• Daido Moriyama Memory of a Dog 1982
    Daido Moriyama
    Memory of a Dog 1982

With millions of images of works of art readily available to us in print and online, we are now able to view old masters or contemporary video art immediately and anywhere.

Yet visitor numbers to galleries and museums have increased over the past decade - it seems that people want to see the “real” object. With photography, however, the boundary is even more blurred. Is a print in a book or magazine the same as a print in a gallery? 

Japanese artist Daido Moriyama chose to showcase his work in issues of Provoke magazine. The exhibition of his work currently showing at Tate Modern looks at the distribution of photography itself, exploring the central role of the photo-book in avant-garde photography. 

So, what is the difference between viewing photography in the gallery and in print publications for you?

And has the sea of digital images available online changed how we contemplate art?

Tate Debate sponsored by Vodafone


The medium is the difference.. It would be bizarre if more people did not go to galleries after the explosion in photography of recent years. But surely the natural medium of the first generation of digital photographers is the one they first swam in, the internet. The decision today is between reflective or transmission output. Print or screen.

We could approach this question from many angles but I feel that the 'artworld theory' is perhaps most supportive of my personal viewpoint. The gallery attaches an element of art-stamp on a printed photograph, which by belonging in a gallery becomes a work of art. This isn't a question of bad or good photography but since the Tate curators have chosen to showcase a print by association.

The explosion of digital photography has certainly made more pictures appearing in online galleries but this need not mean an improvement in the quality of output. It is probably easier to take a better exposed picture in this day and age than even thirty years ago but exposure is not the sole criteria to a brilliant photograph.

"this need not mean an improvement in the quality of output" Since more photographers are now exposed to peer review as a matter of course. And are learning how to read the images of others, it would be difficult to assume there would not be some general improvement in standards. Exposure is no longer a one way process, with work only seen and reviewed by a select few. Production and distribution are now as easy as consumption. And when a majority shifts from being consumers of imagery to producing it, they soon learn the tricks of the trade, including how not to be lied to by images, which does not bode well for the advertising industry, for instance.

There is no definitive answer. Some photographs will suffer from reproduction, others will benefit greatly. In both cases however it won't be a realistic representation of the photograph.If you want to see the work of a photographer you can go to a gallery or museum and see the real thing, but even then there are many variables. Did the photographer printed them? Did he hire someone to print them? Are these posthumous prints done by someone else from original negatives?

There is a practical difference that we can point towards. Regardless of whether or not the image is Fibre or resin based (type of paper used in dark room - and in this case - exhibition print) the emulsion (light sensitive chemicals that are on the dark room - exhibition - print) saturates the paper and so giving the image a greater sense of depth. A reproduction in a book does not have this quality, insofar as the ink does not saturate the paper but sits on top. This is perhaps the most important difference between the two.