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Print Stability - think what you are buying, selling or making! - part 1 of 1 2 3

by Mike McNamee Published 10/04/2015

Egged on by John Baikie's opening remarks, McNamee could not resist pitching in with his two penneth!

The definitive work on film-based print stability was written byWilhelm and Brower and published in 1992. It is currently availablefor free download at the URL below*. It is a catalogue of misery,lies, broken promises and the dodging of responsibility by bigbusiness. In 1963 Kodak attempted to wean professional photographersoff their silver halide monochrome output with a promise of inexpensivefull-colour printing which "last a lifetime." The lifetime of a gerbil maybe,but nowhere near three score and ten, let alone today's average lifeexpectancy.

In the aftermath of this introduction, Kodak, to their enduring discredit,blamed the studio for the fading in a letter exchange with a Mrs LloydKarstetter of Wisconsin in 1980. As far as I can tell they never onceadmitted liability for their poor fade resistance and escaped a court caseon a technicality when sued by a certain Max Brown, an Iowa portrait andwedding photographer. Brown had prints returned to his studio by iratecustomers asking for free replacements, for images made from 1969 to1974 with the then new Ektacolor RC papers. Brown took Kodak throughthe courts but tragically lost his case due to an error by his attorneysduring the trial, which was then dismissed. He was eventually forcedout of business, the bank sold his home and it eventually cost him hismarriage. It is an extremely sad tale all round!

*(source http://www.wilhelm-research.com/pdf/HW_Book_761_Pages_HiRes_v1c.pdf )


Agfa were little better and endured a class action in 1985 over theirType 4 paper. They settled out of court for an undisclosed sum. This paperis described by Wilhelm as "possibly the worst paper in modern times"and was responsible for the prints from your editor's wedding shownhere. The McNamees are not alone in this and if you ever wonder what itis that sharpens Wilhelm's pencil when he is writing about print longevity,look no further than the image of his 11-year-old son's coffin, upon whichlies a faded Agfa print for which no negative existed, a life wiped outfollowed quite swiftly by a memory also - these things matter!To some extent the issue is an example of what happens when bigbusiness (and Kodak and Agfa were big businesses) are unscrupulous andhold dominant positions in the market. They are able to use bully-boycourt tactics to silence dissent while protecting their commercial position.They usually get it in the end - Kodak went bankrupt 19 January 2012,Agfa prior to that in 2005 and followed by Konica 19 January 2006 - by aquirky coincidence this is your editor's birthday! While all this was goingon, Fujifilm played with a straight bat and created a colour print mediathat was at least four times better. Fujifilm were also nimble enough toembrace the digital revolution and are now the sole survivor of the bigfour (Kodak, Fujifilm, Agfa, and Konica). Ilford, the blameless actor onthis stage have also not survived, the ultimate irony, as almost all of theirprints will outlast them.

So where does this leave us in response to John Baikie's startingproposition? Firstly it is a business opportunity. Digital copies of imagesare unlikely to be displayable in 100 years' time and even if they are, theequipment is going to be rare and expensive (when did you last see aSuper 8 film projected?). Prints rely on available, enduring technology,they are called eyes - we have had them for quite a time and they seemlikely to be around for generations to come! All we need to do is pickthe right technology to make prints with. The fade resistance of themodern pigment-based inkjet does cover a lifetime but only just in someinstances. You have to pick your ink set and paper with care and store theimages with care. By way of example let's look at today's wet chemistrylifetimes and Canson papers (only because they are featured in this issueand so freshly collated!).


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