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Thread: Printing versus electronic media

  1. #1

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    Printing versus electronic media

    I often see comments along the lines of 'nothing beats a good print'.

    We are all used to seeing stuff in print, we grew up with it so we are comfortable and familiar with it.
    However, in the last few years especially, there has been such a growth in electronic displays in many guises.
    You find them on cell phones, as digital picture frames, computer monitor, digital projectors, tablets (and I'm sure I've missed a few). If you want a large display, you can either project or use a HDTV screen.
    Electronic media are backlit so the colours tend to be brighter and more vibrant (which is why we spend so much time and money calibrating the monitor to more closely match a print).
    They are eminently portable and can carry vastly more images than any human can carry in print.
    We can pass them onto another person anywhere in the world, even people we have never met and will never meet.

    Younger people are growing up, being exposed to digital display so much more than many of us were.
    Even I (in my dotage of nearly 50) am equally happy seeing an image displayed in solid print form as well as the more temporally ephemeral digital form.

    I read a GREAT deal, magazines and books, fiction, non-fiction, yet I probably spend more time in the digital media than I do with hardcopy.

    Is printing becoming an ever increasing minority activity/display media?
    (Yeah, I know, punk will never die, swing dancing will never die, and printing will never die!).

    Interested in your thoughts.
    Graham

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    Re: Printing versus electronic media

    Quote Originally Posted by GrahamH View Post
    Is printing becoming an ever increasing minority activity/display media?
    Hi Graham,
    This is a huge topic that you've started here and I imagine (and I do hope) that the members around CiC will offer many thoughts and varied responses to it. Certainly this is pivotal to everything we do today as photographers!

    I think that certainly print has been relegated when it comes to sharing, distributing and general portability of content. Example, look how many books you can store in a Kindle or how many hundreds of CDs you can carry in your pocket in an iPod... In terms of sharing, Email alone is a killer application that has changed the way the world shares media.

    However I do worry a little about the future in terms of archiving and preserving and safe storage of the content we generate today. I recently watched a brilliant series of TV documentaries about the great photographers (all the usual suspects... Adams, Bresson, Capa, Smith etc...) and one very learned pundit made the point that we have their legacies to see today in print because the prints and negatives were (for the most part) stored properly. He pointed out that the photographs of the very earliest photographers mostly still exist, due to good storage and proper care. He believed that we were in danger of losing huge amounts of today's digital legacies because of ever-changing formats, storage media (much of which hasn't had time to prove its longevity!) and general 'shoddy practice' around digital media. He feared that in the next 50-100 years, we may not be able to "lay hands on" important historical works that are being done today.

    To some degree I can empathise with that notion. Having spent my life working in the broadcast industry, I have seen countless video formats in terms of tape alone. In many cases it costs a fortune to maintain old obsolete VT machinery, unsupported by manufacturers, many of which no longer exist, just to be able to play an archive tape with historic value. Multiply that problem by the number of formats that we've passed through in a relatively short period of time and you are looking at a very costly archiving system.... rather more awkward than storing books in a dry room! Then, in recent years since digitisation came along, the idea was born that all such tapes and films should be digitised for "eternal preservation". That was a great idea until someone sat down and estimated the cost of mounting such a project. Suddenly we were no longer looking at digitising everything we had... just a few "edited highlights". The rest could be scrapped!!!

    See the problems?

    Apart from all of that, which is a debate on its own, I do think that there is something very engaging and compelling about opening a well produced book (whether it be photographs or paintings or poetry, whatever..) and looking at the pages and "touching" the medium. Printing... the art of making an inky mark on a blank surface, is really quite primal. I do hope that we will have books around for a very very long time to come, even if they aren't very portable and they are difficult to share in an instant and they do cost a lot of money to produce etc etc...

    Just a couple of initial thoughts on this topic. What does everyone else out there think about this issue?
    marty

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    Re: Printing versus electronic media

    This is a fascinating question and I will be contributing. I want time to compose my contribution and am a bit busy over this weekend. But, like Marty, am keen to read what others think.

