Details From Start to Finish: Esteban Toro and Hahnemühle's Battle to Save Printing

Printing is increasingly becoming an overlooked part of the photographic process. Hahnemühle and Esteban Toro are trying to change that.

Toro is well-known for his gorgeous light-soaked images of cultures worldwide.

Esteban Toro

Likewise, Hahnemühle is known for its attention to detail and beautiful photographic papers.

It makes sense that in Toro's quest to share the smallest details of his travels that he uses Hahnemühle. Toro's short video is a bit of an ode to Hahnemühle's rag paper.

Because Toro uses printed portfolios to show off his work to potential clients, his choices are critical. Focusing on just a few examples, Toro shows just how important his paper choices are to making sure his prints achieve the right feel. Like most photographers, Toro feels that

light is the most important thing in [his] work.

Esteban Toro.

Getting a paper to embody a glow or a mood is hard work. 

As important as it is to choose the right lens and camera, it's just as important to use the right paper.

Esteban Toro.

Toro's recently released series, Aperture, also takes a close look at the importance of printing through a series of conversations he has with Brent Lewis of The New York Times and Scott Gray from the World Photography Organization.

It's clear that in talking with Lewis and Gray that Toro uses his printed portfolio to highlight the elements of his stories he wants his audience to focus on. It's equally obvious that Lewis and Gray have an emotional and tactile response to Toro's prints.

As Gray explains:

Photography is about taking images, but it's also about printing.

I think that Lewis' turn of phrase effectively distills the fundamental issues of print versus screen when he says:

This is a photo I want to spend time with... This is the power of a really good print... 

It's a visceral reaction to hold and see a print, to step closer instead of zooming in to see the details. To see an oversized print and to be enveloped by its physical nature is something that a screen just can't compete with. 

I think that it's this tactile and emotional nature of prints that means we won't see prints go the way of telegrams, playhouses, or maybe even books. 

How do you feel about paper as part of your photographic process? How important are prints to you?

All images provided by Esteban Toro.

Mark Dunsmuir's picture

Mark is a Toronto based commercial photographer and world traveller who gave up the glamorous life of big law to take pictures for a living.

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Most of my prints I (let) do on Hahnemühle Photo RAG, 188g/m², on aluminium dibond, printed with Canon PIXMA PRO-10S. It is expensive, but it is worth it! One problem though: It is very delicate and there is always some idiot who thinks he has to put his (greasy) fingers on it and "feel" the structure.

My mom always told me to look with my eyes, not with my hands!

Some times holding a print in the right circumstances can alter your feelings about a print or heighten a moment's sensory experience. That being said, I wouldn't walk into a gallery and start touching a print just because it was printed on textured paper.

I wish we all had/have mothers like that. My prints, we're not talking about many, hang in semi-public places. I am aware that the Photo-Rag paper is not made for this, but once you see its quality, it is hard to let it go. The paper is extiremely matt, which makes all the colours very pure and the shades really visible. I like it very much. Too bad, every touch on it is visible.

Should answer your question in your article. To me, prints are the same as words to thoughts. I once heard Hans Georg Gadamer, a famous German philosopher, tell in an interview (my words): Thoughts only manifest themselves through words. It is the (spoken) words that make thoughts become reality. Prints still have something about them that no electronic device can imitate. They are real and not a projection. (Still, I am glad we have such wonderful devices today).

I like that idea. I’m going to go and look for that interview now. Thank you!

It was on our TV. I think it is this one. I'll watch it again in the next days and let you know. It is quite some time ago (1997) it was recorded. I saw it back then. It is in German:

I am not sure that you can watch this from outside Switzerland. Give it a try and if not, let me know.

I remember another moment of that interview. He was close to getting a hundred years old back then and so the interviewer asked him (words from memory again): As a philosopher who has thought about everything: birth, life, death and lived almost a century now, what is the most important thing in life? And Gadamer answers: Well, it is the waste of time (Zeitverschwendung) which is the most valuable thing in life. When you are young, you have the freedom to waste time and do not have to think about the end of your existence. But when you are getting old, there will be a moment and you begin to count the seconds. So every second is now very precious as there are not that many left.

Gadamer is fun and interesting to listen to. He died 2002, 102 years old. So he got a lot of seconds in his life.


Edit. Some explanation for: "thoughts become reality" means thoughts are not really thought and therefore not manifested until they are put in words, are articulated and expressed (in a sentence, another one can understand).