Opinion: on the value of the printer's art


In 1948, photography was still somewhat of a miracle. Creating a photograph like this one -- my favourite of my mother -- was an experience both for the subject and the photographer, a sacred event that was relatively rare. It was a treat to have a photograph taken, and they were treated as the treasures they were. They were printed, put in albums and annotated with great care, hung in frames on the wall.

These days, photography has become so easy, so pervasive, and so mobile that it's become almost expendable. Does it still feel like a treasure? Like something to be cherished, made tactile? Not the way it once was. These days, we design the photographic experience like a bic lighter. It is transient, instant gratification.

Approximately 80% of digital images in the world today are stored on a hard drive, rarely shared or browsed-through. A hundred years from now, today's technology will no longer exist in its current form. Not enough of us backup our files to protect our digital assets for longevity's sake -- and even if we did, will JPGs and CDs even be supported when it comes time for our grandchildren to explore the moments and memories we've left behind?

Let's pretend you've archived all the most treasured music of your life on a series of 8-track tapes. Fast-forward fifty years, when you want to listen to the music of your youth. Imagine the difficulty of retrieving that audio data, let alone figuring out how to make it playable.

Similarly, this much is true: the only reliable way to archive the photography of your life and have it be relevant in 50 or 100 years (or many more) is to have it professionally printed.

In this honeymoon phase of the digital age, even photographers are guilty of neglecting the art of printing. At the PPOC (Professional Photographers of Canada) Atlantic convention 2010 in Summerside PEI, a grand total of six prints were entered in the image competition. The rest were displayed on a monitor.

The PPOC represents the very best of our nation. Their tagline is promoting excellence in professional imaging. They're creative, highly studied, and experts at manipulating technology to capture incredible visions for their clients. But when this group deems printmaking to be neither necessary nor relevant, it's not just my sentimental love of tactile production that makes me grimace. It's my archivist's instinct.

Don't go to a big box store for photographic printing. Find a reputable lab that keeps its rinse tanks clean so the prints will last a century, with seasoned experts who will enhance your work and your memories for the best possible result. In our shop, we see the delight of our customers as they rediscover enlargements, collages, scrapbooks, albums, canvases, and backlit displays. It puts the joy and fulfillment back into photography, back into our memories.

Am I biased? Sure. I run that reputable lab. We've got some of the most advanced printing technology in Canada, right here in Halifax. We do work for photographers and enthusiasts all over the world.

But I'm sentimental, and a stickler for things that last. Just like my mother taught me.