In a world gone digital, are prints archival?
Now that I’m committed financially to producing my own fine art prints (I’m giving some away via facebook btw – spread the news), I have participated in many friendly debates about the file vs the print and how several photography studios still consider the print the be all and end all of preserving memories. So many studios still refuse to sell files but those same studios may also be trashing the files after only a few years. So my question for everyone that shoots for clients, either it be portrait, commercial or weddings, if you do not offer the sale of files, do you archive them forever?
With the level of photo restoration happening today fixing water damaged or sun faded prints of grandparents at young ages – there should be no reason to have this problem with the images being made today 50 years from now. The general public is smarter and more aware of managing their digital life and unlike the negative which was also analog, a digital file is much easier to duplicate and archive properly. And also unlike a painting, the ability to reproduce more prints is an artificial limitation. With each year that passes, printing technology advances and improves. What is possible today was not possible 10 years ago and oh, how I wish I could simply reprint prints made 50 years ago.
So before you create that sales pitch for you website on why “hire a professional photographer” with the standard bullet points — are you making a long-term product or a short-term one? And if you are the client hiring a photographer, are you hiring to create a print/image for the short-term or the long-term?
Whether the business model fits it or not, digital files are here to stay but let’s not confuse this with the validity of a print. The print is still the standard for presentation and enjoyment but it is no longer the best method of archival. The print may have the most value today but the file has the most value 100 years from now.
And before you argue that files will be lost or hard drives will die — you can argue all the same points about taking proper care of prints. It only takes a single accident to destroy a piece of art. The big difference is that you can’t back up a print even if you wanted to.
I’m Now Making My Own Prints
Before transitioning to photography in 2001, I grew up with pencils, brushes, inks and paints. I keep saying artist first photographer second but there is something missing if your work never makes it to paper. And since going digital, I have printed so very little. Now after all these years, I *think* my work has matured enough to be worthy of paper again.
Why have I printed so little until now? For starters, you send your file away, and a week or two later, a package shows up in the mail. To some degree, it’s not really your product at all. It’s a product of the lab created with your artwork. If there is a mistake, you reorder and wait another week. And for low volume printing — shipping is expensive. The second problem is that labs charge a very high premium for art paper which is what I’m mostly interested in.
That’s about to change because I’ve setup my own little home printing lab. It started with the use of a friends printer a couple months ago that has ultimately led to buying one of my own. Which means, reasonably priced open edition signed collectable prints on archival heavy weight papers are coming soon.
With all the test prints I am creating (it’s addicting), I’m going to mail out a few free prints to some random friends on facebook. If interested, join the fun and leave a comment.