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    Re: Printing versus electronic media

    I too recently read an article that stated there are now something like 4 billion digital cameras in the world. Another that stated almost 99% of photos taken are used for personal use and intended for computer or social networking only. Let's see,,,a Nikon 800E used for electronic media customers equates to an image 102 inches by 68 inches. Either that or a whole lot of information goes in the bit-bucket. Seems to me the next step in technology needs to be a really really big screen or, a huge jump in the tech behind our commercial tv standard monitors. Now there's what we need. A 300PPI 26 inch monitor. Can you imagine the results? Of course it would be unaffordable the first year but then $39.99 by year four. Kidding aside, for me nothing in the electronic monitor world (and I've seen lots) comes close to a great print.

    For storage, keep current with backup tech and you'll be fine. By the way, digitizing photos is like digitizing music. Something always gets lost in the translation. The soul.

  5. #5

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    Re: Printing versus electronic media

    Quote Originally Posted by Marty View Post
    Hi Graham,
    This is a huge topic that you've started here and I imagine (and I do hope) that the members around CiC will offer many thoughts and varied responses to it.

    I agree with it being a huge/interesting/controversial topic. I hope people take it as the first two more so than the latter.


    However I do worry a little about the future in terms of archiving and preserving and safe storage of the content we generate today.

    This is a very important point, and one that I omitted to comment upon initially. Hisorically, think back to the days when art/written material and so on was not archived. How has that actually affected our lives today? Of all the great works, many have been lost, but so too has an even vaster stock of junk. Plus, how much junk has been saved and is considered art predominantly due to the work being old. So, the question I have with respect to this point is - What is the ACTUAL value of a print saved/archived for posterity? I know that ALL of my work would not affect the future in any important manner one iota - or a fraction of an iota .

    I recently watched a brilliant series of TV documentaries about the great photographers (all the usual suspects... Adams, Bresson, Capa, Smith etc...) and one very learned pundit made the point that we have their legacies to see today in print because the prints and negatives were (for the most part) stored properly. He pointed out that the photographs of the very earliest photographers mostly still exist, due to good storage and proper care. He believed that we were in danger of losing huge amounts of today's digital legacies because of ever-changing formats, storage media (much of which hasn't had time to prove its longevity!) and general 'shoddy practice' around digital media. He feared that in the next 50-100 years, we may not be able to "lay hands on" important historical works that are being done today.

    As my comment above, how would it affect our lives, or lives in the future if we didn't have this information easily to hand?

    To some degree I can empathise with that notion. Having spent my life working in the broadcast industry, I have seen countless video formats in terms of tape alone. In many cases it costs a fortune to maintain old obsolete VT machinery, unsupported by manufacturers, many of which no longer exist, just to be able to play an archive tape with historic value. Multiply that problem by the number of formats that we've passed through in a relatively short period of time and you are looking at a very costly archiving system.... rather more awkward than storing books in a dry room! Then, in recent years since digitisation came along, the idea was born that all such tapes and films should be digitised for "eternal preservation". That was a great idea until someone sat down and estimated the cost of mounting such a project. Suddenly we were no longer looking at digitising everything we had... just a few "edited highlights". The rest could be scrapped!!!

    I agree. We could spend ever increasing amounts of resources, time and money archiving, storing and maintaining ever increasing amounts of material (digital or otherwise for that matter) and those resources (etc) may be able to be spent on something more worthwhile. I don't know, perhaps something like feeding more starving people?

    Apart from all of that, which is a debate on its own, I do think that there is something very engaging and compelling about opening a well produced book (whether it be photographs or paintings or poetry, whatever..) and looking at the pages and "touching" the medium. Printing... the art of making an inky mark on a blank surface, is really quite primal.

    This was one of my initial points, the primal feel aspect. Is that due to nature or is it due to nuture? We've grown up with print so we may have a lot more emotionally invested in it than other forms of presentation (in this case digital).
    Thanks Marty for your comments and input, helped me consider to a greater extent the issue.
    For the few who missed it, my replies are embedded in the quote above.

