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.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

vacation's over...






well, a printer's life does get pretty busy at times, a full schedule means no time for re-dos or too much testing, it means having to handle different types of negs, papers and sizes on the same day. i try to put together similar settings, but it's not always possible...
so what is the state of supplies for silver printing you ask?  well, it's never been better really.  silver printing has a full array of available products to be used in endless combinations.  don't forget that pigment printing has only the one set of cartridges from each manufacturers, c- prints come in glossy and pearl.  and that's it.  the best optics for b+w are being sold for nothing these days.  i say it's a great time for analog photography.  yes, the paper has changed, but that was about 15 years ago, so most of us are way past that by now, multigrade printing has been the norm for a long time.  it is easier to match vintage prints, understanding there is always a bit of compromise while doing so.  but still, almost everyday i am asked if it's still possible to print silver gelatin, or shoot film.  it is more expensive comparatively, but one shoots less on film than digitally.  not better or worse, just different. when you shoot film you know how many sheets and holders you have, you know what frame number you're on with a roll.  you think twice about pressing the shutter. and you pass on images that you know deep down will not be used.  editing is simpler in a sense, while i mostly hear about the struggle digital photographers have going through the thousands of frames they bring home, hoping to find the one.  when you shoot film, you pretty much know which is the one as you shoot it, and if not, you only shoot 2 or 3 frames anyway... film photographers look at digital capture the way the view camera generation looked at these crazy kids with their 35mm cameras. and printing is no exception, it just takes longer to make a print from negative than from a file, it is more expensive to produce, and less people have the skills. so why are so many people still doing it? it has a history, it makes a point, it means to pick a process used by a smaller crowd. film photography was all we knew for a long time, we took our photos for granted, knowing their flaws but still amazed by what film could record. now most images we see are on screen, we rarely stop and really look, for that we go to a show, a museum, somewhere to look at real prints. photographers sell prints for a living, so the cachet a silver gelatin print carries has some weight in that decision. printing is an art form that should complement the images, a bad black and white print can kill an image. black and white relies on the print, people talk about the prints at a b+w show, less so if they are color.
in the b+w analog world, the print is an object, something to hold, to examine from different angles, under different lights.  b+w aficionados will ask which paper it is, what film was used, etc.
from my point of view, within the small world i live in, my darkroom, the silver gelatin print seems alive and well. lately i've printed for a number of portfolios, shows, international fairs, and edition-ed prints, enough to keep me on my toes, enough to preserve my passion for the medium. and digital printing has helped b+w improve and respond for a need of high quality products. the declining percentage of photographers using film gives those who do even more pride in the process, and thus leaving perfecting digital printing to digital photographers. the two processes get compared constantly, so each improves, either together or independently. it is a great time for darkroom printing. i saw it slip away from commercial photography so fast, i was secretly expecting it was done for a few years ago. at least for the type of work i do.
all this to say, yes, there is still a wide range of materials to use in analog b+w photography.  you can't just run to the corner store anymore to buy your stuff, but if you plan ahead, you should have no problems producing negs and prints for your projects.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

