what’s a blog without a rant… Prints V 1.0
My friend, photographer, and fellow printer John Dean wrote a great piece for The Agnostic Print some time ago called “In Defense of the Precious Object” that makes the case for prints better than I can here. I’m not a good writer, just an avid ranter. Others I know who passionately share the concerns expressed below talk about this often, but the public conversation barely exists or seems to fizzle out in a weary surrender to an imagined inevitable nest/cloud eventuality. This won’t be a definitive article by any means, just some thoughts on the subject. I’d prefer to keep it open and intend to come back to this time and again, ad nauseam.
I photograph to make prints, until I have a print that I like I don’t have a photograph. There are many kinds of images that are outside these concerns that primarily provide important information to us, news, etc.. However no matter the intent, some kind of vehicle for communicating that image must be used, and the more effectively the vehicle is utilized, the more effective the communication. Mention is made of a “beautiful print”, I’d say the image and the print can’t be two separate issues at a certain level, how can a print be “beautiful” if the image presented is not compelling in some way synergistic with the aesthetic experience viewing the object?
Two friends were looking at prints with me, one a photographer. The photographer went on and on about her positive reaction to a particular print. Finally my other friend said.. screw the print, the technique, what a great photograph. Well he was weary of our tech talk probably, but doesn’t realize a crappy print of that image would not have effected him so. It’s not his job to realize that actually, it’s mine.
A negative attitude toward excellence in “craft” has been espoused at different times in history. Even today, being extremely knowledgeable about what you do can open you up to accusations of being elitist. The idea is supreme, craft is simply a commodity, etc. etc.. There are countless studied experts in art or culture who could easily beat me in a debate about this, but under all the bla-bla it just sounds like an excuse to do crappy work to me. We all have ideas, few of us communicate them with impact.
I grew up with Beethoven, Liszt, Rachmaninoff, et al, played and taught by my mother, aunt, and grandmother literally from the cradle, and we all had to learn it. We could probably read music before words. Yet when the psycho teenage years hit me, I went crazy for rock and roll. “Louie Louie”, one of the stupidest and simplest songs, made me as crazy as all my friends. When punk came many years later, it was in part a rebellion from the rock players who actually bothered to become good musicians, it was fun for a bit, but far from any kind of watermark, more like “Fight Club” experiences. Let’s face it, the Sex Pistols sucked, a smarmy “Louie Louie”, but even the vitality was an uninteresting contrivance. I recall a friend telling me he loved punk because anyone can play it.. well I guess that makes it fun to play, but why would I want to listen to it if anyone can play it? After a while, I didn’t. Any similarities to the snapshot aesthetic? There are musicians with a scary wild visceral talent, who also have gotten batter and better at what they do without losing the crazy.
In 2000 we got to go to Italy, and visited the Peggy Guggenheim museum. There I stood in front of “The Robing of the Bride” by Max Ernst, spectacularly executed, and Duchamp’s “Sad Young Man on a Train”, hardly a defender of excellence in execution. The originals. Of course I’d seen both represented in publications all my life. But the experience of the things themselves, with physical qualities intended by the creators, was entirely different, and certainly truly amazing. It’s the thing in total, not merely the content, no question.
You may have a great story to tell, but if your vocabulary is limited, or your grammar extremely poor, or your use of story arch and all the language skills writers care about, are not at hand, how compelling will the communication of your story be? More, how much better could it have been?
Museums and galleries may be problematic venues for the experience of important cultural artifacts and art, but nonetheless that’s where I’ve experienced a lot of great art. Imagine a bunch of tables with monitors tuned to Instagram galleries, or other manifestations of image sharing these days. No, everything we see in these places are objects intentionally brought to life, with very specific physical qualities, intended by the creator, masterfully made even if masterfully crude, communicating something and creating a visceral and intellectual and emotional experience, in total.. at it’s best. A commitment was made.
The west coast landscape masters usually come to mind in any mention of the fine print, and myself involved in years of landscape work, one might assume I refer to that aesthetic in a discussion like this. But there are all kinds of expressive prints that don’t utilize those same qualities. In fact there are few landscape works I really respond to, one of my most over the top reactions to a print was to an original “Tomoko Uemura in Her Bath” by W. Eugene smith. Certainly this is journalism, and a powerful story, the impact of which is made a thousand-fold by the masterfully made vehicle, the object itself.
So would you prefer to make images that drown in the billions on Instagram, or chose to stand out by making these things that, masterfully done, might communicate your images in a more compelling and effective way, and present us with real and total experience?