Exhibition Prints

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There are phrases, “exhibition print”, “fine-art print”, and others, that come up a lot when people are trying to get you to part with money for prints.

None of these phrases have any really precise definitions. That’s not quite to say they don’t mean anything; but their meanings aren’t widely understood or agreed to, and they’re mostly non-disprovable (I can’t prove some print I don’t like isn’t really an exhibition print!).

The one to really be afraid of, though, is “collectible”. It’s a near certainty that anything specifically marketed as a collectible will never become one.

You can’t just take the image off your camera’s sensor and run it out to the printer; not if you expect it to look like anything. Darkroom printing was the same; Ansel Adams (who trained initially as a musician) said “The negative is similar to a musician’s score, and the print to the performance of that score. The negative comes to life only when ‘performed’ as a print.”

Most people never see any of their photos “performed” to anything like their full potential; automated printing (like at Fotomat / Proex / the corner drugstore in the old days, in your phone or camera today) isn’t nearly as smart as a person, and has no idea what that particular artist wanted to happen with this particular print.

I have spent considerable time bringing these photos up to a level of “performance” that’s worth exhibiting. This starts with figuring out why a particular image caught my eye, struck me as interesting, in the first place. Then I find the things that create that, and enhance them; and the things that distract from that, and subdue them. I work on things that will draw, lead, direct, or dismiss your attention, your eyes. I think about entry points, scanning paths, distractions vs. destinations. I look at contrasts, echos and reflections, repetitions and disruptions.

I also worry about color balance (often tweaking different parts of the photo differently), brightness gradations, removing distractions, noise, sharpness, perspective and geometry, level, rotations, selective blur, and all the usual technical issues.

You probably don’t care. That’s okay; you probably shouldn’t care. Bob Nadler told Ctein way back when that “nobody cares how hard you worked”, and he was right. If a photo grabs your attention, speaks to you, and keeps doing so, that you should care about. If it doesn’t, turn the page and move on!

If it really does move you…I’d like to ask you to consider buying a print.