Tuesday, December 25, 2012

i got faults, but i can waltz!

goodbye darkness my old friend, i´m taking a break for the holidays.  every project gets suspended in time.  last friday i finished the week with a 50x60 print for max snow, a re-do for me because one of my 2 finals got creased.  a tiny crease, but a crease nonetheless, one that wouldn´t blend in once mounted.  a print that takes another person to help in the dodging department.  there are shadows to take out in the foreground and the background of a high key print, and i just don´t have enough hands to do the job alone...  yes, it could have been retouched digitally, but to do it by hand is a bit rougher, not as clean, it has imperfections that give the final print a certain look.  and that would be very difficult to do in photoshop.  i mention this because it´s not always about perfection, a print has a life within, it breaths, it speaks to its viewer, and with the right imperfections in the right places it comes alive, the image sometimes feels as if it floats in front of the paper.  our eyes accept those flaws because they improve -sometimes- the final print.  when the flaws are all fixed through photoshop, you run the risk to lose the feeling of that moment captured by the artist.  because why would you go to print if you still see details to fix?  it´s easier to let go in the darkroom.
2 days earlier i had the opposite problem for elizabeth heyert:  i was able to hide -make disappear- a floor on a 16x20 work print, but when i went to a much bigger final size i just couldn´t do it.  i tried every which way but it was physically impossible.  some things i can do with an easel but can´t reproduce on the wall for a print bigger than me.  i didn´t see it coming, or maybe i didn´t want to.  in any case, i only know my own limitations once i reach them.  so we scanned, retouched, output an LVT neg, made a contact of it, made a work print, hoping it´s going to match the original feeling.  in this case it´s the softness of the light and the sharpness of a large format -8x10- negative that make the image work.  it works now as a 16x20 work print, and i´ll find out in january if it will work bigger.  i can guess but i won´t know for sure until i try, especially when it is part of a series and every other print has been made from the original neg.  it will be up to elizabeth...
to quote one of my favorite songs an analog silver print could sing:
"i got faults, but i can waltz!"
happy holidays.
and the print in the image above is a 52x52 in. from an LVT for deborah luster.

Monday, December 10, 2012

push the machine

as what is now called an analog printer, i have been dealing with digital photography since its beginning. from my experience, the two blend together really well, i don't feel like one process is better than another. any way to make an image should help the final print, projection, or on-screen visualization. i shot film when i started because that was the norm: you'd buy film, expose it, and process it in your bathroom, print it in a make-shift darkroom. very much like young photographers today have an inkjet printer attached to their computer. technology changes and more and more people can make images. as a printer i do my part to make sure the craft and quality of the prints are always questioned. photography has been a hobby to many people since the kodak brownie, since then the technology is available to anyone, so the craft needed for its art form deserves a certain je-ne-sais-quoi, a higher standard to start, meaning the machines are only as good as their operators. and i have to know if the print i am being asked to make as a silver gelatin wouldn't look better with another process. be it pigment or pop print, what always matters to me is the final print. i like it as an object.
so when i started to use photoshop, it felt pretty natural. i knew the vocabulary, i had tools, even though some were rather rusty at first, now they can do more than i care to use. that's pretty incredible. when i choose what film to use, i have a look in mind already. shooting digital, i can preset histograms for any light i like. the craft is in the understanding of the relationship between what you want, and what the machine can do. i push the machine because i always try to improve my style. with photoshop i have more time to perfect the image, perhaps sometimes gone one step too far -we all have- but in the darkroom i have a time restrain, i have a clock that turns backwards, a timer that counts down, or up. i think studio musicians can play the same tune in exactly the same amount of time, each time. that's what i do as a darkroom technician, i follow -or try and keep up- the tempo of the print. i dodge and burn in rhythm, especially if i happen to make a dozen in a row of the same image. on my screen i only have to do it once, i don't need a plan, a full map of the dance in my head, i just move methodically with layers i can use or not. i am able to see the image in so many ways at a click of a button it's beautiful. the craft is in the pushing the machine. in the darkroom, the contrast scales are my levels, i combine them with the exposure and the development time like a curve. i can add or reduce contrast on specific areas, crop, or correct the perspective. the concepts are the same. the healing tool is my spotting brush.
at the end, we rarely look at images on the same screen as someone else, we sometimes see the same prints with the same light. you just don't know where the print will be displayed eventually. i just hope that people light a print to see what they like, similar to how we set our screens, we calibrate to a certain standard. too much or not enough light can kill a black and white print, and color prints seem to want to soak up any part of the spectrum floating around. digital color retouchers work in ,basically, darkrooms. a visually clean environment is most important to a sensitive eye.
when i had only color paper available to me for my own color prints, i would skip a lot of images because i didn't like the surface of a c-print. i would hesitate before i would print because i didn't -and still don't- like the feel of a c-print as an object. now, i can use any paper i wish, with a number of different printing techniques. i have been doing a lot more color work in the past 6 to 8 years than ever before. digital photography has integrated itself into the photo world as fast as any other changes before -how quick did the dagguerreotype studios in new york disappear? we are a far cry from the late 90's, when it was an accomplishment to convince a client to even try. one of my first projects was to get film via fedex from the cannes festival, all these celebrity pictures were processed in new york, then we'd scan the negatives and email (sounds easy so far in 2012) them as contact sheets to the magazine that night, they would make their picks that we would print in new york... the first inkjets were terrible, now they dominate the market, there must be as many inkjet printing studios than there were daguerreotypes'... it makes my silver prints that much more special. because all i really need is a light bulb and a lens. no lens? a pinhole works just as well. we all need to be able to at least make a coffee print on a banana peel, and printing will be around forever...

