Photography

Printing my best photographs

Yesterday I said I seldom print my work, because I overwhelmingly show my work online and that’s how I like it. But seldom doesn’t mean never.

I’ve framed a handful of 8×10 prints of my work. Here are some of them hanging over my desk at my old house. I’d like to print and frame more, but we have only so much wall space and I own a lot of other art. Even the three prints in the photo above aren’t hanging in my home at the moment.

I plan to print all of what I consider to be my very best work. I suppose those prints can serve as a portfolio, but the big reason I’ll print them is so my sons can have them when I’m gone. To them, photography is my main hobby. I frequently had an old film camera along when I was with them. My older son and I have gone photographing together with our film cameras.

I don’t want them to even think about sifting through images on my hard drive or squinting at all of my negatives. I’ve already made an overwhelming number of images — the Photos folder on my hard drive contains about 70,000 images today. I’m only 53. Barring catastrophe I have a lot of life before me yet and will make tens, maybe even hundreds of thousands more images. Most of my images aren’t valuable or important anyway; a good number of them are outright crap. Would my sons even want to look through them all? I wouldn’t if I were them. Instead, I’ll provide them a tiny, carefully chosen subset, as physical objects they can hold and enjoy.

My plan is to print on 8×10 paper, but leave the images in their native aspect ratio. That’ll give me wide borders in most cases, but the prints will all fit cleanly into these archival storage boxes. They’ll probably all fit into one box. That feels right — enough to enjoy and remember me by, but not so many as to be hard to store.

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28 thoughts on “Printing my best photographs

  1. You describe a problem all of us will experience to some degree. In prior generations photographs were expensive and there were few of them. My Grandma’s lifetime of photos was in one box. My mother’s was in four boxes. Mine, if all printed, would probably be 20 or 30 boxes, and I’m no photographer. Perhaps this will help remind us that most photographs will have no value to anyone after us.

    • When it comes to family photos, I will be wise to delete (as most of mine are electronic files) all but the best of them.

      It’s just so easy to make photos today, and it has had the surprising effect of devaluing them.

  2. In the good old days meaning ten years ago I printed every picture I thought was good. Sometimes it was to test a lens or camera. I did it until I had no more wall space! Today I seldom print so it was nice to see your post and remind myself I should print again. By the way, nice prints!

    • Thanks! I still have those prints, but there’s no place to hang them, so they’re leaning against a table in the bedroom. Someday I’ll put them up again!

  3. Andy Umbo says:

    Just an FYI! Totally museum quality archival material is acid free and has NO buffering in it. It took me longer than I thought to actually find the totally archival file folders I used to buy, when I ran out and needed new ones (got them at Gaylord). Not only that, but similar to black & white processing materials, they had gone way up in price! Probably because of the lack of volume in sales due to many people not getting prints and leaving their photos on a computer, or phone or whatever.

    My understanding is, that “buffering” which allows many materials with color in it to be called “acid free”, actually causes color in a photo print to be compromised. It’s important when you store in a “acid free buffered” box, to additionally put each print in a polypropylene sleeve like the Clear File Print Protector or the equivalent, from Print File or similar manufacturer. Buffering doesn’t seem to compromise black & white conventional prints.

    I use the Lineco boxes from B&H, which are also “archival” and acid free, but “buffered”, which means they really aren’t totally “archival”. I use these for the storage of a lot of street art and posters I pic up and collect right off the street, and printed material I pull out of magazines and the like, all in individual PP sleeves. If I was storing “raw” photo prints in color, I would use some totally museum quality boxes I still have (but they are also available from Gaylord).

    Meanwhile, this from Gaylord’s info page:

    Storage materials described as “buffered” have an alkaline substance, usually calcium carbonate, added as an alkaline reserve or buffer to counteract acids that may form in the material in the future. Gaylord offers a wide selection of both buffered and unbuffered storage materials.

    Cellulose fibers such as cotton, flax, linen and jute, as well plant-based specimens, can be stored in buffered material. Storing cellulose artifacts in buffered materials will protect against migrant acidity from the artifacts.

    Any artifacts that contain animal proteins are best stored in unbuffered material. Protein-based materials include wool and silk, as well as animal-based natural history collections, leather-bound books, and textile details such as pearls. When textiles have both cellulose and protein fibers, unknown dyes, or if the fiber content is unknown, choose unbuffered material. Blueprints should never come in contact with buffered material, and many archivists also prefer to store albumen prints and cyanotypes in unbuffered material.

