Saturday, May 9, 2009


In photography as art, what do we really mean by "original" anymore? It's pretty clear when you are talking about original or vintage prints made from the film negative of the masters of yesteryear. But does it even make a difference as to who makes the print or is it who made the image that is on the negative that results in an original photograph? I'm pretty sure there were prints made by master printers for photographers and not printed by the photographers themselves. Just as is the case of photogravures that were pulled by master artists, using original negatives, either with or without the photographer's guidance...such as this Jon Goodman gravure of Edward Steichen's "The Flatiron."

And then what about the future? There will come a time when there are no negatives in the process. Already has to some degree. Then what is the original...the raw file of 1s and 0s? Or the processed and converted file suitable for printing...or the first print made and signed by the photographer? Further, which file is the original...the one on your hard drive or the two or three exact duplicate backups of the file on removable media. I think a lot of my questions about this subject really started after seeing the Robert Frank exhibit at the National Gallery of Art recently. It was a great experience overall, but particularly to me, that we were able to see his marked up negatives as a first cut, then the printed contact sheets, then the 8x10s with his notes and crop lines pinned to a bulletin board and then finally those magnificent 83 prints that ended up in "The Americans." It dawned on me that future generations will not be able to experience being immersed in the step-by-step work of the photogs of today who will at some point become the masters of tomorrow.

What are your thoughts on the subject?


1 comment:

pitchertaker said...

To start with, I consider my RAW images the equal of a film negative. Why? Because a film negative is not a finished work either, it's a beginning. And just as prints from older negs evolve with the disappearance of papers of yesteryear, so will the digital files printed in the future. As to those people who might be interested, why wouldn't the "shoot" from which a particular image is culled be available to those who want to see it? I show my students how I arrive at a final image all the time. Besides, when I'm shooting large format, I don't have 20+ negs of the same thing to choose from, I have only one. Kinda' the way of large format shooters, ya' know?