    Graham
    Last edited by GrahamH; 10th March 2012 at 06:59 PM.

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    Re: Printing versus electronic media

    Quote Originally Posted by Andrew1 View Post
    Kidding aside, for me nothing in the electronic monitor world (and I've seen lots) comes close to a great print.
    By the way, digitizing photos is like digitizing music. Something always gets lost in the translation. The soul.
    Thanks for your comments Andrew.
    I'm sure someone would correct me if I am wrong, but I have been told that a typical electronic media has around 4 stops of dynamic range, as does paper. I would love to know for sure. Anyone to help me out?
    Secondly, on this point, I am sure that technology will improve and the range of colour fidelity will improve making electronic displays better. Like it took camera sensors a while to surpass film in many respects (another topic perhaps), electronic displays will surely advance to surpass prints in some ways. Even now, you can zoom in on screen to inspect the finer details far easier than you can do with a print (especially when it is in a frame, behind glass and a security guard is watching you ).

    As for digitising music, I don't know anyone who can actually tell the difference between CD music and vinyl. I know I certainly can't. Some can I am sure, but are they in the minority? And does that relate to appreciation of an image on print or via a well set up electronic display (set up with the same degree of loving care as a print is produced - trying to make comparison as equal as possible).

    Graham

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    Re: Printing versus electronic media

    From what I've seen, all the great masters, or who we presently consider "masters" of our present generation are being properly stored for future generations. For those of use who aren't in that league, to us our own photos are no less important. If the format is digital, as most are these days, then maintaining that "original" is of course no problem. It's also a lot cheaper than preserving images taken using historical formats of the past. Results from existing digital data could in fact improve over time as our software and hardware capabilities in dealing with detail and gamut handling of the raw data advances.

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    Re: Printing versus electronic media

    Quote Originally Posted by Andrew1 View Post
    From what I've seen, all the great masters, or who we presently consider "masters" of our present generation are being properly stored for future generations. For those of use who aren't in that league, to us our own photos are no less important. If the format is digital, as most are these days, then maintaining that "original" is of course no problem.....
    Hi Andrew,
    This returns to one of my original concerns about digital storage. Unless we make endless backups across all known types of media, how do we know that our content will be readily available/readable in 100 years time? I've already had experience of CDs that were burnt just 10 years ago, not giving up their information today, due to physical deterioration of the medium. Magnetic media also has its own inherent weaknesses. What present-day digital storage medium would you feel safe in guaranteeing will be safe & secure and readily retrievable 100 years from now?

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    Re: Printing versus electronic media

    An interesting thread, and it might prompt the question - what do we actually do with our photographs? (I am thinking here of those of us who are not producing them to make a living.) This is my experience so far:

    Those images that I like are shown, but usually only once, to friends and relatives. I show them almost always as prints (usually A4) to those I meet with regularly, but sometimes I might send them as email attachments to those who I meet rarely. If they want a copy, they choose whether it is printed or electronic, and most prefer to have a print. The few images that I really like, I print, mount and frame, and they are hanging on the walls in my home, and I swap them from time to time when I produce something better.

    The totals so far are several thousand electronic images, a few hundred unmounted A4 prints, and about 20 mounted+framed prints, some A3 and some A4. I hardly ever look at all the electronic images, except perhaps if I might glance at their thumbnails when I am searching for an image. I do enjoy looking at the printed images, and I suppose I have been doing this roughly once a month. I take pleasure almost every day in seeing the framed prints hanging on the walls at home.

    I suspect that, although electronic images might last forever if properly archived, they will almost certainly have the same kind of life as those many boxes of snapshots that lots of us older folk possess - never on display and rarely, if ever, even viewed. Even those that are made available on the Web will tend to have a transient nature for the browsing viewer.

    However, it does seem to me that good (usually big) prints will always, quite literally, be with us - hanging on walls or otherwise displayed in their frames - somewhere. They have a sort of permanent presence in our lives, that is greater than their mere physical existence, and that the electronic images are unlikely ever to have.

