For some time now, I have immersed myself in the wondrous world of photographic printing. Some might call it an obsession, but those would be the mean kids - you know who they are. (On my part, I prefer to think of it as a "dedication to purpose" like David Breashears, rather than using the pathological tag of obsession). Printing a picture is a profound experience for the artist; experiencing the printed picture is a profound experience for the viewer. I am inspired every day by the work I print. My connection to the photograph is the paper print, whether it be hanging on a wall, featured in a publication, or held in my hand. Back in childhood, when we asked our friends whether we could "see" an object of interest they were holding, what we really meant was could we touch it with our hands and connect with it. That tactile experience connects us to what we see.
As I've been unraveling the world of paper and ink during the past months, i've begun to understand how much more there is to photographs than picking an aperture. Just like studying light and understanding how it affects what you are trying to create plays a big role in making a picture, so does the planning and contemplation that eventually results in a print. Early in this new learning process, I realized that I had been missing a big piece of the work flow. Photography for the sake of creating a digital image is like storing only developed negatives in a shoe box. In both cases, the pictures must see the day of light to be appreciated.
I know what you are thinking - no one shoots film or makes prints any more. Well, not so fast. Kodak has enough demand for photo film that it is planning to bring back emulsions that had been discontinued while Kodak battled with bankruptcy. Canon and Epson, easily the two biggest players in the printing market, both count on the consumables of paper and ink to make their money. That is the reason their printers are competitively and attractively priced. They know that you will come back for paper and ink, again and again. In other words, they're not selling razors, they're selling razor blades. I have made hundreds of test prints while I studied and learned the techniques and technology of inkjet printing on a Epson Stylus Pro 3800 printer. One thing that never changes is the pure wonder of seeing your image appear before your eyes.
In the tradition of my late father, I began looking for a printer that was both comfortably large and only gently used (in Dad's case, it was a matter of well kept American made automobiles). Not so large that we'd need a bigger house, but big enough so that I could use it to work with other photographers. The idea was to help them connect with their photographs in a way that posting on social media simply can't accomplish. I scoured online listings for what I was looking for, making a reasonable relationship between condition and price a priority. I knew i was at the end of my search when I found a motivated seller in upstate New York with an Epson Stylus Pro 7900 that had less than 250 total pages on the clock and enough ink to make the purchase worth the drive.
Epson Stylus Pro Test PrintThis is a nozzle check with a data added by hand - capacity of the cartridge, amount of ink and date of manufacturer. As purchased, the value of the ink and paper exceeded the purchase price. That's right, a free printer.
"She" doesn't have a name yet, but I am sure that my editor will be able help me out (Eh, no. But she'll have less qualms when a nice, large, gently used Swedish floor loom pops up on Craigslist). My other printer is "Murray," named after the gentleman who sold it to me. I generally prefer female names, but I am flexible. Our servers are named Rocky and Bullwinkle and the backup drives are named Peabody and Mr. Sherman, so you can draw your own conclusions (So, if this new behemoth printer is called anything but "Natasha," the editor is apparently missing something).
While it took a few good friends to help me get her into my office/studio, you can she that she looks right at home between two Ikea modules.
One thing I do know: Seeing your first 20x30 print rolling off the machine is almost as enjoyable as giving it to the subject of the picture, a young musician who was so nervous that she didn't realize how focused and poised she actually appeared.
Next month, will be joining Chris Clancy, master printer and owner of Gordon's Ink, to share printing technique with four photographers in a Vision -> Print class. The class is limited to four photographers who are ready to be amazed by their printed work. We've decided to keep the class small in order to make the experience both personal and profound, just like photography should be. Wanna learn more, just ask.
See ya next week,