If you think this JPEG looks good, you should see the print. (And if you think it's easy photographing a black and white dog sitting on black and white upholstery without having any of the tones merge, you should try it sometime.)
I’ve been so busy with work lately that I haven’t had a lot of time for shooting. (I’m sure some of you reading this can relate.) When this happens I get my photography fix by browsing through my archive of photographs, deleting the crap, tagging good photos I hadn’t noticed before, and so on.
This time I decided to browse through my pre-digital work, most of which consists of hundreds of black and white prints I made myself. There is nothing particularly noteworthy about my having so many prints. Before the digital era the only ways to view your photos was either to shoot transparencies or to make prints from negatives. My choice was to run a darkroom and make my own prints.
Here’s the thing: I hadn’t looked at some of these prints for a few years, so I had forgotten—forgive me for the immodesty, but it’s true—how good a printer I was. Could some of them have been better if I had printed them digitally? For some of the more difficult negatives, sure. The rest were good enough that I would be proud to show them to whomever cared to look. The tones and resolution of a good print put LCD displays to shame. Better yet, prints are easy to show. Just hand someone a print in good light and they look at it; no computers or electricity necessary.
Another thing I noticed is that my prints were all in great condition, even the ones I printed on resin-coated papers and casually washed in a tray for a few minutes before letting them air-dry. RC papers that I framed under glass faired less well. Some have started showing a subtle “solarization” in the shadows, possibly caused by out-gassing of chemicals that become trapped and concentrated under the glass. This hasn’t happened with any of the fiber-based prints I’ve mounted.
Given how much time and energy it would take me to reprint the affected images, I’m glad I had the foresight to print and store them as archivally as possible, even if it didn’t seem worth the effort at the time. Imagine how it depressing it would be to have hundreds of photos that were deteriorating with every passing year.
The irony is that I don’t print much now, if ever. I had a printer at one time—an Epson Stylus Photo R800—but got sick of dealing with clogged print heads and the near-constant need to replace small and expensive ink cartridges. I’m well-aware that I could get excellent prints by buying a newer, larger, more expensive printer. I just can’t find the will to pull the trigger on one, yet I don’t want to waste time and money buying a less expensive, considerably less archival, dye-based alternative. I’m at the age now where I probably won’t be around to re-print my photos if they start fading in twenty years. If I print at all, I’ve got to print to last. You might want to do the same.
I can’t go on like this for much longer. Something has got to give. In the meantime, it sure is fun enjoying the prints I already have.