Create: Print Don’t Lie

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I should have known. I did know. But I didn’t want to know. YouTube is both a cool place and a terrifying little glimpse into the collective mindset of those who like to watch. I’m really glad I started making YouTube films. I am, actually. (Considering what is happening in the world, this is a trivial post so keep this in mind.)

I’m learning how to make films, that is number one. I am a long, long way from making anything that works or anything that is truly good, mine, unique, etc. I am not yet skilled enough with the software to create what I see in my mind. But this was the same back in 1988 when I began making pictures.

I didn’t know light, timing or composition. I didn’t know how to process film and I didn’t know how to print. I didn’t know how to read a negative, read those highlights and shadows to determine my exposure time, filters and agitation. I didn’t know which paper grade or developer would work best with a particular negative. And I didn’t know how to ensure my best negatives while still in the field. In short, I didn’t know sh%$.

What transpired over the following decade was akin to a repeated pummeling from a schoolyard bully. The bully being the reality of professional photography. I took my lumps. Over and over again. My first three or four years were mostly a bizarre parade of mistakes. Bad images, bad edits, and bad prints. Days, weeks, months in the darkroom. Nosebleeds chapped fingers and a cough. This was the price of admission. But what these things did was teach me the power of coming full circle. These things taught me that print is the best way to express photography. It always has been and it always will be.

But print is terrifying to YouTube viewers. Why? Because print exposes us. If you don’t print you are a consumer/prosumer and for a lot of folks pretending to be pros, this doesn’t feel good. Case in point, my last two films. These films were done for a variety of reasons, and one of those reasons was to prove a point. The first film, about gear, gets traffic. The second film, about print, gets a fraction of the views. Watching a film about print, anyone’s really, reveals a long line of skills required to do it well and it’s FAR easier to sink back into the idiotic bokeh argument, or which 50mm is better argument than it is to realize you never learned how to edit, or sequence, or design or even chose a trim size and materials. The absolute basics for being a professional who takes their work to print.

Let me give YouTube viewers a little gut check. Pros don’t sit around talking about gear. They may ask why someone used a particular system but then the conversation shifts toward a standard set of topics. History of photography, what others have already done, influence, inspiration, current projects, failures, prints, books and book deals, gallery shows, museum shows, getting in collections, assignments, travel, their families, friends, etc.

Really high-level photographers are often really interesting people doing really interesting things. Topics can vary dramatically but hardly ever is anyone talking about gear, especially trivial, nonsensical lunacy like bokeh or what 50mm is better. And for the record, YT brought us the term “bokeh.” Historically, and in the actual industry, this is called “fall off,” and in thirty years of being a photographer I never once had the conversation.

Now, for the haters. This doesn’t mean being a professional eliminates the need to work in the digital space. Far from it. In fact, regardless of skill level, actual working pros do need to work in the digital space and far more often than the print space. But when all is said and done, nobody remembers the digital space. If I named a photographer and asked “Hey, do you remember the digital piece that so and so did in 2002?” I’d bet every penny you couldn’t remember what they posted last week. But their books are eternal.

I have roughly 400 monograph photography books in my collection, many printed decades ago from projects that go even further back. I remember the images, the layouts, the copy, the author pages, the designers and the IMPACT of each one. The digital space is throwaway no matter how hard we try to convince ourselves otherwise. Here for the moment, gone forever. Consumed in a massive tidal wave of average.

When I ask serious photographers about goals, and I mean the real-deal, high-level folks whom I only encounter a few times a year, the top two responses are book deal and museum show, which by the way, often coincide. Never once has anyone mentioned Instagram followings or YouTube views. These are different worlds. And oh, by the way, this you will love. The ONE time a year when I get to hang with the highest level of photographers I ever get to see or encounter…what do we do? We make a box of prints and people are asked to refrain from anything on social media. THAT is how it works.

