Lousy print quality sinks 2012 Maine Photography Show in Boothbay Harbor

Is bad print quality the new Brownie camera? If so, Alfred Stieglitz got it right: SECEDE!

When I first started studying photo history I cringed a bit when I learned Stieglitz started the Photo Secession movement because too many people were getting into photography and blurring the lines between “real” photographers and the masses. Yikes, arrogant, a tiny bit? Elitist?  Well, he was both, no doubt about it, but further study has proved his indignation and instincts as right on.

Photography, up to the advent of Eastman Kodak’s amazingly handy Brownie camera in 1900, had been mostly for those with the time and resources, or passion, to pursue the complexities of equipment and processing. But what happened was that with everyone now able to take photographs (“You push the button, we’ll do the rest!”), the mystique of the craft was lost to the viewer of photographs, and Stieglitz realized that in order to survive, fine art photographers had to separate themselves and insist on continuing to explore the marriage of science and art on the highest level of aesthetics possible. Hence, the Photo-Secessionists – committed to creating works of art that could be held up to the same standards as other media, such as painting and sculpture, and getting as far away as possible from “snapshots”. Stieglitz explained it thus: “Photo-Secession actually means a seceding from the accepted idea of what constitutes a photograph.”

Brooklyn Bridge Redefined©Pamela Davis. All Rights Reserved

Well, folks, it’s time for SECEDE – The Sequel. Many of us are taking cool photographs and I’ve written before about the amazing photographs my Canon PowerShot takes by itself once I take it out of its cozy pouch. But the downside of photography becoming ubiquitous is that alongside these digital cameras, amazing printers have popped up, and they are amazing. The problem I’m seeing, and it’s a big one at the 2012 Maine Photography Show at the Boothbay Region Art Foundation Gallery in Boothbay Harbor, is that almost no one is remembering the rather important piece of the final product called “print quality.”

If photographs are being billed as “fine art photographs” they had better be darn fine prints. And if photographs are being selected for exhibition they had better be darn fine prints. This means a total absence of pink, green and turquoise dots (noise), content broken down to the point of total distortion due to enlarging a digital file that was not meant to be so enlarged, and other digital artifacts. I know many of the photographers in this show are hobbyists and love taking great pictures as much as I do, but this era of digital photography for “everyman” has created a huge problem that needs to be addressed:  just because you can take cool pictures doesn’t mean you have the skill to print them for exhibition. Printing fine art digital photographs is not about pressing the PRINT button.

There are resources in Maine where photographers can learn how to print their work digitally at an acceptable level of quality, the Bakery Photographic Collective in Westbrook for one. And if you find you don’t have the skill to make these prints well, hand the job over to a master printer, because let me tell you, there’s a difference.

Cosmic Shape #1©Katie J. Wadsworth Buckley. All Rights Reserved

At VoxPhotographs, I hold my artists to the highest standards of print quality and have had to part company with those who don’t agree with this definition of what makes a fine art photograph. And if jurors are asked to select photographs for exhibit based only on electronic images, it’s underscoring the very wrong perception that final print quality doesn’t matter one bit any more. In fact, exhibits of photographs that don’t adhere to the highest level of print quality are undermining the fine art photographs community more than any other factor.

So here’s the bottom line: If you want to be a fine art photographer, or even if you are an amateur and are submitting works to be exhibited, make print quality an absolute priority after the success of the photo-taking itself. Frankly, it can’t be separated. A lousy print of a great digital photograph is nothing more than just a lousy photograph.

And photographs on canvas? Holy smokes, don’t get me started.


I found several black and white photographs at the Maine Photography Show that I really loved: “Three Pears” by Zoe Theberge from Harpswell; “Brooklyn Bridge Redefined” by Pamela Davis of Bar Mills; “The Dance” by LeeAnn LaFleur of Livermore Falls; and Harold Strout’s (North Monmouth) “Ice Bottle”. A very interesting small color image I’d like to see more of is “Cosmic Shape #1″ by Katie J. Wadsworth Buckley of Searsmont. I’ll include them throughout this posting as they come in to me in response to my requests for postable images.

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One Response to “Lousy print quality sinks 2012 Maine Photography Show in Boothbay Harbor”

  1. […] horror when I went to see the 2012 Maine Photography Show in Boothbay Harbor. I wrote about it in this blog. The print quality of many of the accepted works was substandard and outright awful. I was told all […]

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