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

rock'n roll printing

musicians get photographed all the time, it seems as if we never have enough images of the music scene. and of course, our culture brought a few of those pictures to iconic status, i've had a few of the negatives in my hands over the years. i'm thinking about bob gruen's john lennon nyc shirt picture, i wasn't entirely relaxed when i first printed it, but i'm used to it by now. still, i feel the power this image has as i put the neg in my enlarger and print it, and i listen to john lennon or the beatles while in the darkroom, it puts me in the mood. of course, bob gruen has many well-known pictures, and he still brings me negs sometimes that i still haven't seen. there is also mick rock's lou reed transformer picture, the one that looks like a drawing, a bit out of focus. when i first saw the strip of film i couldn't see the image, mick laughed because it is a well exposed sharp negative shot live. the trick is in the printing, and after having the album cover on my wall as a teenager i felt i was let in on a secret.
i also had the chance to print many danny clinch images of bruce springsteen, lynn goldsmith's rolling stones, keith green's dee dee ramone project, michael halsband's ben harper album cover, art kane's great day in harlem, jacques lowe's jazz greats, fred mcdarragh's and jerry shatzberg's bob dylan, kate simon's iggy pop, bert stern's louie armstrong, bruce weber's chet baker, al wertheimer's elvis, yelena yumchuk's smashing pumpkins (wonderful booklet of photographs inside the cd) ... and so many more that it's difficult to remember them all. for a while i felt like a rock'n roll printer. michael stipe used to bring negs to print, and bryan adams. i printed lou reed's first photo show, he must have spent a couple of months in my darkroom so we could play and work and figure out how to make his images into a coherent series. nick zinner (yeah yeah yeahs) used to work for me as a printer then, and he helped me print timothy greenfield-sanders's 700 portraits series (set of 3 btw).
so when i said in the first week i wrote this blog, that a printer's resumé is their clients' images, i wasn't far off. without all these unbelievable photographs of musicians i wouldn't have much to talk about as far as printing goes.
i've also been printing for patti smith for about 15 years. i've always admired her words and music, and her photographs really touch me as well. she shoots polaroids and i reproduce them on a soft warm paper the same size as the originals, about 3x4 to 4x5 in. this requires very subtle moves as i have to go from cold glossy to warm matte keeping the feeling the images portray, usually very quiet and understated. all done with old-fashioned 4x5 copy negs for those who might wonder.
there is also sam erickson (who used to work at my lab as well), he went on to do a documentary about dave matthews and brought all the prints to do. and justin jay who was following puff daddy (at the time) everyday, everywhere, for maybe two years or so, coming back once in a while with a huge bag of film. kevin masur used to bring a lot of black and white prints as well, all from negs and a few at a time, i remember a very strong contrast but details everywhere. and i got to know about hip-hop better through the images i printed for ricky powell. a new york culture that was and is still through his eyes, and i made the prints always with a few great stories from ricky. same with don paulsen, many stories to go with all the 8x10's i made of a lot of his great images of the 60's and 70's.  and i can't forget nigel scott's pictures of bob marley that we printed in a way that he could include them on surfboard designs.  the boards look amazing.
i moved to new york in 1987 to do photography and film, in part because i would listen to a lot of new york music like patti smith, velvet underground and the ramones. i didn't think at the time that printing good ol' silver prints would bring me so close to a certain rock scene i was drawn to. i still listen to the music from that period, i do when i print for bob gruen (often), and i can listen to whatever i want whenever i want with pandora on my phone through speakers. it really changed the way a printing day goes. i used to play tapes (hotel california when i was 12 or so), listen to the radio, play cd's, more radio, ipod made a big difference, and now the biggest technological problem in my darkroom is the wifi. the music varies with what i print, from leonard cohen to led zepplin, reggae, from patti smith, bob dylan to the clash and tom waits. and a lot of french music. and the radio, live or on-demand brings the whole world into my darkroom. and this week i'm printing one of my favorite pictures of the clash, the 4 of them on stage by bob gruen. i really like that picture, it's a treat to print it, or them rather, as 20x24's, 16x20's and 11x14's. because at the end of the day, it's just about making prints.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

