Monday, March 16, 2015

about closing the darkroom door

99% acidic swirl

yes, no doubt, the darkroom can be an escape from the turmoil of the world outside.  and i use it as such often.
outside my darkroom people kill each other for their beliefs.  outside my darkroom people are afraid of what they don't understand.  outside my darkroom there is plenty of light, yet most people wear blinders.  i like to close the door to my darkroom.
most in the industry think of a printer as a technician.  sure.  that's part of it, but some of us have an opinion about what we print.  every day i make prints that will be looked at, analyzed, criticized, etc.  every day in my darkroom, i make an effort to respect the medium, the world of silver printing.  i make an effort to support the subject, to emphasize its meaning.  before i close the door of my darkroom i need to know how the image came about.  the narrative helps me make decisions as i expose the paper.
no, i don't like all the images i print, and i don't even like all the prints i make.  i must remember though, they are not for me.  when i make a print i don't care for, of an image i don't particularly like, then i become a technician.  i become a machine-like operator who can lay down shades of gray wherever appropriate.  sometimes my passion is a job.  although i have been lucky to have printed most negatives that i have.  i don't want to only be a technician.  i call that the ansel adams syndrome: to be able to control each and every halide on a piece of film, but nowhere left to add any point of view or emotion.  i exaggerate perhaps, but most printers are just technicians (and the mere mention of ansel adams gets a little bit more attention).  i don't like being in that position, but it does happen sometimes.
outside my darkroom people make new images.  outside my darkroom, people have ideas about what a print should look like.  but inside my darkroom, i rely on my experience as an artist to make objects of desire, pieces of paper one wants to touch and feel.  inside my darkroom, i try not to think about other prints that are being made through different processes.  i print negatives exposed to be printed on a silver gelatin emulsion.  as simple as that.  i made the choice to print silver gelatin after making prints many other ways.  my first job as a printer was to make c-prints and duratrans.  over the years i have made c-prints, platinum, palladium, gum bichromate, cyanotype, digital-c, giclée, inkjet, pigment, carbon, etching, cibachrome, etc.  with or without a lens, from 1/4 inch square to 72x120 inches.  my point is: a printer prints.  any kind of print.  that's what a printer does.  a fine art printer sees what's off with a print and makes it feel better.  as simple as that.  some people are good at editing others' words, and some have a visual vocabulary that cannot be seen.
outside my darkroom i am as invisible as i am inside.
printers specialize nowadays, just like everyone else, and i chose to concentrate on silver gelatin.  it's the process of my era, i understand it.  i know how to make it look its best precisely because i have worked with other processes.  to me, it's a constant in the ever changing world outside my darkroom.  it's a process that relies on very few manufacturers to go on.  it's a process getting a second wind.
the ever changing world outside my darkroom doesn't have much room for such a slow and expensive process.  but as long as people will look for prints as objects, older photographic processes will survive.  platinum print makers moved to digital negatives long ago, it adapted without agfa np31 emulsion (!).  things tend to change and evolve over time.
inside my darkroom i think about people being afraid of what they don't understand.  and if you call the appearance of an image in the developer 'magical', then think about all the magic digital photography has to offer: most photographers don't know how their digital camera, or scanner, really works.  it doesn't really matter, very few photographers have cared to know how light sensitive emulsions work anyway.  the technology of photography has become so advanced that scientists alone need to understand it.  i just hope we don't forget to bridge the gap between art and science so we can enjoy the evolution of the photographic adventure with passion.  perhaps the future of my profession will be to make different types of screen surfaces.  it's already started: i can't look at the new generation of glossy screens, i can only appreciate an image on a flat matte screen like the eizo.  i work with mac computers but could never have an imac.  i don't like the way high gloss looks.  it hurts my eyes every time i look at an image on my phone screen.  that's why i stick to printing for now...
yes, outside my darkroom people are afraid of what they don't understand.  to understand every possible way to make a print takes research and dedication.  it takes getting rid of our printing prejudices and work with the process best suited for our images, that we can afford.  no need to be afraid of the processes we don't understand, we just need to educate ourselves a bit further.  the best way to pick a process is to try as many processes as possible.  i favor film and silver prints for my own work, but i also use digital files, in color, chromogenic or pigmented.  i also know that silver gelatin printing relies on precise and complicated manufacturing to exist, and that could be its downfall, unlike alternative processes where you do your own coating.  the film and paper i use everyday are not handmade, they comes from an automated process with machines that break down, suppliers that go in and out of business, it's an industry.  and if that industry no longer benefits from making these products, it will adapt and make other products to survive.  although i don't believe it will be anytime soon.

