Collecting Prints and Your Photographic Legacy

If it isn’t printed; it isn’t real” I am not sure who first coined this phrase but I find it extremely apt and very true. In a world where millions and millions of digital files are consumed and discarded at light speed across all manner of social media platforms there is something very comforting about the ‘permanence’ and life of the printed image.

Unlike digital files, prints are not just consumed. They are admired, treasured, valued, respected and adored. The true beauty of the print is in its longevity of life. And I am not talking about print permanence, but in how much joy and pleasure it brings to the viewer during its life on the wall. How many of you can remember that great photograph you saw on social media last week? I’ll bet no one. Our brains are programmed to instantly consume it and start looking for the next meal.

The truth is, the digital file we so voraciously consume online is nothing but a poor facsimile of the fine art print. It is swallowed whole like a giant fish consumes a sardine and we move on looking for the next meal; often before we have even taken the time to appreciate what we just ate. By contrast, the print is enjoyed slowly over its lifetime on the wall. It is savoured as new flavours are discovered with each viewing. The print maybe a financial investment for some, but in my case (at least in my own collection) its purchased purely for its beauty and not for financial gain.

I have been collecting prints for many years now and my collection includes some quite big names in the game as well as many lesser known photographers whose work I admire and respect. Some of my collection I purchased, some I inherited and some I swapped with other photographers. I have also given prints to other photographers whose work I admire who are not printing but I believe should be.  Not everything in my collection is framed and hung on the wall (I simply don’t have the space), but a great many are and in this way I can enjoy them on a daily basis.

Prints in my collection range from as small as 6” x 4” inches to as large as several meters. The size of the print is not important; what is important to me is that its printed and that what I am looking at is the photographers final vision for their photograph.

I have written before on many occasions how I never feel like I have truly finished with an image until I have made a print. The print being the final art object and the final embodiment of my vision for the image.  The truth is it goes much deeper than that for me though. The print is not only the final art object, it is the physical manifestation of my vision. When I purchase or swap a print from or with someone I am obtaining their final vision and the ultimate embodiment of their work.  It is the ultimate output and the final expression. The digital file is just one stage of the production process and really isn’t the final output. In fact, its nothing more than a stepping stone to the final print.

I believe the print is also the photographers legacy. Speaking for myself, when I am gone from this mortal coil (when I end up in the ink maintenance cart) its the prints I have made that will live on and not my tens of thousands of digital files that reside on ageing digital media that are more than likely going to end up either formatted and re-used, or simply otherwise discarded. If you want your work to survive (bearing in mind nothing lasts forever) then I urge you to take the step into printing. Not only will you create a legacy, but you will discover a whole new joy to the photographic process.

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