'll spend my time shooting and continue to outsource any printing that seems necessary.
And that's how I'm handling my 2019 printing needs.... thanks for asking.