i love the feeling of closing a darkroom door, whether it swings or slides.  rotating doors are just not the same.  neither are mazes.  maybe it's just me.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

alfred wertheimer 1929-2014

i would like to take a moment to remember al.
alfred wertheimer died a few days ago.  i worked with al for many years, and frankly, i wouldn't have known much about elvis otherwise.  i mean i knew the popular songs and obvious facts, like everyone else.  al was a great storyteller, and you can certainly see that in his pictures.  he would mix his unbelievable recollection of details and his own impression of the events simultaneously in a way that kept you wanting more.  i know more about elvis than i care for really, but i also love a good story, so i listened. now, i'm glad i did.
one thing i have to mention though: either i'd give him a perfect print (meaning perfect for al) or no print at all.  i could not just casually print for al, i had to make the extra effort, sweat a little, push my abilities in the darkroom.  my reward was to know that i gave him the best prints possible from his negatives. i mean, these were images that were also reproduced in books, as postcards, posters etc, so a fiber print from the original neg has to bring something else to the table, a personality if you will. al did not take this lightly, i always liked that about him.
each time he would leave negs to me, i'd have to sign my life away and feel like it too. he knew they were in good hands, but the exchange was never casual. i understand a negative, i understand it because i've held negs like alfred wertheimer's of elvis presley in 1956, just a few strips at a time. that's another reason why i couldn't show al an OK print, it had to be a great print. and then he would say: "now, that one's good. let me see the others". my heart would skip a beat at every print i was showing him that day. al kept me on my toes.
i will miss al.

al taking a picture of my son clayton at the "who shot rock'n roll" exhibit
opening at the brooklyn museum, oct 2009.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

everything just changed

well, for me at least.  my sense of timing is off.  i am re-learning how to coordinate my day, how to set the pace in my activities.  it's been a real struggle, a daily readjustment.  i've stopped smoking.
forget the cravings and other blah blah blahs, just how do i know to take a break now?  how do i know when a print is done if nothing stops me from staying longer in my darkroom?
as a smoker for 30 or so years, everything in my life was related to smoking, including my work, and my photography in general.
honestly, this is why i haven't been able to write about the darkroom for a while. it's all behind me now, so perhaps i shall try and remember these past four months. i'll admit it's a bit blurry, i had to focus on something other than the photographic print, yet a few episodes will stay with me for a long time.
i had the chance to work with ken schles, making prints from "invisible city". we got along great, prints were taking shape, a few were even finished... but, and it can happen at any stage, the project was finally made differently. i always look for challenges, projects that make me think, really difficult prints to make, with great satisfaction to see done. it's a way to never take the darkroom for granted. i can't really phone-in a 54x68 in. print for tina barney. i have to be paying really close attention, take deep breaths and go. she is mostly a color photographer, but the process of making her black and white prints was quite challenging, and very rewarding. no cigarette break any more. coffee yes. i find new ways to re-focus, i walk around, listen to even more story-telling radio.
while i was sweating my nicotine habit away, i printed the entire "in and around the house" book (twice) as 8x10's for laurie simmons. she knows these images by heart, i can't miss a print. well, maybe 2 or 3, but more than that would be annoying. so i spend some time on the first print of the series, and then i jump, find a rhythm, and print away the hours. the days, the weeks, and still no smoking.
i may be listening to music louder as well. i can't tell, i've lost the moments of reflection i used to take throughout the day. sometimes i don't even know what time it is any more.
know i was listening to loud music while making prints for chris buck, his images inspire that in me somehow. yet, they fall on the paper so delicately, they almost print themselves. and chris has stories about them all. stories to get me through the day, one more day not smoking.
no cigarette either as i pick the right piece of wood to print through with lisa oppenheim. different shades, different types, different patterns, to be turned to negatives on black and white paper. i liked the project a little bit more with each print. a break in my rhythm of printing negatives as positives.
a big part of my summer -and now the fall- was spent with more 8x10 negs from mitch epstein, printing new images since new york arbor. i approach these negs in a different way, for a print as a colder object. i don't need a cigarette, even if i hallucinate sometimes, i know it's just temporary. so i just keep printing, as usual, and then i realize it's the same again, i print in my darkroom. i just don't smoke anymore. it's all good.
life goes on.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

