(Words and photos unless otherwise stated is by Maarten Rots. Maarten is an artist working with photography based out of Amsterdam. In his photographs you can see a sense of abstraction and surrealism found in everyday situations, captured by the camera. He loves printed photography and one of the ways he shares his work is through his self-published quarterly photography magazine March & Rock. Maarten will also give away a copy of of March & Rock. See the end of the article for details)
Digital photography is definitely one of the most important developments in photography of the last decades. One of its few downsides though is the fact that your work often remains virtual, it lives on electricity powered devices only. I have made it a habit to regularly print my photographs and have benefitted from it in several ways. Next to having a hardcopy backup it can be of great help to your process, becoming more aware of your own choices and interests, but also gives you new ways of sharing and presenting your work.
Perceive your photography differently
Diane Arbus said it like this: “I like to put things up around my bed all the time, pictures of mine that I like and other things and I change it every month or so. There’s some funny subliminal thing that happens. It isn’t just looking at it. It’s looking at it when you’re not looking at it. It really begins to act on you in a funny way”
Diane Arbus in front of her collage wall. Photo by Saul Leiter
How often do you find yourself going back to a photograph that you found in someone’s online portfolio or social media feed? Not so much right? Even your own work probably doesn’t get the amount of time it deserves.
Having a printed photo hanging or laying around in your house makes you bump into it, on different moments and when you are in different moods which changes the way you experience the image. Over time its meaning will change and you can better judge the quality of the image. An image you initially loved may become less interesting while a photograph you may not have been too enthusiastic about at first can grow on you.
Also, it may lead you to work on photos with a similar quality, subconsciously start to work on a stronger body of work, leading to develop your own unique style, making it your second nature.
Speak to a different audience
It can be very comforting to receive a bunch of likes and generic ‘great shot’, ‘lovely image’ ‘wow!’ comments on a recently posted image. But does it really help your photography, do you become better at what you do? It may improve your confidence in your work which is a good thing, but only rarely do I come across insightful, constructive comments that can actually help you develop as a photographer.
Instead of preaching to the choir – 80% of your followers follow you because they already like what you do – start a conversation with the people around you in your everyday life, people that have no opinion about your work yet because they don’t know about it.
Hang a print of your work in your house or your workspace and you’re bound to have an actual conversation about the picture. Your audience may be less informed about photography, but I believe that’s an advantage: they will approach your photo with a different view. Don’t be surprised if someone perceives your work different than you intended it; listen well and take it very seriously, it can be a real eye-opener.
Get better at editing and sequencing
Joel Meyerowitz once explained in a documentary how he keeps small prints of his photos on him at all times and every time he has a few spare minutes he takes them out and starts to play around with them. Is he still attracted to each image and how do they influence each other when they are seen in a certain order?
The way Meyerowitz goes about his editing and sequencing has many advantages and I suggest you try it as well. Every two months or so use Lightroom’s ‘contact sheet’ print option to make small prints of all of your flagged photos of that period. Cut them up so you have small 4×6 prints.
Spread them on the floor and make little groups, regroup them, add notes, take away some and add others. Try to find connections between the images. Further into the process you may have some groups of photos that get a new meaning together. Some photos would have never ended up next to each other if it wasn’t for having them as a print. It’s great to see magic happen when a bunch of photos somehow get stronger together and tell a story better than when you see just the single images.
The wall of my workspace during Siting: Qlick Editions
Don’t be afraid to use a pen and make notes on your prints, treat them as tests, as sketches. Being able to write and draw on your photos is a big advantage and can clarify your editing when you come across these notes at a later point.
When I’m sequencing for myself-published magazine March & Rock, printed images are the way to go, it’s a perfect way to quickly see how one image affects another.
A spread from the latest edition of March & Rock
See your photo in its actual size
Nowadays all cameras have such great sensors that unless you have an enormous screen, viewing and editing your photo means you never see the whole photo in its actual size – only zoomed in portions at a time. Go crazy and print your monthly favourite on a nice 20×30 inch or larger sheet. I promise you that the impact experiencing your work that large will surprise you.
At the opening night of the exhibition of Siting: Qlick Editions. Photo by Jeku Arce
Also, after a year you have 12 beautiful prints and you can see how you have become better at what you do by comparing the earlier and the later prints.
Think beyond paper
When you print your work you may automatically think of printing on paper and putting the print in a frame. While there’s nothing wrong with that it can be interesting to think about choosing a different material to print your photograph on. There are so many different ways to print your work and each material adds something to the final outcome. This has never been cheaper and it’s extremely easy to simply upload a photo and select a material. It can be very interesting to print on fabric, glass, transparencies or mounted on aluminium.
Play with the sizes of the prints as well, some photos work really well when printed large while other stay more intimate and personal when they are printed in a smaller size.
A printed photograph is a great gift
People just love receiving presents, especially when there’s something personal to it. A nice print of your favourite photograph can really make someone’s day.
Eric sometimes gives away prints of his photos at the end of a workshop and it’s really nice to see how delighted people react to that. The act of giving it away adds an extra layer to the photograph, the object is now connected to a positive experience, a cherished memory and is a reason to tell a story.
As a small promotional, I am giving away a copy of my self-published magazine March & Rock. Sign up for my newsletter to take part!
Follow Maarten on Instagram: @maartenrots