• Jay Espinal

Is printing a Necessity?

Updated: Apr 28

“What gunpowder did for war, the printing press did for the mind." - Wendell Phillips

It wasn't too long ago when you had to go to a photo store to get your pictures printed. In fact, printing was the only way you could see your photos. Back then it went together like bread and butter. The invention of smartphones and the rise of apps like Facebook and Instagram have made printing an unnecessary step in the eyes of the general public, let alone the photography process. In fact, printing has almost completely been taken out of the equation by those crispy clear screens on smartphones. While social media has given most people a false sense of closure through their ease of sharing. Yet I would argue that the speed at which we share our photos on these devices have made those pictures and moment less precious.

Photography equation:

a (capture moments) + b (develop/ process) x p ( Print) = Present

I have fond memories of a cigar box the lives at my parent's house filled with printed photos of my entire childhood. To this day I still enjoy looking through that box.

I realize that some of you did not grow up with the necessity to print your photos. I have not been able to get out to shoot much, with the start of the Covid pandemic, but what I have gotten to do is reflect and revisit the body of work I have created over the last two years. My best pictures are displayed on Instagram, stored on my computer, and backed up on external hard drives, yet none of those locations bring much satisfaction, even when sharing them with a potentially huge audience.

That is when I realized I needed to print my photos. How could I not have seen it before? Clearly, I too had been taken by smartphones and social media. I had convinced myself that taking pictures and sharing them was enough. It took a while to comb through all my pictures and make my selections, yet I managed to sequence my photos in a pleasing order. After that, I found a place to print. While looking for a printing lab, I decided to take it a step further and made the whole effort into a book. One copy, got it printed and bound. Yes, just one. It arrived and I couldn’t be happier with the results. Finally, I got to hold my work in its true medium, paper.

Now, it's one thing to see your work on your smartphone, on a tablet, or on a large monitor, but it's a totally different experience when you’re able to touch your photos. The print is a physical representation, physical proof. I stress "physical" because it involves touch. It's the difference between typing a letter versus a handwritten one. DON’T get me wrong I’m not a complete purist. I’m picky when it comes to what I find rewarding. I prefer the speed of digital photography over the analog film process, I enjoy the efficiency of electric motors vs. their combustion counterparts, but I rather a vinyl record to a digital file. Printing my photos is much like a period at the end of a sentence. For me, it’s a must. That leads me to my next point: framing, and displaying your work.

There is satisfaction in the process: Testing out the different qualities of papers. Picking the finish, the frame size, even down to the weight of the paper. It has a visceral impact on you. Printing your work is still important because it should have never been taken out of the equation.

Photography equation:

a (capture moments) + b (develop/ process) x p ( Print) = Present

Printing is the closure of the ritual. It's the final stage in the creative process that is photography. Walking past a printed frame photo that you captured is a reminder of not only that moment but of your growth. It's fun. It's a conversation starter, a thing to meditate on. It’s a physical part of your legacy for your family, your home. So don’t just take pictures and keep them digitally. PRINT THEM!

Now, Why am I bring this all up? Well, because I often find myself asking: “What’s the point?" -"What's it all about?"

My answers have changed over the years but one thing has remained: We are here on earth for a finite amount of time. So, I conclude; and this is my answer to “the meaning of life.” Why not create moments, memories that bring us joy and pride. For me, I found, those moments of pride and joy to come from printing my photos. Obviously, my children are a huge point of joy but I'm talking about photography in this particular article. In printing my photos I find a unique fulfillment, as I believe you will too. So I'll repeat it, don’t just take pictures and keep them digitally. PRINT THEM!

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