chameleon brain

back to talking about the everyday. i just read somewhere online about people doing a negative exchange program, i think that's great. this is how i got to step it up a notch with my darkroom skills. i used to print my friends' negs when i was in college, mostly because most people didn't like to print. it really showed me how much of a final image photographers have in mind when they hand you over their negs. it was a great learning period. at first i was just playing for my own purpose, truly interpreting what i was given, and not always to my friends' satisfaction. of course, i still do a lot of interpretive printing today, but at least now i know the questions to ask before i start, questions such as "what is the image about?", or "is this a series?", "are you done with the project, or is this ongoing?, even "can i see some of your other work?". once i know all that -and more- i can start thinking about the negative. don't forget, i don't start printing as soon as i receive a neg, i have a few days -weeks- usually until my schedule allows me. so, in the meantime, i think, i solve problems in my head, i visualize many final prints until one feels right. and the day i face the challenge i'm more relaxed about it. is it a portrait about hope or depression? got to make the print in context. i have to convey that message without being obvious. i put myself behind the camera, in the moment, you might even say role-play. i morph, become someone else. i try to get the satisfaction of capturing the moment a photographer gets when the shutter opens and shuts. i must have a chameleon in my brain. i fulfill -almost- all my darkroom fantasies. but that comes with a price: i can lose my own identity from time to time. if i hadn't become a printer i may have been a psychologist, able to enter someone else's brain and interpret their thoughts.
sometimes i draw from my experience as a live interpreter, or from my work as a literary translator -french|english, last one being a text for anne senstad venice biennal catalog- or in my everyday life with portuguese, or when i lived in spain, and went as far as dreaming in spanish, or when i first learnt english for that matter. all this helps to put words into images, and hopefully nothing gets lost in translation. i like to understand different cultures, understand where people come from, what their words and images really mean. printing as a career often goes way beyond printing. it's about the history of printing, and for certain photographer's estates, i have to understand past styles and points of view. sometimes i can be like a chameleon traveling through time, or different aesthetics. so when i talk about making an educated guess on my first exposure, i mean just that. all that.
looking back on my last 3 weeks in the darkroom, chasing after my short term memory, digging into the long term, i do feel lost. in the past 3 weeks i have been successively mitch epstein, elizabeth heyert, bruce gilden, tseng kwon chi, carrie mae weems, bob gruen, lisa oppenheim, n. vreeland, len prince and gordon parks. it could be worse as far as multiple personalities go, but derrida couldn't deconstruct me any more at this point. this is also why my darkroom needs to be a fortress of silence, where i can hear myself think and concentrate on the whole picture so the details don't get in my way. except for the moments of music during the actual exposing and processing. so for those who were wondering, this is why i'm a bit anti-social when i print... to be fair though, i don't think darkroom printers in general are social butterflies. once the door is closed the whole world seems to fade away. things move at a different pace in the dark, and printers spend, well, about 8 hours a day in there, moving between wet and dry, light on and off... but ask anyone of them: there's nothing quite like it.



analog writing?


Saturday, June 29, 2013

toning anyone?


