Image Makers vs. Print Makers

So I asked Steve if he wanted to go down with us and see the Chuck Close exhibit at the Corcoran. “No thanks, ” he replied, “I already know what he looks like.”

And while it is an interesting show from the point of process, at the end of the day that was all I was left with; the incredible varied processes used on about three different images.  For Chuck Close, the opening wall text read, “The print is everything.”

Contrast this with something I read today on Melaniephotoblog with an interview from John Gossage:

There is a belief I have noticed among the best of the young, that a good picture is a good picture, no matter how it is reproduced. A belief I completely agree with.

For me, I empathize with both a bit.  Seeing the same image in I don’t know how many different complex incarnations leaves me a bit cold, but when I am looking at a gallery wall, I do want that print to be the best it can be (though this is also subjective) – but I want content to be there as well.   But process just on it’s own lacks heart. Excellent craftsmanship without soul just as bad as concept without content in my book.

Parting anecdote: so my friend Jenna trips over a man in a wheelchair at Union Station.  Turning to apologize she recognizes the visage of one Chuck Close. “Sorry!,” she says, blurting, “Your famous!”

“I know,” he says, rolling off into the sunset (or at least Gate E to NYC).


11 thoughts on “Image Makers vs. Print Makers

  1. For the most part I agree with Gossage about a good picture being a good picture no matter what. I also agree with Close on the print being everything.
    A bad print can definitely take away from a great photo.


    • Whilst the print *can be* everything and I do enjoy the visual and sensual quality of holding one in my hands – which you can’t in a gallery – in my eyes the vision of the artist is above all. Printing skills can be honed (or purchased), concepts can be refined, but they all depend on the vision. In painters of the last century the developments in these fields are sometimes clearly visible, take only James Turner for an example, and I guess it is the same in photography.


  2. I think this is a great topic to debate.

    I used to enjoy the practice of working in a darkroom, learning techniques to make good prints: to make something out of sub-par shots, to make my best shots look better, etc.

    When I switched out of photography and into fine art printmaking, the technique and process became the obsession. What can I do with this to go beyond what has been done? How can I push the limits of screenprinting, in technique or concept?

    Technology has really simplified this process for many, photographers and artists alike. I think we now need to separate out photographers: those who snap and send out their prints to be made, those who snap and make their prints… presumable the former being more common.

    I disagree that image is everything. Millions of people are taking great images and uploading them to Flickr as we speak. Does that make them all good photographers? It’s just an image. We all see a billion images each day with our eyes. If the image is all that counts, then photography is dead. It’s become luck and gambling, or knowing how to set your camera and the shot, gauge the light, etc.

    For me, the real art will always be with seeing the process through. Idea – knowing who you are as an artist/photographer, deciding what you want to do/be/see, and carrying through to gathering your images and making them object.

    The proliferation of giclee and archival inkjet prints is killing the art of printmaking as is cheap technology and the easily accessible digitalization of printmaking is killing the art of photography. These advances in tech seem to have reduced the hill photographers and/or artists must climb to see their vision to the end.

    Perhaps this is just my Luddite coming out here, but hey, you know I’m typing on a Mac and I shoot with a DSLR so… go figure.

    Giclee is death, though.


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  4. Chris, I agree with you up to a point. The thing is, and maybe you have a better eye than I, is that even with black and white images I sometimes cannot tell the difference between an inkjet and silver gelatin print, thanks to those baryta papers etc. I am noticing in my own work that the inkjet has a superior tonal range at times to the digital c (and in that is there really any difference in process? you are scanning and toning in photoshop for both no?). I think for color work especially the digital vs. analog arguement is null. I noticed looking at some eggleston dye transfers that the quality is really not what I thought it would be. Besides, I don’t think he was making those prints either, which kind of backs up Markus’ point about you can hire a good print maker, especially if you are endowed with familial wealth. Anyway, my point was not really to argue the analog vs. digital output as the nature of the print vs. the image itself. As for giclee, I agree with you, if only for the annoying way that people pronounce it and then act like they are making some palladium print or something it is so precious.


  5. Ha!

    We should all unionize and agree to start spelling it Jeeclay. Then maybe the masses will look at the word and go “ew.”

    I get really wound up on the giclee/inkjet/”archival ink” thing because I really enjoy when the hand is part of the printing process. I am not photographer-deluxe by any stretch of measurement and I could not identify various types of photographic prints picked out of a pile… so perhaps my soapbox should be pushed into the non-photographic room.

    That said, my camera is my first tool for sourcing imagery for my printmaking process. Whereas some artists take fair use to its extremes (you know the ones that Obey that law…) I enjoy snapping organically to place forms into my work. Am I creating photographic prints, then, if my technology is serigraphy and my images are original and my archival ink comes from a pail?

    The sharp edge with technology and art, in my view, is that when the inkjet printing of canvas and prints is encouraged as a way to source capital we continue towards a Target Store/Ikea art mentality. We see how the internet has killed the newspaper. YouTube is funding an exhibition at the Gug… when does a physical print become depreciated to a removable wall-mounted iPad?

    Seems a fair trajectory from Jeff Wall, right?


  6. this is a great discussion and for me of importance but unfortunately not one liable to be of value for the everyday photographer. i would add one thing. you can tell analogue from other/digi prints if they are not framed and encased. so i say SET THE PRINT FREE FROM THE FRAME. embrace the blemish.


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