Monthly Archives: January 2013

The Print As An “Object”

When I moved to the Bay Area in the late 1980s, I was fortunate to work about three blocks away from the Ansel Adams Center.  This housed the gallery, bookstore, and offices of the Friends of Photography (an organization founded in 1967 by Ansel Adams and others in Carmel, which relocated to the Bay Area in 1989 and ultimately ceased operations in 2001).  The Ansel Adams Center was a beautiful facility on 4th Street in San Francisco near Moscone Center, in a building that formerly housed San Francisco’s venereal disease clinic, a bit of trivia I always found amusing.  There were three galleries of photography with rotating shows, one of which was always devoted to the work of Ansel Adams.

I spent countless lunch hours there.  I would always visit all three galleries, but would usually linger in the one devoted to Ansel Adams, appreciating his prints and craftsmanship.  This time spent with his prints, the final concrete expression of his vision, was inspiring and contributed to the way I look at my own work as well as that of others today.

This relates to the concept of the “print as an object” (a well-known term for which I have not been able to find a source to credit).  In addition to the image (the subject), the final presentation of the image (the object) is of supreme importance, at least in certain circles.  To relate this to Ansel Adams’ well known quote (the negative is the score and the print is the performance), many people like to experience the performance in person.

This experience is often lacking today. The digital presentation of photographs allows vastly more photographs to be viewed, but in my opinion it is not a substitute for viewing the object itself.  In many cases, the “object” may not even exist beyond its digital form. This is undoubtedly the case for the vast majority of casual photographs made today.  Although you can get an idea of the tune, the subtleties and nuance of the performance are not readily revealed.  In some cases prints may not live up to the expectations set by their digital counterparts, while in others the reverse is true.

Reports are that Bill Gates’ mansion on Lake Washington features video displays on the walls to show revolving works of art.  While interesting, the experience must be quite different than looking at the originals.  In this case, the digital presentation becomes another “object”, clouding the issue.

While I look at a lot of images online, I still try to look at the “real thing” whenever possible.  It’s well worth the effort.

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