Photos – To Print or Not to Print?

Carla Coulson2 SMALL

I love the photography website Petapixel. It covers all sorts of fascinating stories from the photography world and recently there was one particular article, Print for your Children’s Children,  that got me thinking about how my photography habits have changed since I started shooting digital.

I have a confession, prior to digital I was a mad printer, I passed hundreds of hours in a darkroom watching my photos come to life.  I adored everything about the darkroom, the dark!, the quiet, the sense of meditation, being locked away from the world and watching my photos slowly appear through the developer. I had an 8 x 10inch obsession..(paper of course)..

Carla CoulsonsMALL

When I no longer had access to a darkroom in Paris I would head off to the fabulous Toroslab in the streets of the 2nd arrondissement and Toros and I would hang out in the darkroom and once again my photos would come to life. As things changed in photography Toros too changed and moved his darkroom to the edge of Paris and from that point on my photos remained as negatives in folders.

She who was always surrounded by photos stopped printing.

Photos are our link to the past, the minute you hold a photo in your hand all of us have the ability to ‘read’ that language. Anyone who has ever had to go through a deceased estate has always been able to understand that persons life through an old photo album or a box of loose photos. I have treasured yellowed, ripped and torn photos of people I have loved that hold a greater value than any other object in my home.

As the wonderful Petapixel article says “If a person such as myself dies (and we haven’t been printing out our photos), we leave behind a box of hard disks and an online account of images stored in the cloud. I realize, in this situation, I’d no longer be on this Earth, but I still would like to refer to it as my “nightmare scenario???.

My closets are being cleaned out. My kids/grandkids ???nd a box of hard drives. What’s the most likely outcome? The garbage or another closet, attic or basement. Hard drives hold no emotional weight. There’s a good chance, in that situation, nobody will ever see, enjoy or discuss my pictures ever again.

The sound of a 3.5??? drive hitting the bottom of a trash sometimes keeps me up at night and it should keep you up at night too.”

Carla Coulson 3small

All photos copyright Carla Coulson

Recently when I re-arranged my house I had a big throw out. I threw out hundreds of cartons of old rubbish but I balked at the photos. They were so easy to manage and they were all neatly stacked away in Ilford boxes and once I opened the first lid it was not ‘Pandora’s box’ but ‘Carla’s box’, a life in pictures.

I found hard discs that had connections that seemed like they were from the turn of the century and I asked myself would I even bother looking at the contents of the disc now? And I am a photographer! Scary..

One of the greatest moments of happiness in my photographers week is when I pack up fine art prints and send them to my clients tucked away in beautiful boxes, it feel as though my work is complete. A piece of their life has been recorded and the process of holding a print in my hands is such a wonderful feeling.

So last week I turned over a new (personal) photographer’s leaf and started printing again, those photos on hard discs that have never smelt the printers ink too are scattered around my house. Just the photos  that move me, the holiday shots, of my family and friends and life’s moments that are part of my story. Some of them will end up back in the box and that is the point, the images as such will exist even if my hard discs no longer work one day.

What are you doing with your images? Have you stopped printing??

I would love to hear what you think about this subject..

“In twenty years you’ll look back at photos of yourself and recall in a way you can’t grasp now how much possibility lay before you and how fabulous you really looked.??? Mary Schmich


PS: Please feel free to share with other photographers.

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7 years ago

What an amazing post. You are so absolutely right. I haven’t printed anything since I started on photography 6 years ago! (Except of course for images which were going to be used for a specific purpose). I am so going to print…

Debra Kolkka
7 years ago

I like to print some of my photos. I have framed a few of them and hung them on the walls of Casa Debbio.

7 years ago

Great post. Just the rocket that I needed. Funny enough, my 18-month-old son has recently discovered an old photo album of mine on the bookshelf–one in which I just threw odd, random photos from all sorts of occasions rather than keep them in a box. Well now it’s one of our favourite books to “read” before bedtime. His favourite photo is of my grandpa, his Poppa. Every night we read it, and I love that he his getting to know the names of good friends who now live overseas, or friends I don’t get to see much of anymore. It’s the best “book” we’ve got.

7 years ago

I started out as a “traditional” photographer, studying darkroom photography, then teaching it in Florence. I then went on to study conservation and restoration of photographs and work in the Alinari museum as a restorer and I can say there is nothing like picking up a glimmering albumen print from the 1800s, perfectly intact, studying and learning from it and knowing that so much of what we do now digitally is just going to be lost forever, decades of people’s family photos and important historical photographs alike… Around this time I was asked by the partner of a family member to restore some photos he found of relatives so old that no one no longer remembered who they were, their stories, their names or how they were related. Not only keeping the prints for future generations but also passing on the stories behind them is so precious but sadly so overlooked these days!

7 years ago

We often discuss this subject and how all our memories may well be lost in the future.For some reason I always value the printed item more than anything on a computer or screen. You have inspired me to start printing out again! Although I need to do some very strict editing. xx

Beverly Genevish
7 years ago

Absolutely! Absolutely! Absolutely! I cringe when I think of all that will be lost to future generations simply because we don’t put things on paper anymore! This point was driven home this year when my dad celebrated his 80th birthday. His wife displayed letters dad had written to his mom when he was in navy boot camp in 1951, as well as pictures, etc. I’m taking all his memorabilia, scanning it into the computer and having books made thru one of the many photo book websites. For those that don’t want to print individual photos, photo books are a fantastic story telling alternative.
Carla, I’d say based on the many comments you’ve received on this post, you have really woken us up!! I’ll quit procrastinating now! Great, great post!

