Does the technique matter?

This is a little follow up to a facebook discussion regarding whether the technique matters. Not the technique as in your skill at using the camera or image taking precision, but the technique used to make the actual print. In my humble opinion it does matter to a great extend. For many reasons. But first of all let’s deal with the most common accusation against all (probably) techniques that are not mainstream at the moment: nope, even the most sophisticated technique will not turn a mediocre picture into a masterpiece. A bad picture, regardless of the technique used to print it, will remain a bad picture. A good one will remain a good one. And yet, the technique still matters.

First of all, the technique conditions the final appearance of the picture. At least as long as we are talking about a picture that you can touch, frame and put on your wall, that you can copy in a limited number of prints; in one word, about a physical, tangible object, a piece of art not its impression on a computer screen. A cyanotype will have a different appearance than a silver gelatin print of a computer print. This does not mean that the appearance produced by one technique will be by definition superior to another – it simply means that it will be different and that not all techniques may suit a particular subject.

Secondly, the technique used to make a print will influence its permanence. A computer print will have a different level of permanence than a gum bichromate print. Here it is easier to establish which technique is ‘better’, meaning, more permanent. This will be of no consequence in press photography, anyway scanned and copied in thousands of newspapers, but when it comes to a collector print that has a particular artistic and pecuniary value, this may prove of key importance.

The third reason why technique matters is fashion. Unpleasant as it may sound, this has always been true. When painting with oil was fashionable, a painter who wanted orders had to paint with oil. When watercolour came in vogue, using this particular technique increased the sales. If what we aim at is sales, using techniques that are currently fashionable increases our chances.

Then, there is the fourth reason, the most important one. And this reason is our emotions. Creation is about emotions. Without emotions art can hardly be imagined. Without emotions, real creation (though there are many ‘art producers’ who will claim otherwise) can hardly be expected. For many of us it is of no consequence whether we take pictures with a digital compact camera or a shoebox with a pinhole or a large format camera. For many of us it doesn’t matter whether we print our images using gum bichromate or a computer printer. But not for all of us. There are also people among us for whom the technique, the method is intimately connected to particular emotions. And the emotions are, for us, different when we see the silver gelatin image almost magically appear in a developing tray or is created with a touch of brush removing excess gum. And if these emotions are conducive to creation, then technique really matters.