remarks on gray areas

silver recovery

at the beginning i was merely printing.  i was transferring a negative image on acetate onto a piece of paper as a positive.
i had always understood printing in the darkroom as an art form.
perhaps i should define art form.
but first, i need to explain that most people in the photo world see printing as a craft. needless to say, a lower form of expression.
lower in essence of course.  although a great many darkrooms are in basements.
not that it bothers me.  a basement without windows seems very appropriate for a darkroom.
and when i say darkroom, i mean a room with the necessary equipment to produce photographic prints.
one may have a room that is dark, but isn't necessarily a darkroom.
in any case, printing starts with the craft, the understanding of the mechanics of the medium.  optics, physics, chemistry, therefore mathematics, are all part of the craft.
when i was a teenager i used to read anselm adams' thoughts on the print, how it's made, what it means.
and then i would try and copy jean-loup sieff's printing look.
the things i used to do!
the craft means the technique.  i learnt that in books.
printing as an art form happens once you've mastered the craft.
i guess that's why one may be called a master printer. it's not a title, just something some people say.  people say a lot of things.
and then man ray walked into my life.  well, not literally, just a faint memory.  i will say though, he changed my way of looking.
i see a negative and i want to try it different ways, just to see.  i bump my enlarger, sometimes i spin my easel.  i change the perspective, high key, solarize, triple-bath tone, so i can see what happens.  sometimes i take notes.
a negative can be reduced to a means to an end.  when rolls of film were found in the mexican suitcase, we weren't really interested in the film itself.  we wanted to see the prints, or a digital version of what the print would be.  we have choices.
i don't feel bad for the negative.
we take better care of our negatives than our prints, for they are replaceable.  not so for the negative.  the negatives live in a water-fire-proof, humidity controlled, archived, under lock, environment.  we cherish them.
i've read that in books too.  and i've seen it with my own eyes.  i participate.
i should go back to the technique though, this is where my interest lies because as a printer, it has to be understood and deconstructed.  i like puzzles, questions with the clock ticking.
i've been told the pressure of a clock counting down adds to the necessity to be precise without hesitation, that it helps the inner rhythm.
i wonder how long after the invention of the clock someone said: "i'm going to build a clock that goes backwards."
perhaps da vinci thought up a prototype.  or fox talbot, while waiting for his paper to darken.  one would have the need to let their mind wander while inventing.
the darkroom is a good place to let one's mind wander.  to while away the hours.
i can spend hours counting down seconds.  

