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The Value of a Print

I recently heard about an old photograph of General Robert E. Lee that sold at an auction not long ago for $23,000.  The photo ended up at Goodwill in a box with other things that are sold by the pound. By chance a Goodwill worker came across it and recognized the subject.  Since Lee lived in the 19th century and not too many photographs existed at the time, the worker thought it might be valuable.  And he was right.  The photo fetched $23,000 on the Goodwill auction site.

In this day of digital photography with CDs, DVDs and hard drives loaded with image files, that got me to thinking,  just what is it that gives an image (or any art for that matter) its value?  And I’m not just talking about monetary value, but emotional value as well–the kind of value that can reach across time.

To the artist that creates the work, value may seem an abstract thing, something that’s inherent in the work regardless of its final form.  But to anyone else the media matters.  It might be a piece of film, a computer screen or an inkjet print, but whatever “delivery method” is used for the art will have an undeniable effect on its value.

Which leads (as often seems to be the case on this blog) to the subject of inkjet printing.  Specifically, how printing should not be considered a separate procedure to be done once the “art part” is finished, but rather it should be seen as an integral part of the creative process itself.  Editing, cropping, picking just the right paper–all have consequences.  All enhance, or detract from the final work.  All affect its “value”.  Admittedly, not all images (even very good ones) are suited for printed output.  Yet all too often for those that are that final step of rendering the image to paper, of “finishing it”, is never taken.

It wasn’t always that way.  In fact, not too long ago creating a physical print was absolutely necessary in order to see the fruits of your photographic work.  But it’s all too easy these days to leave even your very best images in a kind of limbo on your hard drive.  After all, you can view it on screen — isn’t that enough?  Not for me.  Until I’ve put that great image on just the right paper–until I’ve created something I can hold or hang, something I can pass to others, something that will last–it just doesn’t feel complete.  It hasn’t achieved its full value.

Of course, printed images take up a bit more space than they do on a hard drive, and while it would be nice if we all had endless locations to display them if you’re like me you ran out of wall space a long time ago.  That’s why I feel that proper storage is imperative for any serious photographer.  And by proper storage, I don’t mean big hard drives.  No, a system of museum boxes and portfolios are what’s needed here, something that offer protection as well as ease-of-access to your print-worthy work. (Just remember to let those prints off-gas before putting tissue paper over them and storing them away).  Storing my photographs in a organized fashion allows me to keep a rotating selection of prints around as conversation pieces (and if I get really energetic I might even make a coffee table book–which is a whole topic on its own and one possibly worth exploring later.) But the point is, I make sure I have safe, convenient, logical storage for my prints.

Who knows?  I could be wrong about the value of always printing your best work.  Maybe years from now some raw file or jpeg of mine will be discovered in a box of sd cards (if old enough hardware to access them can be located) and some shot I made may transcend time to touch someone–or make them a lot of money.  🙂  But I highly doubt it.

For my money–it’s the images I’ve freed from the computer drive and shared with the world that have the real chance to stand the test of time.  It’s those  finished work, my prints, that really show their full value.

Categories: Printing Essentials
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