Sunday, September 17, 2006

Just A Matter of Quality

“It’s the newest and the fastest!” He ordered it as soon as he heard about it. This would cut that pesky darkroom time in half. The faster he cranked out prints, the happier his customers would be. The same quality may not be there - but then - who’d notice? Surely not his customers - they were just happy to have the product on time and at a reasonable price. And that’s just what his photographs were - they were product. None of this artsy-fartsy mumbo-jumbo for him.

Just as he thought he had decided on a particular tonal value in that part of the print, he began to have second thoughts. This was the third day he had spent on this particular print. Printing always took such a long time for him. His prints were like his children. He was always happy with their success; but he was never quite sure when he was finished helping them become better. It was tedious, time consuming work, but if he didn’t take the time to make a good print of his work then who would?

A new video-based-electronically-controlled-infinitely-intelligent-digital-imaging system had just been announced. Talk about cutting that labor intensive darkroom crap. Plus the prints themselves were cheaper. No silver based technology for him, let the silicone chips swap electrons. No one would complain about the drop in image quality. As long as it was cheaper and faster, he would sell it. His customer base thrived on service, not aesthetics.

Matter of taking enough time to do it right, his grandfather had always said. If there was time enough to do it, there was time enough to do it well. This print was taking longer to get just right than his others - but it would be worth it. This gallery show was worth it. There was a certain magic in a fine print - even if it took you a long time to find it.

Of course he was aware of the new technology’s shortcomings. But if you made the originals bigger, and the reproductions smaller, and squinted a bit, there wasn’t any difference. Besides who cared about real quality anymore? For that matter who cared about content? This was the electronic age. The internet ruled all. If billions of dollars could funnel through that wasteland, he could make plenty of money cranking out second rate prints. People threw them away when they were done anyway. No biggie.

Quality. That was the key to craftsmanship. Originality. That was the key to his art. He built quality into his execution and blessed his content with originality. He loved his prints. Making them gave him a deep feeling of satisfaction. It was a bittersweet moment each time he sold one. Happy to place it in a good home; yet sad to see it leave. He sometimes thought that his prints should stay with him and keep him company. He was convinced that his prints would last forever. Which would mean, of course, that he would last forever.