Previous image
Next image

As an assistant and then a photographer, my first hand experience of printing has changed completely in the last 25 years. When I first started out, photographers would each have their particular printer who often worked out of a dank smelly darkroom somewhere near Moorgate; a chemically wizened figure with stained hands who would emerge out of the gloom to light a fag and hand you a set of prints, for you to take back to the master to choose from. Black and white Lithograph, Peppered Lith, Seagull papers, bleach toning, a romantic world of hand printing skills and tactile surface detail mostly lost now.

The first lab to risk their development baths with cross processing colour film was BDI on Old Street. It quickly went from pushing the boundaries with Nick Knight, to helping the rest of us put a little vim into poor test shoots. A few specialist darkrooms still remain, but for most of us printing has lost all hands on alchemy and has become just another Mac task - dry colour management, profiling and then hoping the Wi- Fi connection can find the printer in the next room.

The ink comes in packets, the printer tells you what it needs and the only creative decision after you press “print” is deciding what paper to use from the limited choice on offer.

When first approached to help with this project I had no idea what the scaled up version of a digital printing process would look like. Truth be told, I hadn’t given the end process after a shoot much thought over the years. A book I’d shot a been printed impeccably with no colour problems and I vaguely imagined that printers now worked in a NASA-like environment of CMYK readouts and airtight clean rooms. I’d seen a recent photo project of a print works that only re-enforced this assumption, empty of all signs of humanity, the series of images revelled in sterility and could have been of a canning factory or an automated car assembly plant.

I turned up at Synergy not really expecting to see any tactile “craft” in evidence. In the back of my mind I still hoped that we might possibly see something quaint and visually interesting, somebody actually mixing one colour with another, perhaps even stirring something and getting some ink under their fingernails. I was amazed to find that for all the technology and the tyranny of ‘true colour’ things weren’t as automated as I’d thought. Indeed, even though the materials and machinery might be new, printing was still a process a Flemish printer from the 17th century would recognise immediately.

— Dan Kenyon