well, there's a vast subject...  yet very much on the decline.  in theory, toning a black and white fiber base silver gelatin print adds a new layer of tones, for different reasons, either for look or permanence.  so let's start with the archival purpose of toning, as a silver print is only as archival, meaning stable,  as the silver halides within its emulsion.  stable meaning the ability of the metal to be exposed to light, darkened with developer, fixed, and again exposed to light and humidity later as we look at it.  so to achieve better stability, we trade up metals.  the most common ,in order of permanence, being silver, selenium and gold.  selenium and gold are direct toners, metals actually coating the silver. they contain a deeper black tone, they add richness to the silver image, even color it, depending on its dilution and length of time used. i love those, even if selenium has a strong smell that can give you a headache and stain everything, even if gold is rather expensive and exhausts itself after each print. i love them because, for one, selenium can be used to help a print, to give an image that extra richness if it cannot be achieved in the exposure. think thin neg printed on low grade to pull the most details, but when you hit with a high grade filter it just kills it. anyway, diluted for permanence, selenium should do very little to the emulsion, except protecting it from light, heat and humidity. selenium can split tone warmtone papers, separating the light and dark grays into reds and greens. it can look beautiful, some images just seem to be made for it. selenium can also give a beautiful purple, evenly throughout the image, discreet or deep. it can go to a brownish hue. it can be mixed with so many different other toners the possibilities are endless. gold is similar, it fits the silver like a glove and keeps it from deteriorating. on a silver print it can also just increase the d-max, it can give a print a bluish hue. certain dilutions go warmer. gold can be combined with other toners. once, by accident, i discovered that on the right mid-tones of an emulsion, with gold crystals diluted in water, those mid-tones turn neutral and all darker shades stay warm. lucky for me, i was at the time trying to figure out how to print a fashion story walter chin had shot about silver clothing and accessories. it looked as if the shiny silver had been painted on. this is back when an image for magazines or advertising was done in the darkroom, not in photoshop. years ago. selenium and gold are single bath toners, simple in practice, fairly easy to be consistent on many prints. yet when they are mixed with other toners though, the results can vary slightly from the smallest detail. that can be very frustrating when making an edition... because as a printer, as always, i need to reproduce what i do. i can't get a tone by luck, it's useless. i only do that with my own images and looking for a unique print. for the people i print for i need to find a repeatable formula, and whether the recipe includes a bleach, an activator or a toner, whether the print needs to be light or dark, testing can take many tries. when i come up with a print i like, and a tone that fits, i have to write down every little detail about it. and then try it again, and again, changing variables, i simplify as much as possible the process. and still, the next day atmospheric conditions have changed and i can't match. don't laugh, even the water has to be the exact same temperature for the wash, it has to be filtered the same way because of metal impurities. a print has to be washed before, in between and after for the exact same amount of time. tray contamination plays its part, as well as inconsistency from the companies that package the chemicals. just like seeing a print appear in the developer, it's not magic, but instead carefully orchestrated and tested over time. a darkroom is called a laboratory, it's a place where process research notes can take more space than most libraries. the notes can be general or client specific, out in the open or sworn to secrecy, written on a clean sheet of paper or in the back of a print... whatever. and since printing is an art form, most tricks of the different processes are stored in the brain of printers. for example, i met ruven afanador after he published sombra, when he needed prints to show, and the printer who had made the prints for the book had disappeared. i was given a box of 11x14's, with all sorts of intricate tones -if you know the book you'll understand- but not one single note. not even what type of paper had been used. so i started to do my own testing -yadda yadda yadda- and i was able to match the book on prints 16x20 or larger. toning is greatly affected by the type of developer -and fixer- used, so to re-do about 20 or 30 different tones someone may have gotten by chance -or not- was a challenge. but in the custom photo lab world it almost becomes just another project to figure out, another puzzle to solve. this is why it is so important to know what does what and how. i have to be able to recognize if the color is off because my print was too light, my first bath chemistry too strong, or the second bath too diluted. if i used the wrong surface -glossy and matte do tone differently, as do warmtone or not-, i have to recognize which step to adjust, and only change one thing at a time or the experiment is useless... most tones will change slightly over time -i am not including selenium, gold or bleach through silver bromide/iodide- most metal toners shift in color and density. an iron blue or a copper red are not stable, so if i use an old tone sample to match i have to be aware of that. i ask for color swatches to help me start a new tone, as it is very difficult to communicate color on a black and white print. sepia alone can be yellowish, deep brown, light beige, almost orange... and that's an easy one! blue may be brilliant or dull, copper can age as it does on the awning above my front door at home. the question is: why is the print getting toned? when timothy greenfield-sanders shot the ad campaign for ups, i had to come up with the new “brown”, and figure out what it could do for me... do i stain a light print or bleach a dark one? brown toner with selenium? i didn't know, but i was able to give options, and we went from there. remember the old calvin klein obsession ads that bruce weber shot? that was all done with toners in the darkroom. interview, paper magazine and vogue would often ask to add color to monochrome images. i've made platinum-looking prints on silver gelatin by mcdermott and mcgough, made prints look old, selectively toned part of images. red and blue prints for ralph lauren store windows, and the architecture images of anderson and low in a specific sepia. vik muniz still asks for toned prints. but nowadays it's rare that i'm asked to do any of it. i think because most artists and photographers are just not aware of the possibilities. it's a lost art. my technical index cards are getting dusty and i get nostalgic for the practice. well, not really. my point is it's a lost art. although, there is one artist who understands toning as an important part of photo history. hiroshi sugimoto pushes the envelope reproducing some of talbot's early paper negatives. i have worked on some of the small tests, and always offer my 2 cents on details, but the 30x40 editions are made by mike wood at griffin editions (he used to process film at lexington labs from about '98 to '04. and that was no small task, trust me).   anyway, those are some of the most complicated and beautiful tones i've ever seen. and at that size, to match a dozen or so of the same image can bring one close to the edge of insanity. if you have the chance to see some of these originals, make the effort and go.
in the future, i think tones will be used for unique prints, as editions will be a thing of the past and a single print will be more valuable from a prolific artist. perhaps even book reproduction quality will be taken seriously -not just selectively- and those tones will find a place to be seen by a wider audience.


photo by len prince  1999 - sepia toned
it's been a long ride !

