Digital Output in the Age of Photography
By Chris Maher and Larry Berman
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Photography is the art of creating images by the action of light. Technology has always driven improvements in the photographic process, from early Daguerreotypes, Tintypes, and Cyanotypes, to today’s high-speed films and megapixel sensors.

In the past, most process improvements were chemical in nature, but today’s major advances are provided by digital technology. And as the these digital processes yield higher and higher quality the demand for silver based photographic materials is dropping to the point where manufactures can no longer profitably produce items like internegitive film, or reversal photographic papers (Type “R” materials). Consequently, it is no longer possible for photographers working with traditional transparency film (slides) to print their images as they always have, and are instead scanning their work so it can be out put through a number of high quality printing processes, such as LightJet or Giclée prints.

As a point of reference, B&H Photo, one of the largest camera stores in the world, has only a limited stock of outdated internegitive film that expired two years ago. As these materials disappear, the photographer who has spent an entire professional career shooting transparency film, has no choice but to scan their slides if they wish to make prints.

Even photographers who shoot negative film may find that the superior control and flexibility of digital processing makes the effort of scanning their negatives worthwhile. Photographers who shoot their images digitally (It should be noted that in 2003 the sale of digital cameras exceeded film cameras for the first time, and the trend is accelerating) have no choice but to work digitally in their printing processes. Optical enlargement on chemically processed paper is just not possible, nor is it desirable.

The solution of choice for many is inkjet printing. It is a natural transition for those photographers who have always chosen to do their own printing as they now have even more control over the finished print than they previously did. Programs like Photoshop, while difficult to master, offer photographers tremendous control over their images, allowing them to express their vision in ways that were never possible even with the most highly skilled chemical darkroom work.

Rapid advances in depositing microscopic droplets of ink precisely where the photographer’s image requires them allow the artist to produce truly beautiful images on ink jet paper. Each print is considered an original, in the same way that multiple optically enlarged photographic prints are considered originals. Just as the chemically produced negative is only a step in the completion of a finished image, so too is the digital photographers electronic file just a point in the process to the final output of original prints.

There are those who think that using a computer to adjust an image defines it as "Digital Art." But this isn’t so. Photographers have always used adjustments like burning and dodging and contrast control to optimize their photographic images in the printing stage.

In photography’s 173 year history, the permanence of images has always been an important consideration. Early color prints on chromogenic (Type “C”) papers were noted for their tendency to quickly color shift and fade, and manufactures worked to improve stability throughout the 1970’s. Today’s inkjet prints also can be susceptible to attack by Ozone and Ultraviolet light, but are rapidly being improved by their designers. Ink and paper combinations exist today that have been subjected to accelerated fading tests* and are rated to resist fading for more than 200 years. Photography is now a medium with potentially longer lasting archival qualities than ever before in it’s history.

In conclusion, photographic images are created by the action of light, whether that light strikes a chip of silicon or a film of silver halide. The process that produces the final print should be chosen for its beauty and functionality, taking full advantage of the best materials that will allow the artist to fully manifest their vision.

We recommend that photographs printed using the inkjet/giclée process be accepted by shows as the natural evolution of image printing for photographers. Further, we recommend that those printing with these new materials disclose the specifics of their process in a statement that will inform and educate the viewing public.

*http://www.wilhelm-research.com

Response by Chris Maher to Columbus
on their request for help in defining Photography and Digital

Larry and I have grappled with this very issue since we began using digital cameras many years ago. When shows began having digital categories, I submitted my work as digital art, but feedback showed me that the jurors were confused why my Black and White photos were mixed in with computer generated graphics. I realized it didn't matter that I used a digital camera to capture my image, that my work is still photography, and should be juried with photography. Yes, artists can work with their digital camera images on a computer to the point where one could question what media they are, but variations of media have long been explored. For example, if I use oils to hand color traditional black and white photos, are they still photos, or are they mixed media? How far would one have to go to make it no longer a photo? How about hand manipulated Polaroid photographs, does the artistic surface work make them too painterly? At some point an artist may decide that they are too far out of the norm, but let the artist make that decision.

As someone who has spent more than 30 years working professionally in a darkroom, I can say with authority that digitally processing an image using a computer and a program like Photoshop gives a skilled artist tremendous control and finesse over the image they have shot. But great control doesn't equate to great art, so let your hand picked jury make that decision when they see how those images fare in competition with all the others submitted by photographers without regard to the kind of film or camera they used.

A separate but related issue is the kind of media that photographers are allows to use to produce their work. Ink jet prints (also called giclées) are a natural output for digitally shot photographs. Research has now provided us with archival materials, and the beauty of a well done ink jet print can be breathtaking.

Our media has always been technologically driven, and today's photography is moving at an amazing pace. But art is not about technology, it is about the aesthetic sense and ones perception of the world. Let the jurors judge the beauty and power of the images, and encourage artists to use all the tools at their disposal to create the best work they possibly can.

Read the response from the Art Shows

 

Chris Maher
PO Box 5 Lambertville, MI 48144
734-856-8882  800-238-2597
E-mail:chris@chrismaher.com
www.InfraredDreams.com

Larry Berman
PO Box 265 Russellton, PA 15076
412-767-8644  800-350-9289
E-mail: larry@bermanart.com
www.BermanGraphics.com
www.AlternatePhoto.com

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