Friday, October 12, 2007

More On The Importance Of Print Quality

Good, someone disagrees with me, even better, it's Chuck who's a good photographer so he's speaking from experience. Of course, in some ways I'm with Chuck. I happen to think that print quality is extremely important, but the points I made about how the vast majority of people who admire famous photographers have never seen an original print still stand. Truth is their reputations are largely made through reproductions in magazines and books, and to a lesser degree (so far) from the web.

Here's two really important questions:

1) Can you think of a situation in which you really admired a person's work in reproduction, only to later see original prints and decide you didn't like his work after all?

2) Can you think of any situation in which you didn't like a person's work then saw the original prints and changed your mind?

I can't think of any examples of either situation for myself and I'd be interested in hearing from anyone who has had either of the above happen and how it came about. I'm sure it does happen, but probably not all that often.

If Chuck can't think of any examples of either of the above scenarios, does it simply mean that he like me, feels the whole process is important to him, from conception to finished print and that less than stellar quality in any aspect of the image is unacceptable to ourselves in our own work. I don't think that's the same at all. I'm sure that a great musician fusses over every single detail, often details the rest of us aren't even aware of, yet could walk down the street, hear an organ grinder and go, wow, what a great tune!

Back to you, Chuck.


tcoen said...

I don't have examples of the exact questions you asked, but I have a similar personal story. Here I'll lump print quality into general technical quality, since this story deals only with web viewing.

Having started photography as a hobby 1 year ago, I have slowly increased my knowledge. If I look, in chronological order, at pictures I tagged in Flickr as my favorites I notice a trend. Many of the earlier favorites have obvious (to someone knowledgable about photography), but minor, technical flaws.

Many of these early favorites are great artistically or emotionally, but now I can't see past the minor technique flaws and don't enjoy the images as much.

I guess this doesn't answer your questions, other than to say viewers also vary, even the same person over time.

Also, presenation is important. Eventhough technical points, print quality and presentation don't add to the more important message of the image, a lack of them can certainly ruin or otherwise distract from an otherwise successful image.

Mark said...

I have an example where print quality made a purchasing decision for me: Nick Brandt's work "On this Earth". When it appeared in Lenswork (61) I was blown away. When I saw the book at Barnes and Noble, I was so disappointed in the print quality, I couldn't bring myself to buy it. It looked almost like it was printed on the wrong side of a coated paper.

Lenswork has great print reproduction, and while I've never seen originals of Brandt's work, I have to believe the Lenswork representation is much closer to what Nick's own work is.

George Barr said...

Mark raises a good point - having seen the better quality it's hard to go back.


chuck kimmerle said...


I wish my wife were as understanding of my disagreeing as were you.

Regarding your two questions, I can honestly say that viewing original prints has caused me to dislike a favored photographer.

I can, however, say that seeing a set of original prints has caused me to respect and admire a photographer much moreso than I had seeing their work only in books and magazines. One is a regional b/w landscape photographer in Minnesota, Leo Kim, whose book was poorly printed (flat, no good black). The compositions and subject matter looked lifeless and dull and garnered little attention from me. When I saw a show if his work, however, I was astonished at how beautiful and alive his prints looked.

This also happened when I had the chance to look at a Eudora Welty portfolio. I had seen her work in books and magazines, of course, but they in no way prepared me for the intensity and beauty of the original prints. I was completely blown away. I wish I knew why reproductions I had seen earlier did not register that same respect, but I honestly don't know the answer.

To further the music analogy, a poorly reproduced photograph is, to me, akin not to an organ grinder, but rather to an untuned violin. Not matter how skillful the master, that violin will sound off.

George Barr said...

Chuck: I'm curious, from seeing the poor reproductions, did you lose interest at that point and simply stumble on the original prints, or was there enough in the photographs for you to want to seek out the originals, knowing the reproduction was poor?

chuck kimmerle said...

Yeah, I just stumbled upon the Eudora Welty photos. I did a temporary job swap with another photographer whose dad was near death, and in doing so met the guy who printed one of her last portfolios. When offered the chance to view photos that cost more than I made in a year, I couldn't say no. They were quite powerful.

The Leo Kim show just happened to be in the state museum of art across the street from where I work. I had previously purchased his book as a way of supporting a fellow photographer, and was curious to see how the original prints differed from the reproductions (which were obviously inferior).

To be fair, I DID like Leo Kim's work, I just wasn't overly impressed until I had seen his prints.

I think, George, that your work is so precise (a compliment, btw!) that, had I seen it in a poorly printed book (such as Leo Kim's), I wouldn't have given it much thought, either. The attention you give the tonal ranges means a great deal to the power of your images. They play an integral part. That's why I'm somewhat stubborn about the quality of reproduction being near as important as image content.