for example, i know it takes me seven seconds to reach for my cup of coffee and have a sip.  the things i know...
technically, it's an important fact to be aware of, the cup of coffee.  i mean to say it's important to know so it doesn't get in the way of the technique.
always back to the craft.
when i have 10 negatives to print, would i be able to dodge the blacks the same percentage given different exposures and contrast?  just by doing the math in my head?  the clock keeps counting down and it can be difficult to check with my eyes all the time.
i should have said fox talbot waiting for the hypo to finally fix the image.
the eyes don't always tell the truth so i rely on the math, even  perhaps only the days of multiple projects.  the craft grounds me in consistency.  and then i play.
by play i mean work of course.  and work because i also print to make a living.
my work consists in bending light-waves.  i'm a light-wave bender, if i want to be romantic about it.
a long time ago, in paris, i saw irving penn's 20x24 platinum prints of cigarette butts.  they're etched in my brain, they never let me lower my own standards.
the compromise card must be kept to solve an entire puzzle, not just a piece or two.
i remember printing susan lipper's grapevine.  some images i cannot get out of my head.  i've seen their grain through a loupe, i've seen them flat, light, in strips, wet, as a contact sheet and under glass in a big frame.
once i had a darkroom with a window.  a red filtered window, yes, but a window nonetheless.  yet another proof that darkrooms are not always in basements.
or is it the first proof?
actually, i'm not trying to prove anything.
it reminds me of something leonard cohen wrote about there being a crack in everything, that's how the light gets in.  how could one not think of that while printing?
may be it's just me.  i don't know how long it's been going on.
i'm not good at counting time forward.
hours pass and i'm counting down seconds.
as a matter of fact, i always use the same sets of numbers to expose.  i have a great demand of consistency in what i do.  i won't tell what these numbers are, but the sequences go up to 600.
every negative falls under certain given numbers, on the light box they seem to simply come out of the image and become values.
perhaps i should explain further.
but before i get to that, i was trying to make a point about printing as an art form.
we know it can't be measured easily, or there would be an award for it.
the print that makes me want to touch it, that's the winner for me.
although a print that disappears under the image would certainly deserve a prize as well.
take the starn twins for example, they need a darkroom assistant, not a printer to do their art.  their prints are part of their art.  at least for a few series if i remember correctly.
i don't think that qualifies as a proof either.
it's a good thing i'm not trying to prove anything.
or is it art only when i print my own negatives?
maybe the darkroom is a state of mind.  somewhere we go to meditate, a place to let go and let the light do what it does best, or at least well: darkening silver halides.
to be clear, when i say 'at least well', i don't mean to belittle the photographic process in any way.  i'm spending my life showing it my best.
the darkroom must be my mistress.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

film to print

i 'll get right to it: here's what doesn't work between digital and analog photography: shooting film, scanning it, and then trying to match a silver print later in the darkroom.  that's all backwards and wrong.  at least in my opinion.
but let's start from the beginning.  so you want to shoot film, great.  now, assuming you understand how that works, you then look at it on the light box, you make a contact sheet, you loupe it.  so far, easy.  except that most people who shoot film nowadays don't make a contact sheet, they scan the uncut roll first.  just because it's easier i guess.  once you've scanned your negs and done your corrections, how do you know if it's even possible to replicate it in the darkroom?  you don't.  so if you're thinking about printing one day in the future, you might find out your images look indeed different from your scans.  silver gelatin does have its own limits after all.  the thing is, once you're used to your images on the screen, it's very hard to make a print to match through a different process.  most people just end up doing a digital print.  which is perfectly fine, but here's my question:  why even shoot film?
i, for one, shoot film for both the look and the process.  i shoot film thinking of the print.  my work is print based if you may.  and that's because i like the way it looks, i like the print as an object.
now, like many photographers, i scan my images to showcase them online, where they can be seen by a larger audience.  the thing is, i always make a print first, then i scan to match the print.  but the print comes first, it is the work as it is meant to be.  i work in the same way other visual artists like painters do, i post online visual representations of my work, not the actual work.
i know there is no right or wrong way to make images, but it seems to be the very photographers who advocate the purity of the decisive moment, the un-cropped frame, the optical beauty of classic lenses, and the history of their camera(s), who lose focus and blend processes together to get a hybrid final image that is neither analog nor digital.  their scanner is becoming their darkroom -which they let go because of the inconvenience i hear- and their screen the print.  when shows  happen, i mostly see "archival pigment prints", ink jets really, of the original negative.
i believe the phenomena to be some sort of nostalgia for the acetate, but being given the digital camera they like, they let go of the film.  and they are, one at a time.  photography evolves, silver gelatin evolved from other processes before it, and usually i wouldn't even think twice about it.  but, and here's the but, it affects the approach of the print when someone does decide to make a silver print.  photographers show me their images on laptop, ipad, phone etc.  mostly with the contrast levels way up, telling me where they dodged and burnt on their scans.  my first question always is: 'can i see your negs?"
black and white silver gelatin has a certain feel to it.  its continuous tone made of darkened halides layered onto an emulsion is very organic, each print is unique.  an inkjet, pardon me, an archival pigment print, is a series of precisely projected (giclée) droplets of ink, pigment, onto a piece of paper made to seal the ink in.  why do we want these two very different processes lo look alike?
the fact is, they don't look alike, they serve different purposes.  in black and white, i prefer the silver gelatin print, i haven't seen a bw digital print i liked for the print yet.  i may like the content, but enjoying a bw pigment print on its own hasn't happened yet.  mostly because, i think, who has a passion for the bw inkjet print?  i mean people like me have had a passion for the bw darkroom since childhood? the digital equipment changes every 2 years, you need tech support and software upgrades...  hard to get absorbed in the process. to someone like me, the cameras and the enlargers are objects just like the prints.  i have special lenses that affect the image directly.  my equipment is part of my process, and each print i make is in a sense, unique.  handmade vs machine made.  computers can give you solid results indeed, but the operator is a bit removed from it. with analog, the printer is a person, and in digital, a printer is a machine. semantics really, but still, here we are. even the vocabulary used is different.
analog photography isn't perfect by any means, an image might be rejected because a tree branch is on the "wrong" place, and it is very tempting to scan and retouch.  with film, what you see is what you get, and you need to expose properly.  a bit like the slow cooking movement, it's a long process.  there is no immediate gratification, when you decide to spend time on an image, a lot of time, you really mean it, you've picked your frame carefully and go for print.  test prints are time consuming, and a final print demands a proper darkroom set up.  expensive, i know, but think about how much you're saving by not buying the latest digital this and that...
I like many pictures on the screen, but that doesn't tell me anything about how they might look in print.  the print may not be the best solution for every image, the screen might step up and take over our walls to display our favorite (digitally shot) images.  sometimes i wish galleries and museums would just  do that, so i can see the full resolution instead of the low online quality.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