    Philip

  10. #10

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    Re: Printing versus electronic media

    Thanks Philip.
    I seem to remember hearing of a recent gallery showing of some old photographs, taken by some nanny several decades ago. Apparently she was almost obsessive about taking pics and she took thousands of them. Someone found the old negative and searched through them, finding some that they thought had some artistic merit (by whose assessment I dn't know).
    Suddenly she is heralded as a lost artist or merit. So, several thousand images, and a small fraction of one percent later (many years later) she has a posthumous show in a gallery. Obviously cherry picking has gone on (as one would expect).
    Is there really any merit to her individual talent? Is it because it is a record of days long gone that fascinates people and it is THAT (at least to a significant extent) that creates interest (and hence provides the trappings of artistic merit?).
    Give any one of use, who takes a few thousand images a year, several decades before we are 'rediscovered' and see how much more artistic we are then compared to now.
    A print is more likely to last longer than the electronic versions, but that doesn't make us more artistic, merely affords the future a glimpse into the past, our present.

    Further, the Mona Lisa is a nice pic, I suppose, but equally so are the many copies in all their forms. Does the original make it any more special in artistic merit (assuming it is indistinguishable from the original)?
    Would you appreciate the original painting any more than a print or over electronic display (given the same viewing conditions - from a distance)?

    In summary, what value does a print have over electronic media other than longevity?
    If that value is small, then more convenient media is more likely to supercede it. if that value is large, then the print will last longer over the alternates.
    Dead Sea scrolls, who uses papyrus anymore except in extremely rare cases. If writing on papyrus gave it inherent value, then why are we not using it anymore?
    Painting on canvas used to be way more popular than using a camera and printing onto paper. Is a painting any more inherently valuable than a print?

    Graham

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    Re: Printing versus electronic media

    I have a long standing opinion that many of the past photographers some now put on a pedestal because of their work is misdirected in that viewers somehow relate the subject with the quality of the photo. My own fascination with that genre is pretty much limited to the subject matter and in many I find quality takes a much distant back seat. Sure there are the exceptions but as a norm, the cityscapes and street photography we admire are below the quality of what a serious amateur could produce. The styles, the faces, the cars, etc, all gone now. The magnificent buildings we have demolished to make way for cubes of glass and steel draw more attention today than they probably did when they were commonplace. Look at Vivian Maier's work mentioned above, or any of the prolific B&W photographers from WWII and previous. Like the rest of us you'll find good and bad in their portfolios but I find many of the good are due to the curiosity about the subject matter.

    As for long term storage, a problem is that even with proper storage processes only a museum utilizes as a norm, the inks, papers, paints, dyes, etc contain compounds or organics that deteriorate over time.

    Digitally created data is classified as a permanent record if handled properly. The problem is that as amateurs we are not willing to make the effort or pay for those standards in our own photographic libraries. The magnetic recordings on tape or floppy disc were never said to last very long. Compact cassettes from the 70’s and floppy’s from the 80’s were only convenient means to store the tape. None were intended for extensive repeated use other than music or voice recordings where minor quality degradations didn’t matter. Most were probably destroyed by our own handling rather than being worn out. If you required assurances more than any medium offers then you need to take extra steps to do that.

    Recording tapes for important commercial backup purposes have technical specifications regarding usage and replacement cycles. With CD's, home storage types have organic dye layers and are known to be limited to about 10 years. Plenty of time for the most common use being business records which years ago changed almost daily and which are now modified by the second. Remember the stacks of 3 ˝ inch floppy’s we had laying around on the desk and sometimes used as coasters? Proper backup of relevant information can preserve every byte of data originally recorded from IBM punch cards onto the DEC platters of 30 years ago. The technology to insure that permanence has been available for those same 30 years but the cost was prohibitive to the average user. That cost has of course come down over the years but can still be rather pricey depending on how far you want to go. The cheapest and least secure is burning your own CDs. Moving up a step most of us could utilize rotated copies. And there are others. For those with an unlimited budget there are protocols for off-site storage combined with daily network downloads into an EMP protected site. You can get so secure the only thing in the universe that can get at your data is the U.S. Patriot Act.

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