Making Photographs: How Printing Shapes the Artistic Process


An interview with Steve Macleod

Ahead of our upcoming Edition V winners exhibition, we sat down with Steve Macleod, Director of our print partner Metro Imaging, to explore how photographers are getting ever more creative with the craft of printing…

Metro Imaging is the one of Europe’s leading professional photographic labs for art printing, film processing, retouch, mounting, framing and exhibition services. With almost 40 years in the photographic industry, it’s run by a flexible workforce of multi-disciplined and skilled professionals so that the level of expertise is second to none. Find out more about Metro and its services at

How has photographers’ relationship with printing change over the years?

Pre-digital photography was quite a physical experience. Because of the very nature of how pictures were created – shooting film, getting it processed, looking at contact sheets, making prints in darkrooms… From about 2003 on with the advent of digital, there was the ability to monitor and delete images if you weren’t happy with them, and further correcting files easily in post-production. Through changes in production and how photographs were presented, particularly with editorial, advertising and fashion photography – there was no requirement to make prints – everything was straight to press or screen and we subsequently fell out of love with print and lost many processes along the way.

In the last few years there’s been a return to and increased appreciation for the craft of printing. In fact, in all walks of life craft is no longer a dirty word, it’s appreciated as a way of thinking and part of the process of making. Instead of a print being something you made after the event for an exhibition, it’s once again an inclusive part of the creative process. It’s about making photographs, not just taking photographs.

How has this changed the way you at Metro work with artists?

In the days of film the relationship was in some respects transactional – labs were mostly commercial and catered for clients by providing services such as film processing and printing – the savvy photographers got to know the printers and they worked very collaboratively, but the brief had pretty much been defined as part of the shoot and printing was seen as an extension of that brief. As I mentioned before, with the introduction of digital imaging, many clients had no need for labs so many went out of business as they relied heavily on film processing.

Our industry has changed and the majority of our clients are not commercial, many cannot be defined as photographers as they come from different disciplines, yet they still require the services of the lab to create work and in many respects they are exploring their practice in real time within the lab – in many cases we’re being introduced to ideas before the pictures are made, so communication and rigorous testing have become an important part of the relationship.

For example: we had an artist in yesterday weighing up the options of going down the giclee or ctype route. And thanks to other advances in technology we’re now printing on large format vinyl; we have direct to media printing, printing up to 8x10ft, on materials that are four inches thick – we’re printing on concrete, wood, textiles, all manner of things… For the Tim Walker retrospective at the V&A, we printed onto reflective materials to get a vintage mirror look and made LED flashing lightboxes. The horizons are ever-expanding and we see ourselves as a vehicle for communicating options to clients.

Has anyone ever come to you with creative ideas that just weren’t achievable?

We like to push boundaries so we’ll have a go, within limitations. But we advise people on what won’t work best. For example, someone wanted to print inkjet prints reverse mounted onto acrylic. Well there’s no point because physically the inkjet material selected was too deeply textured and would create air pockets and most likely peel off. We recommended a Supergloss ctype paper in that situation. We also had someone wanting to print black & white vintage images as ctype but if you do that you get metamerism which means the colour shifts depending on the viewing light, so we advised to print on silver gelatin paper. They were reluctant because they felt a ctype was superior but actually a silver gelatin can be more archival depending on how you store it.