thank you

well, it's thanksgiving, time to say thank you. thank you to a few people who have helped me over the years as a printer. first of all, i have to remember that kim and alberto caputo took me to the next level in the lab world. the trust kim and alberto offered gave me confidence, lexington labs was a legend to me already, they helped me navigate the business side of things, they introduced me to everyone they dealt with. this was the one time someone trusted me with my skills, i'm really glad i took the opportunity. they led me through the first year of operations, through the hundreds of clients i needed to know how to print for. they made me understand the reality of photo printing as a career. i miss kim but i'm still in touch with alberto, and now i realize how the photo lab business takes a toll on one's well-being: it's like the (old) post-office, it keeps coming in... that's how it was then, and i can't thank them enough for letting me be a part of that particular history.
and a few teachers from the school of visual arts, especially abby robinson, curtice taylor, will faller, and last but not least sid kaplan. each one reinforced my passion, showed me new ways of looking i only knew the limits of. they each challenged me in ways that benefit me to this day - and i graduated in 1990! they criticized and praised me. they made me want to stay overnight many times to print b&w, color, cibachromes, platinum, whatever. and timothy druckrey for making me want to know the complicated history of photography. he would tell stories of photographers, curators, patrons, publishers, i just wanted to be part of what was next. thank you.
and, thank you to charlie griffin who always had the right attitude about fine-art printing.
we had a short week at griffin editions. simple. monday mitch epstein. tuesday vik muñiz and mauro restife. wednesday cindy sherman. that means 30x40 warm paper selenium toned, 20x30 matte selenium, 20x24 matte sepia and 30x40 glossy neutral. negatives 8x10, 6x7 and 35mm. as i was saying before, i do feel a bit schizophrenic in some occasions, like an actor playing a different character everyday. at the same time i have the privilege to print images i like. that wasn't always the case, but i don't judge what i print. i have to know what it's about, but i don't judge. i always give it my best, whatever the subject matter. i never forget that the print comes second, the image has to be seen first. if you see my print before the image it doesn't work. the print -in my view- has to support the image, help the subject come to life.
i like photographers who use depth of field as a tool.  my work leads me to look at contact sheets, know the pictures before and after the select, i can see the focus changing frame after frame.  to be able to see that is great for a printer, it gives you sort of a mood. a contact sheet puts me in the photographer's skin, i start to see how they see. some i know very well this way because i get to see the contacts even before they do sometimes. i discuss the different shots, give my opinion, listen to theirs along with a story of that day. it's a great process. going through dozens of stephen shame's black panthers' contacts before printing the book and the show was at the least educating, but certainly fascinating. most of the time i love the selects, and a couple times i wish he had chosen the next frame.  the image usually grows on me as i print it anyway.
that is why i never stop printing my own images. i often do a few prints of my own work to keep me on my toes. i also shoot on a regular basis to remember what it's like to be behind the camera. when i shoot i know what the print will look like, i shoot accordingly in order to print later. i always guess the light, i haven't used a light meter in a long time, that also helps me in the darkroom. i don't use a densitometer either. it takes a lot of paying attention but i have a visual memory, i remember the intensity of the light. and i know my enlargers pretty well, i've used the same two ilford multigrade 4x5's for at least ten years, and the dursts 8x10 for about that long too. before that the omega cold head, to print on graded paper, as well as different single light source enlargers to match prints made in the 30's or 40's. each tool has its pros and cons, now at griffin editions we even make laser exposed fibers prints directly from the light-jet. the tools keep changing but the fiber base silver gelatin print remains, probably more prized today than ever before. and that's a good thing. and i should give a thank you to the people at ilford who have always been very helpful through the transitions photo paper and film went through. thank you.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

