Posted by: kerryl29 | March 2, 2016

Wither the Print

For a number of years I’ve seen countless claims, in publications and on-line fora, lamenting “the demise of photography.”  It rarely takes long, in the form of letters to the editor or thread posts, for someone to point out that there have never been more people taking pictures or images being available for viewing, than there are today.  What follows is typically an extended period of people, maddeningly, talking past one another, but the counter position in this dialogue is factually unassailable:  there are more people producing more images than ever.  In that respect, photography–at least from a quantitative perspective–has never been healthier than the state in which we find it today.  A qualitative assessment–typically the fulcrum of the point being made by the person raising the issue in the first place–is open for debate, and is a subject I don’t feel qualified upon which to opine.

Sunflowers, Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument, Arizona

Sunflowers, Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument, Arizona

But one traditional aspect of the photographic process which is, I believe, undoubtedly in the midst of an unceasing demise, is the print.  I don’t know if this is, objectively speaking, a good, bad or indifferent development, but it’s undeniable.

Not that long ago, in the very late stages of the analog era of photography, just about the only way to experience photographic output was in the form of a print of some sort.  With the exception of a slideshow–the kind of thing that most people on the demand side loathed experiencing (think about Uncle Joe narrating his way through 15 overexposed versions of the RV he used to take the family to Yellowstone)–people viewed the fruits of photography via prints in periodicals, books, signage, 3×5 or 4×6 copies or in the form of a framed image on the wall or standing on a table or desk.

China Creek at Sunset, China Creek Beach, Samuel H. Boardman State Park, Oregon

China Creek at Sunset, China Creek Beach, Samuel H. Boardman State Park, Oregon

This is no longer true.  In fact, this sort of way of experiencing photography is very much the exception to the rule today.  The vast majority of photographic images that most people experience these days is in some digitized form using some sort of viewing device, be it–in decreasing quantity–a smartphone, tablet or computer monitor.  If you’re under the age of roughly 25, this has in fact been the case for essentially your entire aware lifetime and that age threshold is increasing with every passing year.

China Creek Beach from Spruce Creek Viewpoint, Samuel H. Boardman State Park, Oregon

China Creek Beach from Spruce Creek Viewpoint, Samuel H. Boardman State Park, Oregon

Not so slowly but surely, prints are taking on the status of curiosities.  An increasing number of people don’t even think of photographs from the perspective of printing them.  Surveys conducted among self-styled photographers find an increasing number who express no intention of ever producing a print, regardless of the type of photographs produced or the equipment used to make those photographs.

Rampart Ponds Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

Rampart Ponds Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

While I understand this intellectually, I have a hard time internalizing it.  As someone who has made equipment choices in recent years that had, quite literally, everything to do with the ability to produce large prints, this new trend is something with which I find it difficult to come to terms.

My personal considerations notwithstanding, I don’t know if this is a good development or a bad development.  It is one, however, which saddens me at some level.  Perhaps it’s nothing more than maudlin nostalgia, but I remember how excited I was, nearly 15 years ago, when I first became involved in producing my own prints.  It was, in a sense, a completion of the photographic circle for me, one that was truly fulfilled the very first time I saw one of my images roll off the printer.  I hate to see future photographers miss out on that.

Foggy Morning black & white, Ft. Harrison State Park, Indiana

Foggy Morning black & white, Ft. Harrison State Park, Indiana

But maybe they won’t.  Maybe this current generation of nascent photographers–and their successors–will find a level of satisfaction in their own photographic end game equal to mine with printing.



[The images accompanying this post are all ones that I have recently printed.]


  1. I’ve been giving this subject a lot of thought recently. I was thinking of purchasing a Canon 5DS R, but I’ve pretty much decided against doing that. I’m never going to make large prints for myself, and there are photographers such as yourself that are so much better than I am, no one would want to purchase one of my prints.

    It isn’t just the printed photograph that’s on its way out, it’s all print media, from newspapers to magazines to books. It won’t be long, and any printed media will be only seen in museums and the like, everything else will be an electronic display of some type.

    In my humble opinion, photography is getting a huge boost from the popularity of smart phones with cameras. While most people use them to take photos of themselves or friends making funny faces, a substantial number of people are getting hooked on photography from using their phones, then eventually work their way up to better equipment. What may be on the way out is the professional photographer, but I would guess that photography overall is more popular than at any other time since the camera was invented.

    • I agree, printed media is becoming extinct (and not all that slowly), and that certainly has an impact on how photographic images are experienced. But the loss of the stand-alone print falls into a different category for me. The print that hangs on your wall is something that isn’t experienced in a fleeting manner–the way media driven images are. It’s a (more or less) permanent part of the personal environment. The move to experience images largely, if not exclusively, via digital display has, it seems to me, the unintended consequence of kind of “cheapening” (for lack of a better word) all photographs, because it takes on the trappings of an inherently disposable medium.

      I’m kind of surprised that the digital picture frame hasn’t taken on a more mainstream presence–which might have stemmed some of what I noted above–but for whatever reason that hasn’t been the case.

  2. This is definitely an interesting topic for discussion. Right off the bat, I have to say that the photographers I most admire continue to print their work. There is something about seeing a physical print that gives it dimension. Photographs viewed on digital devices have their purpose, but I want to see them hanging on the wall. I agree with you…let’s hope photographers continue to view the print as the desired result of the effort of taking it in the first place.

    • We’ll see what happens as time goes by. 10-15 years ago all the excitement revolved around the ability to produce one’s own prints at an affordable price. That just doesn’t seem to have all that much cachet these days and I’m not entirely sure what might reverse this trend.

  3. I’m thinking there’s a clear distinction between the photography meant for display and the more personal moments caught in “selfies”. Your images clearly fall in the category of art, where people might want to have them displayed on the wall as part of the decor. The more ubiquitous smart phone stuff might be taking the place of the older version of folks writing in a diary, documenting what’s happened in their lives.

    • I think you’re right to draw a distinction with regard to intent behind the making of some images compared to others. But I think we’re heading–assuming we aren’t already there–where, fewer and fewer people regard any images as something to put on the wall. And I think that’s too bad.

  4. I continue to enjoy your photos. I am not making prints like I used to, but I am gradually enlarging more of my photos to display in my house.

    • Thanks very much for taking the time to weigh in.

  5. […] been a bit more than two years since I mused about the gradual but undeniable disappearance of photographic prints.  Not only has nothing happened […]

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