    Since buffering agents don’t migrate, a buffered box can be used if an unbuffered layer, such as unbuffered tissue or polyester film, surrounds the item.

      • Andy Umbo says:

        Which makes it even wilder that there are so many pretty well preserved photos thrown in crap, heavy acid chip board boxes like shoe boxes, that everybody’s Mom put in there 50 years ago!

        • The prints I had made as a kid, which I affixed to notebook paper with photo corners, have all held up. I store them now in boxes I got at a craft store; who knows what those boxes are made of. The prints are all okay. The ones I had made at the bargain mail-order place have all faded, but that’s not the storage, that’s the crap printing.

        • Andy Umbo says:

          You know, any polypropylene box (the plastic with the “5” in the recycling triangle, and usually PP under it) is totally inert and fine for all photo storage. I bought some very good sealing stuff from Target, file size, to put my neg files in when I was repackaging my stuff, and checking for problems.

          The give-away is usually smell, if it smells, it’s probably “out-gassing” bad stuff, like poly-vinyl does (bad). You have to be careful, tho. The Target boxes marked “5” PP had a smell to them, so I contacted the manufacturer, and they said: “…nope, we swear, straight polypropylene…”, so I figured out it was a smell from the manufacturing process! I washed them in a warm solution of Dawn, rinsed them out with clear water, and then let them dry. Voila! Ready to go!

          It may be harder, and way more expensive to get an actual “museum quality” totally inert box-board box with no buffering, than just an inert polypropylene box!

        • Andy Umbo says:

          I’ve been using PrintFiles for neg and film storage literally since “day one”, over 50 years ago! That’s at least how long they’ve been available! They go into archival acid free, buffer free film folders by event or assignment with contact prints, and then in gasketed, leak resistant, polypropylene file boxes! Up to 6 of them now, can’t lift more that two at a time! The boxes are available at Target and are Sterilite, with a blue gasket on the underside of the lid, the File drawer type” size.

          The Ikea boxes you showed are PET plastic, also inert and safe (I think trade name Mylar, which is well known to be inert),, but you gotta get those negs into Printfile! A pandemic project!

  4. Yes, we’d all need more wall! Having grown up in the era of prints-only photography I remember vast albums and boxes stuffed full of the things. Not easy to look at, and makes you call into question whether all those images (either silver or digital) are so necessary. I lost thousands of prints in the great disaster (and before) yet life goes on. Oddly enough these attempts to capture moments and preserve them forever turn out to be only slightly less fleeting than the moment, no matter how much effort is put in to keeping them. Eventually all will away to dust.

    • I lost most of the family photos from my first marriage by dint of my first wife not letting me have or copy them. I’m sure I don’t need them all — but I would very much enjoy having some, a smattering through the years, to remember what my sons looked like during those years. :-(

  5. Exactly. I have been scanning all my old film photos, along with many of my Dad’s, and I am now starting on my wife’s family photos, mostly taken by her Dad, who I never met. That is a lot of photos, and only the best of them will wind up being printed. The blessing of digital photography is also it’s curse – the sheer volume of images made when we capture every waking moment. The task of future generations ever finding anything important, or even bothering to look, will be overwhelming!

  6. I have printed some photos to hang on the wall, and I change them a few times throughout the year. But I really want to put together a photo book every year of my favorite film photos I took that year. I’ve only done up to 2016. I have a lot of catching up to do.

  7. So far, most of my images have been test shots. I don’t have a lot that really strike a cord and have reached the level to be printed. But my goal has always been to print my favs, everything else is relegated to a hard drive. Maybe one of these days I’ll try Instagram or Flickr, but at the moment, I’m not inclined to do so.

  8. You really need to print big, Jim. I worked for a photographer in high school, teaching her how to use her computer, and from her I learned how effective it is to have large prints – they really are different. 8×10 is the smallest I think I’d ever print, and for a much smaller and closer space. Try making each of those 16×20 instead, or put a 20×30 or 30×40 there, and it will be a completely different experience.

    • Interesting – I’ve never printed that large! I should try it with some images and see what I think. I had 8×10 in mind because they store easily, like a book on a bookshelf if you put them in an archival box.

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