The physical product

For a while, I (along with many photographers, I suspect) have been thinking about prints.

Or, rather, the lack of them.

Not so very long ago, you used to shoot 24 frames on a roll of film, pop into Boots and pop out again with a little folder of physical photos on glossy paper that you could flick through.

If you really liked one, you might put it in a photo frame.  If you really, really liked one, you’d get it blown up and hang it on the wall.

Then again, if you really didn’t like one — perhaps because it was the one of the ex who cheated on you with your great aunt or the restaurant you went to the night before you woke up with food poisoning and a boil on your nose — you ‘d rip it up or burn it very passionately in perilous proximity to the net curtains.

We don’t do that any more.

I’ve just shy of 39,000 photos in my working archive.  All digital, all clickable.  If I want to look at them, I stare at them on a screen until my eyes go raw.  If I want to get rid of them, I press delete.

It’s the same online.  Earlier this year, Facebook noted that its users upload an average of 350 million photos to its site each and every day.  Almost every news site going allows you to consume more photos in a minute on the front page than used to fill an entire newspaper.  Twitter is a constant stream of everything from instagrammed pictures of people’s breakfasts to avant garde photo art.

And how do we consume it?

Click-click-click-ooh that’s nice-click-click-click-click-hmm-click-click-click-click-click-clicketyclick-maybe I should do some work now.

Photography’s become so digitised and ubiquitous that I, certainly, lost track of the fact that staring at a photo on a smartphone screen with a vomit-green tint (or a “so saturated your eyes may pop” zing, if you’re an iPhone aficionado) for three seconds is as unlikely to make the earth move as studying the Mona Lisa as reproduced on toilet roll.

So, a few months back, I ordered two big prints for my bedroom.

They were of photographs I’d taken that I loved, of places I’d been that I loved.

When they arrived, I got out the power drill, put some screws in the wall, and strung them up.  Then I sat on the edge of my bed.  And I stared at them.  For two hours.

I’d completely forgotten: prints are AMAZING.

Physical, permanent, paper photographs can make you see things you’d never pick up on on a quick clicketyclick round the internet.  They’re what photography used to be all about and what made photography about anything at all.  Prints make you feel.

So, you might well ask, why am I blogging about them now?

Well, it’s been a project a long time in the making but I’ve finally gotten round to choosing and finishing up 25 images from my personal archive that mean something to me.  They’re shots of places everywhere from Guatemala to Bhutan and Sussex to New Zealand.

And you can now buy them, if you like what you see, on my website.

But at the end of the day — whether you go gooey for what I do, or for pictures of Americana, or for shots of shipwrecks underwater, or for anything else — I really wanted to share what I recently remembered: there is an inexplicable magic to the physical photograph that we ought not lightly to forget.