classic and neutral

for the good news, ilford is improving their neutral tone multigrade emulsion. same hahnemühl paper base, but great step up in iso and dmax. i have been testing it for a couple months now, trying to understand the reality of it. long story short: it ends up looking exactly like the multi IV. it even tones selenium the same way. the best part is the speed, my exposures were on average about 30% shorter, great advantage for printing lots of 16x20's or 20x24's, but also being able to close down half a stop more and keep the sharpness. so it's all good, no need to warn anyone about the change, it's just an internal darkroom adaptation. and for murals with exposure times in the minutes, 30% cut down on exposure is a huge advantage.
in addition, the image appears at about 30 seconds in the developer, like the warm tone emulsion (which remains the same), as opposed to a minute. it makes no difference really, you still need 2 to 3 minutes to get to full development, that's just the way it works. it is now called multigrade classic. we've come a long way since a respectable printer wouldn't touch multigrade papers with a 10 foot pole!

moreover, ilford has now added a cold tone emulsion to their arsenal. i had been waiting for it for years, and it felt really good to finally slip it in an easel. i had made so many prints on the kodak polymax, i really missed it when the production stopped.
the thing about a cold tone emulsion is that it doesn't really look cold until you see it next to a neutral tone print. it is a subtle difference, and ilford seems to have translated the concept. i have printed a few negatives on it for a better understanding of what it does, and it will work great for certain images, but as i'll recommend it to some photographers, i'll have to be very careful on the first tests: unless the overall image improves with the new emulsion, there will be no need to switch. new projects will be more appropriate for a new paper. that's my guess.
testing emulsions always brings up new problems, and solves old ones. when i first worked on ilford's warm tone there was a great need for it. oriental and agfa were staples in any commercial darkroom. personally i never liked printing on oriental, but agfa 111 and 118 were part of my everyday. forte was also part of the picture, great surface but much too inconsistent to rely on day after day. anyway, the first batch of the ilford warm tone emulsion had an olive cast to it, but i loved it right away, and suggested it to lorna simpson for her show 'call waiting' at sean kelly gallery, then in soho. the whole series was printed from unmarked boxes of 16x20 paper.  funny thing is, that same olive undertone showed up again a few years later when jocchi melero sent me prints to match that he had made in puerto rico - just a side note to point out that water chemical composition affects the hue of black and white papers. 
but let's go back to the new neutral emulsion from ilford, because this time it's only a big deal for printers: faster emulsions are just good to work with through long darkroom days. the important part about this change really, is to show that it matches the old emulsion. no change is good change, at least in the darkroom world, in order to continue and complete on-going editions.
photo paper emulsions change more than once a generation, manufacturing concerns oblige. we take silver gelatin for granted, when in fact we rely on a handful of people to make it work in the business world. when, and if, it becomes financially impossible to pursue, it will follow other processes of the past. fashion and portrait photographers used to love and shoot polaroid peel-off emulsion, but within 2 or 3 years they were wooed away by pixels, and polaroid stopped. just like that. when the majority of fine art photographers find another process, then you tell me: will there be anyone willing to have a business for a selected few? the beauty of silver gelatin, besides the depth it provides for the print as an object of desire, is its ability to be consistent -on a large scale- year after year, for an unmistakable look.
this is why i test papers seriously, i test papers to print for others and produce entire bodies of work within budgets and deadlines, simultaneously. so if you're a fan of film and silver gelatin photography, think twice before you start a new project, not everything can be fixed with photoshop... or if you've never shot film or made darkroom black and white prints, well, try it, i'm sure anyone like me will be more than happy to guide you through the process.
and that's all i have to say about that.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

