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Articles by Chris A. Paschke, CPF GCF

"Digital Hoopla"

September 2003

A six year old child is sitting on the sofa with his Mother looking through a family photo album"Where's my picture, Mommy?" "We bought the digital camera right after you were born, Sweetheart." she says. Wow, the world of digital cameras has taken the social aspect of strolling down memory lane to a whole new level. Flipping through old family photos on the overstuffed sofa in the living room has been altered to an activity that requires sitting on straight backed chairs around a computer monitor in the home office.

The Times, They are a Changin

The current digital photo revolution all began with computers. With the onset of digital photography we have been allowed the pleasure of taking photos then viewing them immediately. Historically, we were prisoners of rolled analog film that required dropping at the local drugstore and waiting days for developing, only to find our limited photo skills had captured out of focus images and closed eyes. We were thrilled with the onset of one hour developing, though to many that was even too long a wait. Now we can do it all ourselves. Shoot the image, download it, manipulate it, alter its size, tweak its color, edit its content, open closed eyes, and then email it to Grandma all in the same day. What a deal!

We all agree technology is not a bad thing. Just ten short years ago I was able to relocate my office without the stresses of moving bulky computer equipment at all. Although that equipment was a major pain in the frame when relocating last year to California, in turn, that very technology is what allows me to live high in the Tehachapi Mountains, photograph digital images for my column, and email them directly to my editor for your next article. The digital revolution is here to stay and getting more powerful by the day.

The Hoopla Over Digital Photography

I came across an interesting article earlier this year, originally published in November 2002 by Durst-Pro-USA, Inc. ( which discussed potential reasons behind the origin of digital photography during this technological age.

From a commercial point of view, a photo image of a product is only needed for a limited period of time. It is produced specifically for the promotion and sale of a product, and not designed for long term display, documentation or as an emotional keepsake. In that venue, digital photography is perfect. It is immediate, cost effective and may turn from the shot of a product to an oversized vinyl banner for a store window by that afternoon.

Although perfect for commercial applications, digital photography was never really meant for long term fine art applications. There in lies the problem. In our immediate and disposable society we want to see the photos right away, not even being patient enough to wait two hours when one hour developing is the promise.

The Birth of Digital Photography

Digital photography was not developed to make photography better, but rather to make photography more interactive and customer friendly. It appears to have been developed by a group of companies like Samsung, Intel, Epson, and Hewlett Packard to take over market share from the traditional photo companies like Polaroid, Kodak, Agfa and Ilford. Use of digital photos also breeds the purchase of all affiliated products, including printing papers, inks, printers, CD and hopefully picture frames or preservation scrapbooks.

Ironically, it took the scrapbook industry to awaken public awareness and in turn their need for preservation framing, UV glazing, lightfast felt pens and digital photos. Yes, the public prints out many of their images, but they may not be using pigmented inks or even digital photo papers. And even when not on high quality photo papers these prints may still end up in scrapbooks and framed.

Cost and Permanence

Digital imaging was not invented to save the customer money, nor was consideration taken for its lighfastness, longevity or permanence. It is wonderful to be able to scan and save digital images and files to CD-ROM, but CDs are currently only guaranteed for a lifespan of 20 years. Hence that six year old at the opening of my article will not have images of himself for his grandchildren id saved to a vintage 2000 CD. Digital photos are evolving, experiencing the same growing pains of early RC photos. Fading, reactions to environmental conditions, framing intolerances are all common issues.

It is rumored that Sony is working on a whole new CD-ROM format that will be able to hold 4 Gigabytes in the same space that currently holds 600MB today. The new format is thought to be replacing all other formats including CD-ROM and DVD, which have already replaced floppies and ZIP drives. Digital software has a lifespan of three to five years before being considered outdated. Even if you have your digital images saved to CD or DVD and they survive twenty years without digital dust and deterioration—will your new computer in 2020 even be able to read it?

Digital to Image

In the late 1990s, consumers repeatedly stated the only reason for having a digital camera was to send email photos.By 2000, 63% of consumer digital images were being saved to computer hard drives. In 2001 it was up to 68%; in 2002 it was thought to be 71%. Then during late 2002 it was reported by PMA Market Research in The Path From Pixels to Print that 78% of digital camera users were now using their cameras for the preservation of memories. This means that the previously computer locked images (previously only on hard drive) were finally being printed for viewing away from the computer monitor.

