The value of good, old-fashioned things: how to gain a new appreciation of your photos

I hope you and your loved ones are still doing well in this crisis. Experts say we’re not out of the woods yet, but things seem to be looking up in many countries, at least from a public health perspective.

One thing this crisis has given us, at least most of us, is plenty of time to think. About our life, our career, our goals and outlook… We’ve also had time to look back on some simple things we used to enjoy and stopped doing for no good reason.

For instance, how long has it been since you last bought a newspaper, a magazine or a photo book?

How long since you last held in your hand a printed photo?

In early March (doesn’t it almost look like a lifetime ago?) I bought the Sunday paper for the first time in many, many years. The very act of going to the news stand felt wonderful, oddly retro, hugely satisfying.

As I’m sure was (still is?) the case for many of you, there was a long period in my life when I never, ever failed to buy and enjoy reading the Sunday paper. And of course take pleasure from studying the large photos that illustrated the weekend sections and the Sunday magazine.

This time around I enjoyed it all as much as in the old times, even if (sign of the times) printed papers are not as image-heavy as they used to be, due to the massive crisis that has devastated the print media industry in the last ten years or so. Of course, as with any crisis, budget cuts have ensued, and photography has greatly suffered as a result.

I enjoyed it so much that I actually set a periodic reminder on my phone to start buying the Sunday paper again, at least for as long as I’m back home.

Unfortunately, this was one week prior to the COVID-19 crisis taking full hold of Spain, and the whole nation going into a lockdown, as has been the case for many countries in the last few months. Suddenly, bringing home and thumbing for hours a ton of paper from the outside didn’t sound like a good idea.

Still, now that the situation seems to be calming down, I intend to stick to my resolution and go back to buying the Sunday paper whenever I’m in Spain or a country where I can find one printed in any language I can understand.

Why photo prints provide a different experience

As I went for a walk that Sunday in early March, newspaper under my arm, I couldn’t help but notice that hardly anyone else was carrying a paper. This was in stark contrast with what you would see back in the 90s, or even the 00s, when internet access and smartphones were not yet ubiquitous, and a lot of people still bought printed newspapers and magazines.

Sadly, that seems long gone. And it’s particularly unfortunate for those of us who love and appreciate photography. Because, as much as there’s a lot to be said for digital media, nothing compares to holding, or even simply looking at, a hard copy, a print, of a good photo. And many of us have forgotten about that.

The tactile experience, and the way our eyes travel through the image and our brains interpret it, feel very different to what we get from looking at the same photo on a screen, no matter its size. I’m pretty sure there are studies supporting this notion, and, as a former scientist, I should be aware of them; I’ve probably read some a while ago.

What matters to me, though, is that I can feel  the difference. And I’m sure most of you can too.

So reading the paper’s Sunday magazine, looking at the photos, made me realize I had been neglecting this aspect of my photography.

A set of travel photography prints of different sizes spread on a table
Some of the photos I’ve printed at home during this long quarantine.

Do try this at home!

Until the quarantine, I had not printed more than a bunch of my own photos in recent years. I did have a few printed two years ago in Mysore (India), to give the copies back to some people I photographed in the street markets, but that’s all.

True, I’ve been traveling across India and SE Asia since early 2017, so I haven’t had many opportunities to work on my prints. But, now, with all this time in lockdown, I knew I had to dust off my old printer and start making some prints.

Making good photo prints is an art in and of itself. Many photographers, including some of the biggest names, tend to outsource this to more knowledgeable professionals. For those of us who cannot afford these superstar printing experts, hiring the services of a professional lab is a good idea. Because home printing is a time-consuming and expensive undertaking, at least if you want to make top quality prints.

But I’m not talking about that, at least not in the first stage. I’m talking about making decent quality prints of your own work, and look at them, handle, and perhaps even hang them on a wall for the first time in years, if not ever.

I encourage you to try it because its been eye-opening for me. Printing some of my photos has actually made me think again about setting up my own online prints shop, something I’ve been postponing for a long time due to the logistic challenges involved, specially while I’m on the road. But I’m working on it, and I should be able to launch it some time in autumn.

Go through your archives, pick up some favorites and print them at home if you can; or, if you cannot, have them printed at a local lab (should be possible, now that things are possibly going back to some kind of “normal” in our respective countries). Maybe try not to go for the cheapest lab you can find, because results may be underwhelming. But you really don’t need to splurge, at least not yet. It’s just to have a first taste of the whole experience.

Chances are many of you will be hooked. And see your own work with fresh eyes; and get a little bit closer to what photographs always were, for almost two centuries: a physical medium.

Try it out and let me know how it goes.

Take care!

This post was first published in my (roughly) monthly newsletter. If you don’t want to miss any future posts, sign up for my updates here and download your free copy of my 30-page ebook with travel photography tips. They also apply to local travel! 😉

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