lou reed in my darkroom

lou reed . self portrait

it was in the late nineties, at lexington labs. lou reed needed some help to print some of his negatives. he apparently had taken pictures for a while, and wanted to put a few images together for a show. he didn't know what to ask for, he had to see what could be done before he would decide which way to go. he wanted to understand the process, so we thought it might be best to work together in my darkroom. now, i'm gonna stop right here. i may sound all matter of fact, but inside i was completely shaken, meeting a teenage idol. i've listened to a lot of velvet underground and lou reed for a long time. one of the first tapes i had for my brand new walkman in 1980! i was back to the kid inside, but i'm a professional :) and i couldn't wait to start. i wanted to know what he would think about what i do. i knew his music, but he knew nothing about what i do.
those days spent with lou reed, looking at negatives, figuring out what to print and how, were very special to me. it was the first time i collaborated with an artist who happens to work with photography for a particular project. the approach is so different than from that of a photographer's (myself included). 'why not?' comes up a lot. i may find a solution. i may need to dig further, i get to discover things and tricks i wouldn't have otherwise. and he was asking about everything. at the end he liked neutral matte and warm tone glossy. we'd print too dark, too light, even print some icebergs as negatives, looking like rocks. crop here, and there. everything looked like something else. it was a great process. music to my ears. birds and landscapes. a picture of timothy greenfield-sanders in venice, and buildings at night, laurie anderson with a camera, and many other visual experiments. i was trying to match his speech with visual responses. a lot of images that i liked, and still do.
at that time i was also printing the transformer image by mick rock. one of the prints was pinned in my darkroom, so i didn't have to say how much his music meant to me. blind spot was being produced at lexington then, so kim caputo used the '3 maidens' statue picture i took, for lou reed to write a r.i.p. note to william burroughs 'thanks a bunch for giving us your naked lunch'. i was printing pictures of, or by musicians almost everyday, the lab was a comfortable place to be, the darkroom quiet, and we kept the conversation to the images. i wanted to ask him so many questions, all the time. but kept it to a very minimum. that time, in my darkroom with lou reed, was about printing, trying to find ways to put images on paper. playing with the scale, odd crops and other techniques.
the funny thing is, i was nervous about how his photographs would be received by the public. very soon after i would be done with the prints, a great number of people would see them, i knew there would be many opinions. in fact, i felt like a silent partner, proud when they were praised, and upset when put down. it must not be easy to be a part of different art communities, there is always the one label that sticks. i've enjoyed his music for a long time, and now his images.
that's my story of lou reed. thanks to my darkroom :)
sad that he's gone. i am.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