Thursday, June 20, 2013

more about the negative



making negatives on acetate stirs so many opinions, i feel i should explore the subject a bit further. since my last entry, i heard from so many people, some with questions, some with solutions, i was surprised that no one said "i want to make this or that type of print, what should i do with my negative?"  and unless you're showing your negs as a final piece, a neg is made only for printing purposes.  it dictates the final print, especially if your darkroom abilities are limited.  many times i've had to come up with a final print that had nothing to do with the neg, but then the image becomes a collaboration between the photographer and me.  notice that i say the photographer, not the artist, because those who use photography as just a part of their artwork look for that collaboration.  they have a final image in mind and ask me to get there, so i offer options and we go from there.  and sometimes i have to say "not from this negative..."  the choice of film we use comes from, or should in many ways, our idea of what the final print looks like.  if i tell a film photographer that i'm shooting a project indoors, with a half-frame camera loaded with tmz exposed at 6400 iso and processed in d-76 at 70 degrees f, being printed 8x12 in. on neutral tone glossy paper, they'll know exactly what i'm talking about.  but still, i usually have to show a sample print of that type of process.  i have to show someone else's print in order to show the look, while explaining that every image does look different even when using the same process.  it's all about educating photographers with the processes available.  so most people stick to one look, it's easier  to visualize the final print that way.  besides, analog photography is not a cheap medium to experiment and just try different things.  a lot of my clients do the preliminary work at home in order to show me their ideas, and then i have a starting point, a direction to follow.  that's what a printer does, because there's a good chance i have tried something similar before, and that i have notes, even a work print.  and i happen to print black and white now, but it is true for color as well.  certain feelings come through from different techniques. and it all starts when you load the film in your camera. you make a choice from the beginning.  the film speed dictates your shutter speed and f-stop.  the development controls the grain size and the information details.  iso settings for emulsions are arbitrary, they only make sense when compared to other emulsions.  the theory of film speed is far from reality, the same way a light meter only knows how to place any reflectance into a middle gray.  the emulsion doesn't know if your subject is black or white, you have to help it along with your exposure and development.  do you want your print to be realistic or not?  do you always shoot in the same light?  do you care to be consistent?  do you adapt your print to the content, or do you make your print invisible and emphasize your subject?  well, all these questions are answered within the limits of your technical understanding of the technology.  and things change over time, manufacturers discontinue products and unveil new ones, we adapt and keep shooting.  i never felt nostalgic about a product that is no longer made, and from my experience, film emulsion changes affects us less than paper types, only because we show our prints, not our film.  if i show you 2 prints, would you know which one was printed from tri-x and which one from hp-5?  and yet everyone has an opinion about these particular film stocks.  the reality is that they are almost interchangeable.  let me repeat this: they are almost interchangeable.  and i say almost only because i include any special effect you might want to do with them.  the lens you use in front of your camera makes as much of a difference than the film inside.  the camera itself is just a black box, and to me is almost irrelevant.  as long as i can put the lens i like on it, it's a good camera...  film grain changes whether you've over or underexposed the emulsion, it changes if you like low or high contrast, dark or light.  it changes according to the print size, the paper surface etc.  my point is, always think two steps ahead, it's not that easy to transform our 3 dimensional vision onto a piece of paper, but some do it with style, we know who they are because we recognize their prints in about 2 seconds...  whether they make the prints themselves or not, whether they process their film themselves or not, whether they always shoot the same film stock or not...