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It been quite some time since I actually printed anything, so when the images rolled off the printer last night I was pleasantly surprised at how satisfying it was to hold one in my hand and take it in. This got me thinking about how digital images are so different from physical ones and wondering whether or not this is really important to anyone but me.

My Hometown #4: I'll Need Another Beer/Alternate Version (©2012 Richard X. Moore)

Lately I’ve been recalling with fondness how much I enjoy the sensory experience of film, not just the visual aspects of it but the smell of the chemicals, the swishing of the tank as I agitate it (ten seconds every minute), and the three loud WHACKS as I pound the tank on the counter top to release any phantom air bubbles. I love that moment when I first pull the film out of the rinse water and hold it up to the light to see (hopefully) those perfectly exposed negatives. I will continue to use film now and again just for these treasured moments. God knows there’s no practical reason to do it. Digital works just fine, at least for the kinds of photography I do.

Not only does almost no one bother with film anymore, most people don’t even bother to print anything. They just whip out their phone and show you their vacation photos, their kid’s Bar Mitzvah, or Aunt Maude’s 100th birthday party. I have actually heard someplace that a pretty high percentage of people in that all-important 18 – 34 year old demographic watch TV shows on their smartphone.

Watching TV in a 2.5 inch screen might be satisfying to some, but looking at a photograph that way just doesn’t make it. You lose so much of the experience. LCD displays, even really big ones, can’t capture the essence of a photograph, at least not yet.

I am reminded of this every time I look at photos in a museum or a gallery and especially when I hold one of my own images in my hand. Sometimes the physical image disappoints, but more often I find far more character and nuance in the print that the screen could even hint at.

Relaxing (©2011 Richard X. Moore)

As imaging becomes easier and more ubiquitous, I think we’re losing something along the way. Everyone with a cell phone is a photographer now, and every one of those phones is a gallery. This is good to a point, but I wonder if we’re sacrificing the value of the individual image because we can effortlessly make hundreds of them.

I like a lot of my images but until I make a print I can’t really love them. I need something to hold before them become, to my eyes, real.

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