La Contessa
7 years ago

Yes, Carla………I too just yesterday had left photos on my camera to print, because that is easier for me.I have FALLEN too into the NOT printing mode!When this digital stuff started I was horrified by it and the thought of the children today willNOT have a photo albums to look through!Most likely the disc’s will not be accessible etc…..their whole childhood LOST because it wasNOT in fashion to PRINT!I totally agree with you and happy to hear you are printing again!I even love to put printed photos on my parcels!!!!!If I have copies that is!

Judy Sederof
7 years ago

Hi Carla,

I have just finished a fine art printing subject at school and purchased a fabulous Epson 3880printer which produces archival quality pigment prints onto fine art paper. I am in printer heaven, the results are fabulous. I would recommend it to anyone, do some training first but the results are so satisfying. The printer will pay for itself in no time.

Christopher Frost
7 years ago

I have so many photos that I’d like to have printed, that I just don’t know where to start. I keep trying to delete loads of photos that I know aren’t very good. But its such a time consuming thing

Liz Thomas
7 years ago

Wow never really stopped and thought of it that way. You have really give me pause to reconsider and start printing some of my more favorite photos.

7 years ago

I’m guilty as sin for not printing near enough photos. Although I do print large fine art prints it is only the more refined images that are fortunate enough to make it this far. All of the quirky candid and more personal shots get archived into 111’s and ooo’s. You’ve inspired me Carla, this weekend I’m making it my duty to select 100 images from my recent return to Europe and go and get some prints!

7 years ago

I am guilty too and I pledge for forgiveness.
I miss my prints, mostly those where my son appears.
Must get up and make a good selection and start printing again.
The worst is is that I LOVE looking at my photobooks so there is no excuse at all.
Thanks for pointing out the truth with this post, Rosanna

7 years ago

My story is so very similar to yours, it’s almost scary. I too have Ilford boxes stuffed with prints. I have a fantastic darkroom, actually. Currently it is sitting in boxes in my garage, and the enlarger sits with a blanket over it, gathering dust. There is a spot for all of this at my studio, but somehow the stuff has never made it out of my garage and into my studio. I keep telling myself “maybe next month…” I used to be pretty diligent about printing my digital files, up until about two years ago when I just got too busy with my photography business. Thanks for the gentle reminder. I always hammer my clients with “the print” speech, but I am a bad example myself. So thanks. I too will start printing again, Carla.

Corrina Tough
7 years ago

Carla! I don’t know where to begin! I have felt this for years and to the point of being made to feel stupid and out of date by other people- saying get with the times etc but I have always had this nagging feeling of losing something if we don’t at least print the images we take. There is something so magic about holding an image in your hand as opposed to viewing on a screen. I have literally had nightmares about technology moving so fast that storing images on technology that may go out of date and then the images are lost- or keep forking out for upgraded systems and having to transfer loads of images to new media?????!!!!! I heard about an amazing book that I bought my hubby for his birthday called “The Lost Diggers” about the most amazing images taken on glass plates during the first world war by a couple called Thuillers. They photographed soldiers from France, Britain and Australia. These plates were discovered nearly 100 years later in an attic in someones house in France- in some old trunks. Almost mint condition! The book is incredible, the images made me cry, made me proud and taught me about the time they were taken. The history behind the faces enhances it even more. Would a thumb drive or hard drive or laptop last for over 100yrs and even if they did would they be compatible to any current technology to view the contents? I suspect not. What a crime it would have been to lose the Thuillers images! Hats off to you for challenging us to truly preserve our work and the histories of our lives for future generations. xx Corrina Tough

7 years ago

I too cringe when I think of what will happen if I don’t start printing!!! I recently went through my archive box of duplicate pictures that I’ve been saving since the late 70’s of our family. I divided them between our 3 children accordingly to who was the spotlight. I know I would have appreciated this had my Mom given me such a gift. Thanks for encouraging to print, because the next saved archive from me can be to my grandchildren!

7 years ago

Oh, Carla….print 😉 Nothing compares to a photograph in your hand…in albums or indeed a shoe box…and we lovingly keep them for years and years…they transport you to another time in a way only printed form can…your family will be blessed to have your photographs 😉
Have a lovely weekend.

Shell Sherree
7 years ago

Carla, such a beautiful post, thank you. Before the digital age, I used to take a lot of snaps and of course, always raced the films off for printing and was so excited to see them and put them into albums. I love those albums and often look back at them ~ yet the photos I’ve had printed in the past decade fit in a pocket album!! I will set about remedying that. Happy weekend and hugs to Avedon.

Melissa G
7 years ago

It is good to make prints. Discs will not last forever -degradation and all that. And even the file types will not always be relevant. So make those prints when you can.
On another note, I do miss the existence of family photo albums. That kind of things seems to have ended with my childhood.

7 years ago

Oh gosh! I really hadn’t thought about it before & now you’ve scared me a little! Going to get printing!

Clare x

Claire Lloyd
7 years ago

I enjoyed this post and it did make me think, thanks x

7 years ago

It is my 9 yr old daughter that encourages me to keep printing my & our photos. She love to surround herself with images of special family moments, which has become all the more since we moved 1000km away from our family 2 years ago. You post has reminded my though that I need to concentrate on filing all of our printed images a little better though. Heather xxx

7 years ago

What a timely and wonderful post dear Carla!
You’re reading my mind. It could be very costly to print all the images I take and would like to have printed. But I’ve made it a lasting tradition to print at least a couple of dozens 8×10 after travel and arrange in a creative way on the walls.
So my small house is like a touring exhibition. Just looking at those images cheers up and inspire.

Editing, selecting and printing is a fascinating process I love no less than taking images.

What type of printer and paper (glossy, semi gloss, matt, textured) do you prefer Carla?

Thank you very much.

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