Nuts & Bolts
Much to Do With "Digital" and
Little to Do With "Journalist?"
January 2009

by Bill Pierce

Before we get on to the "professional" stuff, David Pogue recently wrote in The New York Times about the five tips he considered to be most important to the users of small (not DSLRs) digital cameras. Perhaps it doesn't speak well of us professionals with our big DSLRs, but I think there are a lot of us who would benefit from Mr. Pogue's advice. Check it out at

Now for the "professional" stuff, which this month has much to do with "digital" and very little to do with "journalist."

Over on the Rangefinder Forum, where, for some reason, they talk about a lot more than rangefinders, there has been a debate about whether silver prints personally printed by the artist should sell for more than inkjet prints.

Many galleries and reps feel that at the present time they can charge more for silver than inkjet.

At the present time I think most high-end galleries dealing with black-and-white prefer silver and want to avoid inkjet altogether. Of course, they would also prefer that the photographers they represent be dead. (This naturally favors albumen, platinum and silver prints over inkjet.) We are talking about RARITY, LIMITED SUPPLY. (I know of one artist's rep that actually asked an older photographer to stop shooting so much and please stop printing his well-known stuff.)

Can you get more for a silver print in that world at this time? Absolutely, without question. Is it a better print than an inkjet? Really good printers in both mediums seem to prefer the potential of inkjet.

Contemporary photography is a slippery slope for galleries. There's so much of it. And it's a little difficult to determine whether it will increase in value or lose value to the point of worthlessness over time. But, eventually, some of today's contemporary photography becomes tomorrow's valuable collectable. And more than likely, it will be in the form of inkjet prints.

Of course, it will have to be a strong image to make it. And an early albumen print that is absolute crap will probably go for a higher price. We're talking rarity. Gallery owners are in the business of selling rarity.

Thus the "vintage" print that is not as good as the photographer's later prints selling for more. Thus the screams of the past when silver replaced platinum and the current screams as inkjet slowly replaces silver with contemporary photographers.

For those who have forgotten the mass-produced runs of silver prints from copy negs, I have seen glossy copy prints of Cartier-Bresson's work used to promote a museum show sold as artist's proofs because the rubber stamp on the back said "AP photo."

Which do you want?

(1) The artist's print where the artist is making changes and experimenting with each piece of paper or …

(2) A lab print where the input from the artist is always going to be less – simply because he isn't always there.

Truth is, most photographers only make a handful of silver prints from a negative or inkjet prints from a scan or a digital record. Each print is a slight improvement on the previous one. Then they get bored and stop. I am sure there are some, but I don't know any photographers who actually print hundreds of prints unless someone orders hundreds of prints.

I have shown black-and-white prints to skilled photographers, gallery owners and museum curators. When the prints were back in the box, I have asked if the viewers were aware that they saw a mix of silver and inkjet. No one has yet to say yes. In my NYC apartment, I have a number of silver prints and one inkjet on the wall. No one has yet been able to pick out the inkjet.

View the Richard Benson piece:

This man is the man printers acknowledge as the king.

To see his prints in a recent New York gallery show was to see what an exceptional printer can do with inkjet. And he works in color. Control in black-and-white is much easier. When he turns to inkjet for his personal work, the argument over potential quality is over.

Most prints, silver or inkjet, are average. If you want to condemn a medium because of that, we're in real trouble because then both silver and inkjet suck. Digital images, original or scanned, and computer programs offer a bigger toolbox than conventional silver printing. And really good printers will want to take advantage of that. But we are talking about collectability.

It's not a problem. Don't worry. The old dudes have lots of silver prints and by the time the new dudes, you, have become collectable old dudes, inkjet will be accepted. Otherwise, the galleries won't have enough to sell to stay in business.

Of course, this argument, silver vs. inkjet, diverts us from discussing whether the picture, rather than the print, is any good.

This month's "picture that has nothing to do with the column" also, like the column, has nothing to do with journalism. The initial "ES" in Essex House was not completely washed out by the setting sun in the original picture. The little bit that showed up got Photoshopped out. I'm bad...

More of Bill Pierce's pictures on the Web can be seen at

blog comments powered by Disqus

© Bill Pierce
Contributing Writer

More of Bill Pierce's pictures can be seen on the Web at