In an additional report by Brian Longheier, Photo Marketing Magazine, June 2003 he stated 20% of all digital images were now being printed as viewable images away from the computer, over the 14% in the previous year. These statistics are based on in-home printing. Digital photo kiosks have been available since 2001, but only a tiny percentage of digital images are being professionally printed for the consumer. Retail developed digital prints still account for only 6% of the total retail photo prints in 2002, over the low 2% in 2001. We still have a long way to go.

The real problem is that most digital camera users are not even aware of the printing options available at a retail level for their digital images. So they continue to print on their desktop home printer. New photo printers (see previous article, PFM, Digital Technologies) and new technologies are capable of printing either traditional film or digital photographs from cam, disk, or chip, to traditional photo paper. In January 2003 Kodak recently released an ad campaign promoting the developing of images from a digital camera card being dropped off just as you would a roll of film. And Sony is in hot pursuit. It all boils down to the re-education of the consumer—who knew?

The images that are printed from these kiosks are often printed on traditional silver halide photo paper, or one visually similar. For all intents and purposes the look and feel of familiar photos we all have come to know and love. These may or may not be heat tolerant, but are no doubt susceptible to traditional orange peel issues just as an RC photo print.

A Print is a Print is a Print

In the art world a print is a work of art on paper using a planographic technique (etching, lithograph, serigraph...), or a handmade multiple (wood block, monoprint) which has been created by or supervised by the artist. An artist print may further be a limited edition reproduction, which is a copy of an original piece of art authorized by the artist as an edition of multiple copies, often signed and numbered. Traditionally the original plate copy is then destroyed. An open edition reproduction is a copy of an original with no set limit, and a poster is an open edition reproduction with adjacent wording integrated as announcement or advertising.

The operative word in this description is print. In the photographic world a photograph is also called a print. The negative, slide, or film is the original, and the resulting developed display image is the print, as the oil painting or watercolor may be the artist original and the reproduction is its print.

At the June International Standards Organization (ISO) meetings there was an in depth conversation over the title of the current standard we have been working on and whether the title should state photograph or print. The issue and disagreement is over the description of traditional photographs vs. electronic images. The word photograph comes from the Greek words graphos meaning writing and photos meaning light, or writing with light.

So are traditional films and electronic images then photographs or prints? Electronic images include electrophotographic, electrostatic, thermal transfer, dye sublimation, inkjet, LED, and laser. But what about art prints, LEs and giclees? Giclees are usually what a limited edition inkjet is called. The original in this case may be an oil, watercolor or graphic which is scanned into the computer for multiple printing.

What then is a digital photograph? The current dispute is over whether a digital photo, one that has always been made up of electronic data, is the same as a painting or writing with light, as the definition of a traditional photograph. This is the same argument as with computer generated art, in which there is no actual original, but the electronic information in the computer. The computer is the media, the brush, the tool, and paint used to create the image original. The digital camera is the tool to create the photo image, the computer is the film. The jury is still out on the correct answer.


New 21st C technology requires 21st C definitions. Does any of this matter? Of course it does! As much as any new media needs to be explained to be better understood. In order for framers to be able to figure out what the limitations are, and in turn how then to mount, mat and frame an image we must first be able to understand what it is made of—and whether it is an original or a print. Original art and LEs must be handled archivally, while open editions are free to be more decoratively framed, and digital photographs are somewhere in between regardless of whether called a photograph or a print.

As always the digital hoopla continues, and future articles will address color shifting, photo reactions, and heat tolerances of light, heat, pollution, moisture and handling these new prints.

Copyright © 2003 Chris A Paschke

For more articles on mounting basics look under the mounting section in Articles by Subject.
Additional information on all types of mounting is found in:
The Mounting and Laminating Handbook, Second Edition, 2002,
The Mounting And Laminating Handbook, Third Edition, 2008 and
Creative Mounting, Wrapping, And Laminating, 2000 will teach you everything you need to know about getting the most from your dry mount equipment and materials as an innovative frame designer.

All books are available from Designs Ink Publishing through this website.

Chris A Paschke, CPF GCF
Designs Ink
Designs Ink Publishing
785 Tucker Road, Suite G-183
Tehachapi, CA 93561
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