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Photographing the senses (with a dose of celebrity), Canon highlights the impact of print

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Rapper Common checks out prints from a Canon Pixma Pro printer. Common was the host of Canon's "Pixma Pro City Senses" exhibit in Chicago.

Printing is one of those things that are an afterthought for most people. You do it because you need to sign a contract or hand in a term paper, but it’s not something you run up to someone and scream, “I have to put this onto paper” – especially considering that sharing happens mostly online nowadays. So for a company that makes printers, how could you possibly get people to not only pick up one of your high-end inkjet machines, but also buy the ink and paper to go along with it? For Canon, it’s hosting three separate invite-only, one-time events where “influencers” could view gallery-quality photographic prints – made from their Pixma Pro inkjet machines, like the Pixma Pro-10 – that evoke the senses of a particular locale or subject. The show, called “Pixma Pro City Senses,” concluded yesterday in San Francisco, having previously made stops in Chicago and New York City. The point? To demonstrate that a printed photo, as we all know, can have a hugely different impact than viewing it onscreen.

After listening to sounds of a roller coaster, the viewers then saw how the photographers interpreted the sound.

After listening to sounds of a roller coaster, the viewers at the New York City exhibit then saw how the photographers interpreted the sound.

The New York show, which revolved around the theme of Coney Island, was hosted by Norman Reedus, the actor who plays Daryl Dixon in The Walking Dead (the theme for Chicago was baseball and was hosted by rapper Common, while the San Francisco exhibit focused on the nearby wine-producing region and was hosted by celebrity chef Tyler Florence). With all three events, two local photographers were commissioned to photograph anything they wish, as long as it ties to the theme and evoke some type of sense like taste, hear, and feel – for the Coney Island theme, it was tasting cotton candy, hearing a roller coaster, and the feel of sand, for example. Before viewers could see the photographers’ images, they were asked to experience these senses – and form an imagery of their own – and then view how the photographers interpreted those senses.

On the surface, there’s no denying that events like this are purely a marketing promotion (it would have been more effective had Canon made each gallery a multi-day event, allowing local residents to wander in and check out the photo exhibition and see the printer in action for themselves). But Canon (and other printer manufacturers) does make a case that the photographs you print out nice and large are far more impactful to the psyche than the small ones you view on the computer or smartphone. (Many of us take great photos, but we dump them onto hard drives or photo-sharing sites, which eventually get lost.)

What was more interesting, however, was talking to the photographers, Aaron Warkov and Robin Riley, at the New York opening about how they felt about the project overall. For the first time in a while, both Warkov and Riley – who usually work on commercial projects under the direction of a creative director (“I shoot to pay the bills,” Riley joked) – were given free reign to shoot whatever they want. While that may seem like a dream assignment, the two photographers acknowledged that it was one of the most difficult things they have had to do – challenging their creative side to capture images that would not only fulfill the basic requirements but also look great on the wall. 

Because the assignment was so open ended, “I was confused after the first day of shooting,” Riley admitted. “Nobody has ever told me [to do what I want]…but whatever I did was OK.” Seeing all the prints displayed together on the wall, you can quickly pick out Warkov and Riley’s individual styles: Warkov gravitated toward people in action, while Riley went for landscapes and abstracts.

Norman Reedus, who stars in The Walking Dead, chats with Michael Duffett, Canon U.S.A.'s vice president who heads up the consumer printing group. Reedus was the host of Canon's "Pixma Pro City Senses" event in New York City.

Norman Reedus, who stars in The Walking Dead, chats with Michael Duffett, Canon U.S.A.’s vice president who heads up the consumer printing group. Reedus was the host of Canon’s “Pixma Pro City Senses” event in New York City.

Both photographers admitted that prior to the assignment they had not printed much – not because they didn’t believe in its effectiveness, but the demands of their profession meant their portfolios had to be mainly online and digitally accessible. But after having completed the assignment and seeing their work printed out, Riley and Warkov saw their photos in a different, more impactful light. 

For Reedus, the host of the New York exhibit, he wasn’t just there as a paid celebrity endorser. Besides acting and directing, Reedus is also a photographer, who’s preparing to debut his first photography book of photos he has taken in the past 15 years, and was interested in seeing how the Canon printers performed when printing his photos. 

Reedus said the experience of an analog print is “like reading a book – you can touch it, not like the Kindle.” He also likes the idea that people who enjoy photography can now experiment and make pro-quality large-format prints at home.

Norman Reebus (right) with photographers Robin Riley (left) and Aaron Warkov (center) at the New York City exhibit.

Norman Reedus (right) with photographers Robin Riley (left) and Aaron Warkov (center) at the New York City exhibit.

Canon’s inkjet rival, Epson, recently told us that the print industry is still doing well, but at home consumers aren’t printing as much. If you can send a document to someone digitally, there’s no reason to print it. But for photography, putting it on paper – whether it’s a 4×6 print of something you shot with a smartphone or a large 12×16 image from a DSLR – brings a different experience, as Canon pointed out with its “City Senses” exhibits. Printer makers are trying different ways to attract new buyers, whether it’s adding Wi-Fi or improving print speeds, but as more people are taking pictures than before, it makes sense that Canon would want to market around photography.                                                       

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