Friday, May 13, 2016

Blogging for Freya: Beyond Beginnings

Three Cheeses – Digital Scan
I find the obsession with original prints a little odd for photographers. Recently, as part of my graduate school program, I had a year end review of my current thesis project. I make lumen chemigrams which are inherently unstable, and can't be chemically fixed without altering their appearance. So, for the images to be viewed later, they have to be digitally imaged and reproduced. The "original image" is transitory, because even if stored in a dark environment, the prints continue to develop and change due to chemical residue from the food used to create them. The digital image is the "final print" because the physical print is a dynamic event. So why are people hung up on wanting to see that print, not the digital version?

In every understandable way, the digital image is the photograph. It's the final print. The original, food-covered paper, is not really a 'print' at all. It's my subject for a photographic image. It's not actually a photographic print in any useful way, since it can't be viewed in its "actual" state for more than a few minutes. It's not much different from a sand mandala or water calligraphy. If you're there when it happens, you can see it. Otherwise, the only way to experience it is through a photographic reproduction.

And yet, repeatedly, the panel of reviewers were upset that they couldn't see the "original" prints. They made the assumption that the original prints must have more depth, more texture, more dimension, richer colors... but they don't. Honestly. I've seen them, I work with them, I scan them. In almost all the cases, there's no visual information in the "original" that isn't in the photographic reproduction. The only significant difference is that the paper surface of the "original" might have a different texture, tooth or reflectivity than the digital print. 

But, dang, the reviewers were fixated on the idea of seeing the "original". I was even accused of teasing the viewers by 'dangling' the idea that there was an original print at all. You need to know that there is a subject print, to understand what's happening and what I'm doing, but you don't need to see that subject print. Generally because, by the time I've finished everything and am presenting the work to an audience, those subject prints are no longer anything like the image you're seeing. They've lost contrast, lost color, sometimes completely decayed into dull swirls of brown and grey. They're not interesting anymore.

This odd fixation on the idea that there is some inherent merit in the "original" print just because it is original is so strange to be. Photography is all about reproduction. It's all about making an aesthetic choice to capture a single moment of some event and present it to others, far removed in time. If you're going to demand to see the "origin" of any photographic image, aren't you questioning the very reason that photography exists?

1 comment:

  1. Again, I am enjoying your writing on this theme, especially the last paragraph, reminds me of "the decisive moment"...
    Also, I consider the "original" lumens or chemigrams to be what they call in printmaking a "matrix", and it exists to be reproduced and played with digitally...
    Cheers, K