vietnam war images

photo by charles zoeller

first things first: i am a life-long pacifist, against any and all military anything, and any kind of weapon for any purpose. i have a profound aversion toward all weapon manufacturers.
that said, when A.P. wanted to print a show of their images of the vietnam war, i wanted to print it because nothing in these images glorifies the act of war. these images tell stories from the point of view of many (some anonymous) photographers. i had been hoping to print them since august, i went on vacation, and the first project i worked on when i came back was actually an-my lê's images of the vietnam war re-enactment that seem so real, at least to me. i'm not sure if it's coincidence or irony. her images were shot in the outer-banks, in north carolina.
in french high school i didn't really study that time in indochina, it was a pretty small part of my textbooks. the war in algeria was covered a lot more. in any case, i'm printing now a number of classic A.P. images from the war in vietnam, with a full descriptive paragraph with each negative, you have no idea how careful i am with them! they are mostly 35 mm, but also 2 1/4 and 4x5. the equipment was so simple then: leica (or similar), rollei and graflex. each with their own purpose. the negatives i've had in my hands are all in really good shape, even if a few of them got the frame notched a bit too close to the sprockets, very close to tearing. and amazingly well exposed and processed. the strange thing is, i feel like i'm printing movie stills, movies about the war. i say that with a long delay between the actual events and today. so of course, i look for a soundtrack to fit what i happen to be printing, anywhere from jimi hendrix to bob dylan, the doors and the stones.
i just want to do the images justice, so i place myself back in time, perhaps even in the A.P. darkroom making 8x10 rc prints most likely (rc surface was brand new then). these images are so well-known, it's hard to look at them as if for the first time. but through printing, i see details i had never seen before. for example, as i was making a 40x60 in. print of soldiers carrying a wounded man -larry burrows is with them- fending themselves from the wind of the helicopter, i notice they are standing in a pineapple patch. i had never seen all these pineapples.
as i was printing the series of images that malcolm browne took of the buddhist monk burning himself in protest, my friend nicky vreeland came in to say hello. he is a tibetan monk, well, abbott now. another coincidence that opened the conversation between us. and that is what these images do: they make us express our opinions, learn history, and hopefully how not to repeat it. of course, i cannot look away from the subject, i have to study the negs, do some tests, and the face of that monk burning is forever etched in my brain. i try and go through the motions of moving the greyscale around, but it's useless, the images are too overpowering, i have to pay attention to the subject to make a decent print.
in my research i was looking for the book 'requiem' to get yet another version of certain images, and, coincidence, as i walk into the strand bookstore, there it is, right outside the door, on the $5 bins on wheels. i grabbed it. photographs can be reproduced in so many different ways it can get confusing. but in the end, for the purpose of this project, it has been charles zoeller from A.P. who gave me the feedback needed. he's also been the one who brought me the negs a few at a time, out of the A.P. safe. and the negs go into the safe at the lab -except when they just have to be placed between my light and lens. a short period of time really.
before i start the printing process, i read the caption, i look at the book -the new one from A.P.- and then i decide what it should look like. at first i was trying to make the images look too finished and perfect. after a few tries i was finally able to let go and let the mood of each neg dictate the final image. once i concentrated on the mood, i wasn't too worried about each and every detail, just the important ones. my prints started to feel right, and when steve kasher and chuck zoeller got to see my first batch, we all agreed which worked and which didn't. one quick look and my 'perfect' prints jumped out of the series like sore thumbs. it might seem easy to go with the flow, but as a printer it is quite unnatural to let go the control of the light. but these are raw documentary war pictures, there is nothing to change, just to convey the moments, one moment after another. one very difficult moment to look at after another. in the dark i keep telling myself 'well, that's what war is and does', then i understand better the need to show images such as these. nobody should want to see any more war pictures. and yet, decades later, more wars, more people suffering from them, with no end in sight, all over the world.
i'm still hopeful mostly, the days i take in between to work on prints with different subjects. i printed edition prints -toned- for vik muñiz thread series. a 30x40 show (9 to be exact) for allen frame. doing some toning tests for elliott landy's the band in woodstock. even landscapes on glass plates for lisa elmaleh, and some sex pistols pictures -the one on the plane- for bob gruen. also a print for the mirror series for carrie mae weems (congratulations on the genius award!). one more, a new series of images from gordon park's archive. selenium. oh, and a negative and a test print -or two- for kenro izu, just a first approach really. i almost forgot elvis for al wertheimer and nudes for ariane lopez-huici, as well as a great 1976 pool shot by arthur elgort on 30x40 paper.
and all the images mentioned above are worth much more than a thousand words.
i am finishing to print now the series of eddie adams' pictures of the execution in a street of saigon, and it looks like war, it feels like war. it is war. very difficult to understand. at least for me.