- Relief printing
- Intaglio and planographic printing
- Color printing
- Bits and pieces
- Early photography in silver
- Non-silver processes
- Modern photography
- Color notes
- Color photography
- Photography in ink: relief and intaglio printing
- Photography in ink: planographic printing
- Digital processes
- Where do we go from here?
Digital chromogenic prints
Digital chromogenic print. Robert Bergman. Untitled from A Kind of Rapture (New York: Pantheon Books, 1998). 1989. 36 13/16 x 24 7/16" (93.5 x 62 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of Richard Benson © Robert Bergman. In the 1990s a new technology emerged that exposes conventional color photographic paper directly from a computer file, using red, green, and blue lasers. These new “digital C-prints” are indistinguishable from traditional chromogenic prints and are enjoying a rich life in the gallery world.
The physical fragility of inkjet prints, and the lack of great gloss and semigloss paper surfaces, has tended to keep them out of the galleries in which photography is classed as high art and sold for substantial sums of money. The dependable old C-print had become the standard for a color photograph that could be sold to a collector or museum, and the computer age grew in influence without really intruding on this old practice. But the computer had long since proved itself a miracle machine for retouching and altering photographs, and for a while in there—roughly 1990 to 2000—the practice arose of scanning an original photograph, doctoring it on the computer, and then generating a new piece of continuous-tone film from it in a device called a film recorder. This machine used tiny lasers to expose the new film, often at a resolution of 10,000 lines per inch, and these new transparencies were to all intents and purposes identical to film exposed in the camera.
The really big difference was that the image had been manipulated by the computer in the picture’s intermediate electronic stage, straining photography’s already dubious connection to the truth even further. The newly output transparencies were ideal for the advertising trade—they built perfectly upon the foundation of deception that underlies much advertising. Toward the century’s end, a new printer came along that eliminated the film recorder by exposing color photographic paper directly with lasers driven by a computer file. This new machine was extremely expensive, costing over a quarter million dollars, but it could output a flawless C-print, indistinguishable from one made chemically in an enlarger. This technology was accompanied by newly developed chromogenic papers that had far greater permanency than the earlier ones. The work flow for these prints then became exposure of the film in the camera; development; scanning of that film; manipulation of the resulting file in the computer; and then direct output onto conventional chromogenic photographic paper. These new prints slipped easily into the art world, becoming the standard method for producing digitally manipulated color photography with the same respectability as the older, chemical color prints. We must be very clearheaded about this. There is absolutely nothing wrong with altering or otherwise doctoring a photograph in the computer. Photographs cannot be relied upon to render any sort of truth about the world from which they have been made, and every chemical photographic process that has ever existed involves a degree of handling and manipulating of photographic information to suit the photographer’s wishes. If there is any drawback to this new way of exposing the old papers it is that the making of the print is handed over to a laboratory, breaking the ancient practice of the artist physically doing the work of making art.