Reproduction Hides A Multitude Of Sins

Reproduction Hides A Multitude Of Sins

Buying Fine Art Over The Internet Is Very Risky

This post is a necessary precursor to fully understanding the next post, coming up tomorrow(?).

My first experience teaching photography was at a school in Atlanta, where I was hired in about 1982(?) to teach studio lighting. I’m a natural light photographer. Go figure! I’ve actually forgotten the name of the school and am pretty sure it isn’t there any more. That was thirty years ago. (It was on Peachtree Road, but then, in Atlanta, all the roads are named Peachtree.)

I had an educational experience of my own while there. One of my duties was to supervise my class while they were in the darkroom, making sure they didn’t ruin equipment or themselves. So, I saw a lot of their photographs first hand. As beginning students their photographs, from a technical standpoint, were, well…
they were, beginning students.

The school had its own internal organ and I was handed a recent copy of it some time after starting to work there. The purpose of the publication was to encourage students by giving them a place to show off their images in print. Most all of the student photographs in that issue were ones I had already seen in the school darkroom. I was shocked by what I saw. The apparent technical quality of those images was greatly enhanced by the reproduction process, despite the fact that the printing process was nothing at all to write home about. It was just standard, two or three dots to the inch, very poor quality halftone.

What I already knew to be absolutely awful photographs didn’t look half bad as reproductions. I have since seen the same phenomenon many, many times. The same is also true of the computer screen. It makes really, REALLY bad photographs, look not so bad at all. This realization led to one of my standard axioms for the last several decades: “Reproduction hides a multitude of sins.”

Oddly, the opposite is equally true of good images. Reproduction in print or on the computer screen seems to rob images made by skilled artists, of a great deal. Offset and digital reproductions of well made original photographs that I have seen, have been decidedly anemic by comparison. This too seems to be pretty much a universal law and of course, makes it exceedingly difficult to know from an image on a web page or in print, whether or not the original is actually any good. Most images are inferior and all inferior images are made to look much better by virtue of reproduction, while at the other end of the spectrum, superior images are brought down significantly by the same processes, losing a very great deal.

Part of that loss is due to the inherent degradation suffered because of the reproduction processes themselves (halftone or digital) and part is due simply to the fact that reproduction eliminates the far from inconsequential physical presence of a fine art image on paper.

A reproduction is simply a representational, matter-of-fact, stand-in for a fine art photograph, stripped of all of the intimate experience of the original image on paper. The feel, texture and three-dimensionality of the paper and the subtlety of the image thereupon, are missing. There is no there, there. (Gertrude Stein) The soul of the image is absent.

This is why it is risky to buy art over the internet. Bad images are made to appear substantially better than they are. Good images are robbed of their souls. I am certain this is equally if not more true, of paintings and sculpture.

(Sooner or later, somebody is going to say, “David Kachel says to pass up good looking art on the internet and buy the stuff that looks awful.” Who knows, it could work!)



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