As a budding young photographer, I cut my teeth with gelatin silver printing. It would be some years before I became aware of daguerreotypes (c. 1839), heliographs, photogenic drawings, wet collodion, tintypes, calotypes, cyanotypes, platinum/palladium prints and Cibachrome. This is just a partial list of historical photographic techniques.
Just as vinyl records are still coveted and collected by a few, most of these old techniques have been rediscovered as new techniques continue to emerge. Takashi Arai is a very thoughtful contemporary Japanese photographer creating modern daguerreotypes while Cambodian photographic artist Binh Danh creates socially charged chlorophyll prints on leaves.
Epson helped usher in digital printing with the world’s first 720 dpi color inkjet printer in 1994. Twenty-four years later, some of us are still a bit contrite about this revolutionary technology. Has the convenience and ubiquity of inkjet printing cheapened the art form? I think the answer is yes and no. The “yes” is when a friend, relative or neighbor ask you, “can you just fire out a copy of that print for me?” The “no” is when you install an exquisite inkjet print on a wall and it sings.
When photographers are asked to specify their printing technique and medium, some using inkjet technology are at a bit of a loss. If this sounds familiar, read on.
It can be a confusing topic. Do you know there are fundamental differences between dye and pigment inkjet inks as there are differences between thermogenic and piezoelectric inkjet print heads? In general, pigment inks are more expensive, more archival and more ubiquitous in the inkjet market.
For inkjet printing, some photographic artists have adopted the term Giclée (pronounced Gee-Clay) to describe their inkjet print. After all, it is French, mysterious and exotic sounding, but it is really just a neologism rooted in a specific inkjet printing technique that most are not using. Giclée is hard to pronounce, and some view this term as a subterfuge.
I love most things French but choose to unabashedly use more descriptive print terminology. Here are my nomenclature recommendations on the subject of inkjet printing of a digital image:
Archival pigment print (gallery accepted, well used, descriptive, to the point and my first choice)
Archival digital print (not as specific but accurate and fine).
Archival Inkjet print (I respect but still don’t want to emphasize “inkjet”)
Photography and printmaking are guaranteed to evolve. In the meantime, I think it would help our craft if we could standardize inkjet printing terminology.