why I print: a post from Tom

Printing is the often-undervalued final stage in producing an image. In today’s image-heavy social media age, it’s very easy to overlook printing as a creative output, and produce work with a purely digital workflow. Don’t get me wrong, I really love platforms like Instagram. I find them enormously democratic and engaging. A photographer’s feed enables you to see the evolution of themes, styles and ideas. But it’s all too easy for these images to be swiped, liked, and then forgotten. For me, making a physical print brings the image into the physical world. A print is a made thing, with a maker and a maker’s intent. It has a physical presence and properties which provide additional creative opportunities for the photographer.

I have always made prints of my work. I find this enormously helpful when deciding which images to include in a portfolio. This probably originates from working with film in a darkroom. Printing, when shooting film, is an integral part of the creative process. In fact, capturing an image on film using a camera can be seen as only half of the process of making a photograph. Light enters the camera through the lens to expose the film… but then the light must be projected back through the film and a second lens onto the photographic paper to make the image. In making the print from film, the photographer must create a new exposure, with a new composition. Images are manipulated, dodged, burned, re-touched and coloured. Of course many of these processes can be emulated in the digital workflow (e.g. photoshopping), but the final step of making a physical print, is still essential for me to fully realise the image as I see it in my head. And in fact it’s perfectly possible to dispense with the camera entirely when printing images in a darkroom . . .

. . . photograms can be made by direct exposure and printing of the light-sensitive paper. This works particularly well with semi-translucent subjects, like thinly sliced lemons!

There are practical considerations to making physical prints. Printing with archival grade papers and inks ensures the photo has a long life (100 years or more), which may be significant in age when some digital formats become rapidly redundant.

I also think that printing usefully hones the eye of a photographer, improving one’s ability to create and curate a portfolio of images by spending time with them. But really, it’s the emotional engagement with an image which drives my desire to print.

A high quality fine-art print has a wonderful physical presence. It can be touched, displayed, given or received. Printed images look and feel radically different to those on a backlit LED screen with a deeper texture and richness. A print speaks of the maker’s investment of time and skill. And, as the viewer, a thoughtfully displayed print has our undivided attention – there are no alerts, there is no need to hit like . . . you can just enjoy it.

I often receive requests for prints of my work, and over the past few years have experimented with different kinds of digital printing. Previously, I’ve used a semi-automated service, in which orders were sent directly to a nearby lab, processed, and dispatched, without my intervention. But I didn’t like that I barely ever got to see my prints and that this system didn’t offer me much flexibility or choice. Occasionally I’d get a more specialised request for a particular image, and when I did so, I found myself really enjoying working with a skilled Glasgow printer (much beloved of our local photographic and creative community) from whom I’ve learnt an awful lot. As time has gone on, I’ve found the idea of being able to offer a more bespoke service to those who are interested in my work, whilst also being able to print-on-demand, really appealing . . . so I’ve finally acquired a professional-grade printer, installed it in my studio, and am now enjoying using this to reproduce my work.

This fantastic printer has given me the artistic control and freedom I so enjoy about reproducing my photographic work and, after a few months experimentation, I’m really happy to say that I’m finally able to produce beautiful digital photographic prints myself. Every one of these prints is hand made by me, using lovely archival-grade papers and inks. My prints are embossed and signed and are strictly limited editions.

If you are interested, the KDD shop now contains a small selection of some of my popular images, but I’d be delighted to make a custom print of any photograph you’ve seen here, on my Instagram feed, or indeed in any of our books. So if there’s an image you’d be interested in me making a print of, don’t hesitate to get in touch! I’m tom@katedaviesdesigns.com

Thanks for reading.