My advice is this. If you haven’t printed or don’t’ know how to print or feel terrified of the entire process then just relax. Look at this moment as an opportunity to realize you have two-thirds of the photography experience you have yet to explore. You could learn something new every single day. And realize to nothing is perfect. Making prints or books means making mistakes. Ask any editor about the perfect edit or any book designer about the perfect book rarely if ever will you hear “Oh ya, I nailed that, it was perfect front to back.” But trying and failing sure beats returning to the same dead horse on YouTube. And most importantly, putting your work in print is FUN. It really is. It’s like trying to hit a home run during a company softball event but instead, you hit a line drive into the skull of the guy that works in marketing. Sure, this sucks but you still got on base.

I’m going to keep making YouTube films because I enjoy it but also because I’m in a perfect position. I don’t need YouTube. I can still be honest, make films about what I want and let the chips fall where they may.

Comments 24

  1. Firstly, thank you for the YouTube videos, I love when Uncle Dan “keeps it 100” as the kids say. I will say your blog, your videos have inspired me to print. I even calibrated my monitor…how about that for putting an apple on the teachers desk.

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      WHAT? Calibrated? Say it ain’t so. Well done. Even small prints are super cool.

  2. I’ve been watching all of your YouTube videos. Just like this blog, they’re refreshing. From Smogranch to YouTube there’s been relevancy in what you’ve been doing.. And printing tops it off. I’ve started printing almost daily again, for my journal, for my ‘scrapbook’ wall, and very very occasionally to go in a frame. I like the idea of having boxes and boxes of dusty old prints lying around the house.

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      Print boxes are unreal. I have an old wine case that is FILLED with 4×6 prints going back 50 years.

  3. Okay, I had a whole piece written here and one wrong move with my “magic mouse” and it’s all gone. Long story short… There is nothing like printing. I’m obsessed. I print almost every photo that I’m satisfied with. I’m currently working on printing small 4×6, B&W pictures (not pics… I hate that term. Is that considered “Leetspeak”?) and taping them scrapbook style in a hardcover sketchbook and my oldest daughter and I are filling in the spaces with art and poetry.
    I’m also working on a blurb magazine on B&W seascapes. I can’t stand the typical seaside town painting or photographs of “the boat ashore with a seagull, but living by the sea in the northwest has its benefits. I’m hoping to make it more interesting than the typical. Now I’m rambling via keyboard but hey, thanks to covid 19, my business is at a halt.
    Thanks for all the great content, Dan.
    You are appreciated!

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      You are a throwback my man. Old(young) man and the sea. Anyone with that drive will make good things. And I too am obsessed with print. I just printed out an invoice and glued it to my journal…I’m desperate?

    2. Invoices! Eesh… I have a stack I just sent out. I work with dentists and they are all laughing at me right now like “you expect us to pay these at this point?” Maybe I’ll start an “Invoice Journal”? *forehead slap

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      That sucks, truly. Let’s hope we go all-in for the short term to avoid long-term pain.

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    5. Lucas, do you print at home? I’ve been looking for a small, reliable, hassle-free inkjet. Just ordered a Canon IP110. Hope that does the trick. I hate using Amazon, but that was about the only option. (I chose the ship it when you can option so they can prioritize more urgent shipments. Not patting myself on the back, just letting Danno’s readers know it’s an option.)

      Anyone have suggestions for portable typewriters?

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    7. Yeah, I’ve been printing from home for almost two years(ish). Once a year or so Canon will have a ridiculous sale on printers. I bought a Pixma Pro 10 and with the instant rebate and a “free” 50 count of Canon Lustre paper, it was less than 300 bucks. It prints as large as 13×19. It beats constantly relying on an MPix type of place even though MPix is pretty good. I can at least try out different papers and have more control. Hunts Camera is where I go here in the New England area but I know B&H will run the same sales.
      Portable typewriters? Hmmm… Can’t help you there :/ Yeah, clack, clack, clack… I can feel my knuckles ache already. I can suggest some good fountain pens though!

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      Fountain pens, mechanial keyboards, printers, and now perhaps the most important time in our history to use them…..sadly.

    9. Thomas Paine wrote The Age of Reason while in prison with pen, ink and candle light. You just never know what genius will come from hardship… real hardship.
      I find it a bit exhilarating to be honest… so long as things don’t get too Mad Max.

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      It’s inspiring in odd ways. There are a lot of people getting hurt who don’t feel this way and we have to keep them front and center. Again, just hope we learn from this.

