Since it became available, the choice of paper used for each image has always been an artistic choice. But so is the reason for shooting the image in the first place. My color photographs, whether shot on negative or transparency film, are printed only on bright white photographic-sheen paper, because my reason for shooting color is not to make a conventional art object but to share what I saw.
No print can fully achieve that because the light-to-dark range of a print is a fraction of the gamut the eye can span. But by reducing the light diffusion in the shadow areas, high-gloss paper brings the print as close as possible to the reality it depicts.
But in a world of easy color, black-and-white is now purely an artistic choice. I embrace the fact that its products, by their intentional difference from the real, color, world, are art objects like any other deliberate distortion of “reality” such as contrast, graininess, and depth of field. There are many black-and-white printing styles with various tones and paper finishes. I offer prints only in the styles I feel fit the subject.
I think it’s appropriate to offer reproductions of my paintings on canvas, but not photographs. As both painter and photographer, I firmly believe that a painting does what a photograph cannot, and a photograph does what a painting cannot. Each makes its own contribution to the viewer’s appreciation of the world. Trying to give photographs the texture of oil paintings robs them of the very qualities – fine-grain, smooth tones and color rendition specific to films, filters and lenses, yes, and paper styles – that give them power.
A purist might insist that a “real” photographic print has to be a silver-gelatin print developed in nasty chemicals. Some will even insist it can only be black-and-white. Such ideas disregard the essence of an evolving art that has always been geeky, by trying to canonize only one of its many technological moments. For my 1980 Scotland series, I chose 35mm Kodachrome 25 transparency (slide) film because it was the finest, highest-dynamic-range color emulsion available. To make gallery-quality prints at that time we had to first make 4 x 5-inch “internegs.”
What we modern purists do is make high-resolution scans of the original camera film and use them to make giclée prints with just as much detail – down to the film grain – and more lasting power than the nasty-chemical versions. I adjust my digital files to maintain the midtone and shadow detail I wanted when taking the original picture.
I use modern geeky software to get the very same effects I used to get with the old geeky tools and tricks of darkroom development and printing. The digital capture hardware and software are no more, and no less, a legitimate part of the photographic process than Ansel Adams’ 8 x 10” view camera, plates and darkroom artistry were for his images. I have an 8 x 10 camera for the geeky fun of it, not for the stuffy purist of it.