Q: What’s the best reason to get an enlarger now?
A: [added Saturday, Feb. 3rd:] The reason is if you have a lot of negatives.
You will say that negatives can always be scanned, and of course that’s true, but there are legitimate reasons why analog prints might be preferred. Maybe you sell prints through a gallery and the gallery’s customers prefer to buy traditional silver prints. Maybe you are trying to match the look ‘n’ feel of all the prints you have previously made and perhaps sold. Maybe you feel that traditional silver prints look better. Maybe because silver prints are more rare, and hence more special, in 2024. Maybe silver prints simply match your original intention for the photograph more closely.
I don’t know whether it’s true that galleries would prefer silver prints if that’s what the original prints were. (Note that I’m talking exclusively about B&W work here.) It used to be that galleries preferred “later” prints that match vintage prints as closely as possible, though, and I doubt that’s changed. But I don’t know for sure.
Galleries at least sometimes specify to artists what they want. When I was young, galleries preferred fiber-base prints to those made on resin-coated paper. RC prints had an initially poor reputation for life expectancy (LE) that lingered for many years, perhaps even decades, after it was no longer an actual problem. I spoke to a museum curator in D.C. once who said they didn’t accept RC prints even as “gifts of the artist.” I don’t remember the identity of the curator or the museum, but I can picture in my mind where we were standing in the storage area for prints, and what the light was like. That’s the way my mind works—always the visuals. It’s like blue light as you go deeper into the ocean—the visuals are the last thing to fade. I remember a specific case where the gallery that represented a photographer who made 20×24″ prints made him reprint at 16×20″ because that’s the largest size that most of their buyers wanted. I used to drymount my prints to fine art paper, and I was told to stop doing that because it didn’t conform to what was considered “best practices” at the time. Galleries now tell photographers to sign prints on the back, not to the lower right of the image on the front of the print, because that’s the preferred practice now. Of course if you’re a big enough name, you do whatever you want and the gallery deals with it.
I used to know several gallerists, some of them well, and could have simply called and asked them what the status quo is today. But that’s not the case any more. I could do some research I guess.
I have about 100,000 negatives. There’s no call for any of them now, but if I am ever able to retire, it’s not inconceivable that I might spend the remainder of my days as Ansel did, happily revisiting old negs by making prints of them.
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