  4. Love the photograph, Daniel. The text is true wisdom. When I bought my first paper,chemicals etc. to begin printing I asked “Is it easy?”. “It’s easy to do badly”, came the reply. How true, but you learn and improve. Printing in a spare room, stinking the whole house with stop bath; those were the days.

    Now my favourite way to print is Blurb magazines. Being able to shoot, edit and print a zine is a blast – not possible when ‘those were the days’.

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      You are correct. How many of us had an enlarger balanced on a toilet at some point in our life?

  5. Hello, Daniel. I’m writing to you from Bucharest, Romania. I have recently discovered your series of films on youtube and I very much like the ones about how to make a Blurb book. In fact, you inspired me and, since we are compelled to stay indoors, I have already printed 3 magazines and a trade book. Family photos from various trips and the Christening of our friends’ children. Man, it’s hard job! 🙂
    I like your Lost City and Uruguay.
    Take care and keep safe!

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      So nice to meet you! I have not yet been to Romania but would love to go. YouTube has been fun for me, experimenting, so I’m glad you found something interesting. Blurb and MagCloud can offer an endless amount of entertainment, as well as education about editing, sequencing, materials, etc. If you have any questions make sure you reach out to me and congratulations! I hope you are safe and I hope Romania is okay.

  6. Daniel,
    Like some of the folks above I too recently found your work both YouTube and other media. I’ve been a photojournalist for ten years now and really just started working on my own personal projects and documentaries. I’ve always been horrible about printing and or even sharing my work in social media type settings. I really want to invest in learning to be a better editor of my own work on series and make more printed publications of my own.

    For the most part of my career I’ve always just left it up to the art directors or editors to run what they want out of what I supplied to them. In the more recent years as things in media print have changed for the worse it becomes very frustrating to see the work butchered at times.
    I would appreciate any advice for direction and by the way I’m not far down the road East of you. I’m in Amarillo enjoying the stay at home order. That helped start another personal project.
    Thanks for all the great info you openly share.

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      Ha, had to make an emergency landing in Amarillo a few months ago. Crazy day. Yes, the “print media,” is a shell of what it once was. What is puzzling to me is the horde of publications that have gone all-in on sheep mentality thinking, following the masses chasing likes, while watching their subscribers dwindle. You can’t chase likes with bad work. Here is my first piece of advice. Make a new portfolio. Make a new print portfolio. Nothing fancy. A 20-page magazine for $6. When you are making an edit you will probably put what you think is your best work, logical. But I’m not interested in what you do well now. I’m sure you are capable. I’m interested in the fringe images. The images you WANT to put in but don’t know why. Those images, in my opinion, are where you will be in five years. You also admitted something telling. You have been working as a photographer for ten years but only started doing your own projects recently. Whoa. This is huge. You might not even know who you are yet. This is a GOOD thing, not a bad thing. You have an entire, internal world to explore and chances are the photographer inside you is far better than the one working as a photographer. A good Monday for you.

  7. Daniel,
    Thanks, I have no problem admitting I need lots of help. I have plenty of room for growth. If I ever stop learning in this business it will be time to hang it up and move on. I do feel like I can capture and tell the story with my images. I’ve been doing that for sometime now but always want to improve. I was taught years ago to always shoot the “VERB” it just made since to me and I have always tried when shooting a news story or magazine story to capture the verb of the scenes. I think that’s part of what drives me crazy on media publications. When an editor or even a reporter uses a photo that doesn’t convey anything by itself about the story. If they had put two or three photos with that one it tells the entire story. They pick the one that fits the hole or the one with high contrast colors instead of the story telling photo.

    I did see in one of your Youtube videos and on one of these blogs about using the smaller print version as a business card. I plan on doing a lot more printing of my own work.

    Thanks again for sharing such good info. You ever get back over here look me up. I had a working studio for several years but we recently had to close it. It was in our art center that got shut down last year ( Arts in the Sunset).

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      Same for you. Find yourself New Mexico way just look me up. Look, you are thinking. A good, good thing. You know you want more, or need more, and you are curious. Now it’s just time and practice.

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