44 wide is printing operation first and a gallery space second — but thanks to that skewed power dynamic, this might just be the perfect space for early-career photographers to exhibit their work. As anyone who's ever shown before knows, it can be a rather daunting and expensive process. Not only is one faced with the challenge of getting his or her photos to look as good as they do on a computer screen when finally printing them out, but finding an appropriate spot in which to exhibit can be nearly impossible when starting out.
Gallery owner Thomas Moran takes a hands-on approach to both of these issues. Unlike most photo printing shops, the staff work closely with photographers to ensure that they achieve prints that match up with their photos as they appear on screen (something that's more challenging than you might think). That's quite a bit different that the usual process of renting a work station and fending for yourself when it comes to soft-proofing and colour correction. I've botched my fair share of prints over the years, and the thought of someone actually working with me on the final product is really quite comforting.
On the second front — finding gallery space — 44 Wide makes its 900 square foot space available at a discounted rate to photographers who print on site. Spend enough money on printing, in fact, and they'll give you the gallery for a week free of charge. That particular offer doesn't start until you're spending some decent coin ($2500), but that's quite easy to do when preparing a significant number of pieces for a show. By way of example, at last year's CONTACT festival, I spent about $1500 in printing and framing just five works for exhibition (it's probably better if you don't ask how many sold).
None of this would be attractive if the services on offer at 44 Wide were lacking, but based on what I've seen, this is one of the best places to get prints done in Toronto. Started as a primarily print-on-canvas operation back in 2009, thanks to some highly successful group-buy offers the shop has blossomed into a full service shop, teaching facility and gallery, complete with workshops and community initiatives like the Liberty Project, which helps local photographers — many of whom have photos in the blogTO Flickr pool — to gain some well-deserved exposure.
I have to admit when I first heard that 44 Wide specialized in canvas-based printing, I wasn't impressed. I'd never thought much of work that I'd seen printed/displayed this way. Moran had a similar experience before he encountered prints on Breathing Colour Lyve canvas (thanks to, among others Michael Reichmann of the Luminous Landscape), and he quickly changed his mind. I can understand why. Unlike what he calls the "Ikea checkout canvas" that most people have seen, this material is of the highest quality and every bit up to the task of fine-art printing.
Although 44 Wide also offers other printing platforms (Hahnemuhle Bright White, Canson Baryta) and have started doing what they call retina resolution 9x12 prints on face-mounted acrylic, Moran estimates that canvas makes up 90 per cent of the gallery's business. A lot of this comes in the form of online/mail orders from amateur photographers not the least bit interested in the complexities of print execution — they just want a nice-looking finished product. In an effort to distinguish his business from other print shops, Moran applies the same standards to these prints as he does to those for established artists. There's even a full-time image editor whose job it is to ensure that these orders look as good as they can.
Moran admits that 44 Wide isn't the cheapest option out there, but passionately holds to the notion that the gallery's focus on quality prints will set them apart from other outfits. So far it seems to be working. With 1000 square feet of space devoted to production, he's left the early days of a single 44" printer far behind. Throw in a 900 square foot classroom area that would make any Mac lover drool, and you have all the makings of Toronto photography hub.
Photos by Tom Ryaboi