Why print photographs?

In an increasingly virtual world where the majority of photos are seen solely on screen media, why print photographs at all?

Before the digital compact camera was a valid option for people to own and use, there was a need to print all the photographs one had taken in order to be able to actually see them and decide if they were any good! This is when most people would use a ‘point and shoot’ camera with a colour negative film for the family snapshots of holidays, days out, weddings etc – all the activities now recorded on a smartphone.

Can I see the photo?

The key point is that there was no screen on the camera to either preview a photo or review what had just been taken, to confirm it was ‘any good’, additionally, to view the photos on a computer required the film negatives to be scanned. The print, referred to as an enprint in those days, roughly 5 inches x 3 ½ inches (12.7cm x 9cm) in size, were created as part of the processing of the film and this enabled the photo to be seen. One dropped off the film at a service provider, such as a camera store or even the chemists, to be ‘processed and printed’ all as one package. The enprints were produced in the millions, if not billions.

These lovely little prints were generally either dutifully arranged in a photo album or put back in the envelope and stuffed in a drawer; the current equivalent of files on a drive or cloud! They might not be looked at again for ages, if at all, just like the photos in the cloud but they had been printed to enable the photograph to be seen. Hardly relevant now with instant access to images available on any screen device; is there a need to print anything at all now?

Selection of enprints or small photo prints and strips of film negatives
Enprints or small photo prints and strips of film negatives

The print is dead

Just wait a minute there… How many new parents have prints of baby or toddler pinned to the fridge or a board or blu-tacced to the computer screen at work? Other favourite current options include the sun visor in the car or the time-honoured tradition of the purse or wallet! How many do something similar with their new sports motorbike that only gets ridden at the weekend? How many people have a printout of the cake they baked, where everything worked out wonderfully; even if only to inspire themselves in the kitchen that the success can be repeated? Perhaps you have a print of one of your kids, the first bike ride without stabilisers, first day at school etc in your purse or on the fridge? All in spite of being able to access the image ‘easily’ on the smartphone or computer!

Could there be something intrinsically different about a printed photograph compared to a screen version? Both versions can be exactly the same, in subject, colour etc, but do we view or regard them differently?

Ok, so we are getting a bit of an ‘amateur psychology’ burble here and we really don’t have a specific answer to the question we ourselves posed, other than there could seem to be a difference in regard or attitude to a print compared to a screen image. Do note that we are not suggesting a screen image is inherently inferior to a print or not worthy of consideration, it could be said that the screen based photo (and delivery options) have led to an explosion of images being taken but that may be a different discussion. After all, without a screen image our print pages here would look even more sparse than they are!

Long live the print

Might it be that when the majority of images are screen based, a print is a rarity; a tangible object in an increasingly virtual world. Is the print different because one needs to be in the presence of that object or print to be able to appreciate or even to view it? Does a photograph become different once it is made a tangible object? Even if it is a photo of the kids stuck around a computer screen!

Screen based media and interconnectivity being the predominant means of showing a photograph, why print photographs? Why not be contented or happy with producing only screen based images?

Why print photographs?

We are thinking that there is a different interaction with a photo as a print or object compared to a photo on a screen. They could almost be regarded as two distinct categories of a photo. Does the print, being a physical object, have a significance or a presence all of its’ own – because it is physical and tangible? This does not even take into consideration the evidence in a print of a level of craftsmanship or proficiency in a process required to actually bring the print to existence and for the creator (printer) to be able to translate their vision of a subject into a permanent object.

Our pseudo-phycological burble will draw to a halt for now, if you have made it this far… phew, and well done on persevering. We suspect that there will be a part two of further considerations at a later date, of which we could notify you if you subscribe to our blog. What are your thoughts about prints or our ideas? Your opinion would be of interest to us, so do leave a comment below or send us a message here.


This has been a Hand Printed Photos production