Whither Prints? And an excellent way to spend 6 minutes, 39 seconds of your time

I’m a bit late to this video as it went around a month or so go (such as here), but I found these excerpts from an interview with renowned printmaker and printing historian Richard Benson absolutely fascinating. In this brief but jam-packed interview, Benson discusses the future of prints and film, painting and printing versus traditional darkroom photography, conceptual photography, digital prints and electronic imagery, and more. Here are three choice quotes I pulled from this that I love (n.b. any transcription errors are my fault alone):

“The thing that is ironic is that the new digital technologies, to my mind, are far and away the finest printing processes that have ever existed – they are better than anything that has existed in the past. I find myself very, very excited to use this new technology that is going to destroy photography to make the best versions of it I’ve ever seen.”

“Don’t do all this stupid conceptual stuff…go out in the world with your camera and photograph and find out that the world is smarter than you are.”

“I don’t think that the printed photograph is ever going to go away….I think it will likely become a minor aspect of the medium….I’m desperately practicing a minor art, and hope that it lives as long as I do.”

Great stuff. Part of the reason I liked the interview is that is consistent with my views on the future of photography and printing (as relates to two of those quotes). This is obviously a subject near and dear to my heart, so I’ve given quite a bit of thought to it. I believe that the future of photography on the whole will be digital distribution and display of imagery – most people at some point in the future will enjoy photography that is displayed electronically as their entire photographic experience, whether it be advertising imagery, a wall-mounted monitor  in their living room with rotating landscapes or family portraits, checking out galleries and websites on their tablet or cell phone, or the like. This is despite the fact that modern printing methods, particularly for color, are as good if not better in almost every way than the printing methods that have come before – color fidelity and range, longevity, the ability of control every aspect, etc. The advantages of electronic images, in terms of cost, availability, and flexibility, are just too overwhelming.

Fewer and fewer people are likely going to want to buy or display and actual physical print and hang it on their wall.  Fewer and fewer, however, does not equate to zero. I absolutely believe that there will also be a passion and desire for physical fine art prints, just like there is such an interest in many other types of art (or other displaced technologies) that were long ago “outdated”. The challenge then is to educate people on what a print can be and to make those prints as amazing as possible. If you want to defeat something that is cheaper and more convenient, you had better be offering something that is unequivocally better. Make your prints better than people have ever seen. Make a handmade book of your photographs that you’ve bound yourself that tells a story (see Alec Soth’s post here, too). Make your work so interesting or beautiful or important that people don’t want to live without it. Do something great. That is our challenge as photographers and printers in this new world.

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2 thoughts on “Whither Prints? And an excellent way to spend 6 minutes, 39 seconds of your time”

  1. I think Mr. Benson is a little sweeping in his statement about “stupid conceptual stuff”. He shouldn’t be playing the “what is photography?” god when he says that discussing “what is art?” is “the most boring thing on earth”. Or is it just boring if he’s not speaking?

    I’m not a huge fan of conceptual photography, but I look at it more as artists using photography, as well as other means, to push viewers to a new place. Never a bad thing.

    1. Heather, thanks for the comment! I would certainly agree that there is good conceptual work – and I’m sure being part of the Yale program he must see quite a bit of it. My sense of his comment is more about the perceived lack of respect for the non-conceptual work and he used an overly broad statement to emphasize it. The perceived disrespect to “straight” photography has been a hot topic of late, too, and like all other hot topics it both has some merit but is often overstated.

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