There is something special about holding a print in our hands. In fact, I think it is probably more special now than it has ever been before because it happens so rarely!
The print is the final piece of the photographic puzzle. The culmination of all the work, the toil and the learning. It is the physical artefact that proves we are photographers and also the one we hardly ever get to see.
There are more images being made now than in the entirety of history to date. I can't even guess how much data we have made, where it is all stored and what will happen to it in the future. Some things are just too massive to contemplate, like the size of the universe and where all the photos go when they drop off the bottom of the newsfeed.
So why is it that we print so few of them?
One reason we might print so few is that only the most deserving and special make it into print. If this is true, I think it is very revealing about our photography. Can we infer that many of the rest are not that special?
But perhaps there are other reasons too: Expense, space on the walls, digital photo frames, there are just too damn many pics on the hard drive. These are all valid points.
I suppose the other reason is that we can just pull them up off our hard drives or cloud storage when we want and have a look too.
All this is great but it is also missing the point. Sometimes a photograph should return unbidden. It should just waltz into our frame of view and tell us something that we have forgotten. It could be a smile, a loved one, or a place that reminds us of who we are and who we were.
There's something else that is true about printed images. They are often larger and more sumptuous. There is just nothing that a tiny screen can do to change that. Beautifully printed images are the summit of our art. From the glorious textured paper to the luminous inks and careful framing, they are an ode and aspiration to quality in our work.
I print two or three images for myself every month. I love the entire process; capture, selection, care, attention, time, tweaking, deciding, proofing, printing, framing and hanging. When I hang the finished work on the wall it really feels like I made something. Me. Myself.
When I glance at the picture it brings all of it back, that sense of achievement.
I don't always print big pictures. Sometimes they are just a few little ones, they are just as precious to me and I pin them up on a cork board for inspiration. When the wall space fills up I give them away.
I suppose there are more reasons to print than just a sense of personal achievement or completion. Prints also help to make us better photographers.
I don't know why it is that we humans (maybe its just me I must be careful when generalising) find it so difficult to spot errors on screens.
I have to print things out to spot my spelling mistakes. The same is true for photographs. Dust spots and artefacts that are invisible on our low-res screens are much more apparent in print.
The same is true of shadows, shapes and lines; they are just not as obvious on a monitor. Perhaps it is something to do with the back-lighting? I don't know.
There is another reason to print and it has to do with longevity. Everything fades eventually, but software and technology fade quicker than almost everything else. Who knows if, arriving at the latter end of our life, we will be able to access the images we took at the beginning? Just look at film, vinyl and VHS and cassettes. Displaying or playing that media is a major expedition these days!
A print is with us for most, if not all, our life. The more of them we have around us the more we are be reminded that life is for living and not for tapping and scrolling.