printing gives me balance

one print at a time. one -very- large perfect print at a time. it seems to be the way black and white silver gelatin prints are going. when i started printing professionally, about 22 years ago, there were a lot of reproductions of old photos, via copy negs, on single weight paper. 8x10's and 11x14's, even many 5x7's, toned sepia. that has stopped. period.
then came the fashion photographers with their huge quantities of film and multitude of prints. the funny thing was, when the editorial was black and white, the advertising was color, and vice-versa. the pattern kept repeating. perfect examples were bruce weber or walter chin. when i owned lexington labs, it was normal to have 4 printers making 50 to 80 prints -different negs- each a day for bruce. the rolls of film were counted in the 100's. and there was a lot of toning and darkroom manipulation - remember the calvin klein ads?  i was often asked to make things disappear, to combine this and that. and what came to mind back then was something sid kaplan gave me to do as an exercise: a high key and a low key image on the same piece of paper, graded paper that is. multigrade fiber base paper was a new thing, and one just didn't use it. anyway, i don't make a hundred prints for the next day anymore. well, except last year, for lorna simpson. over 500 prints for her project, and about a week and a half to do it. these are times when a printer has to get into a rhythm and keep going without stopping, correcting exposures without tests, trusting one's instinct on reading negatives. a box of latent prints on the side of the easel, waiting to be processed later.
a large print for a gallery or museum is different, it is figured out almost inch by inch, with a precision that sometimes seems impossible to reproduce. that's a major factor when printing, i can never be lucky on a print because i most likely will have to make an edition, next month, next year etc. every movement i make i have to be able to reproduce at a later date. a print map is like a choreographer's notes i think. 2 steps to the left, arms up, lean back, hold, hold. done.
this week i also printed one of my own images for the holiday show at griffin editions in williamsburg. and of course the emulsion cracked in a corner so i'm using my second print. the drying of a mural fiber print is so delicate it's scary. right now we have humidifiers steaming up the paper as it dries, it helps keeping the emulsion soft. we roll up the dried prints as soon as we can. fibers stretch when wet, contract with heat. difficult to explain how i cannot match a size exactly, it is usually within 1/4 inch, sometimes 3/8... very different from pigment prints, or even c-prints, digital or not. even two prints made the same day from the same roll might dry a slightly different size. that's the nature of the medium. less noticeable on small prints -20x24” or less- because there might only be a 1/32 or 1/64 difference. the lesson here is to make the frame after the print is made, not before. i had to deal with all of that on friday printing for mitch epstein -his show in germany just opened so i'm back in the dark for more tree printing- and i have to match the height or it would look pretty bad if those prints are hung together at some point in the future. but at least i'm matching my own print, on the same emulsion number. perfect to finish the week. my first test was within 5% of the base exposure. i did the whole print by the numbers from my notes. film to wall distance, density filter factor, f stop, contrast filtration, exposure time, dodging and burning ratios. i've always liked math and chemistry, optics and physics, there's a formula for everything and i just plug in my own data to make things work. the art of printing relies on a general feel, but the basics are number-based, not zeros and ones but close. when i see a negative numbers pop up, numbers relating to time and light values. i can almost see the photons pushing each other toward the emulsion, crashing into the layers sensitive to separate hues. i can hold them, redirect them, suspend them for an instant and then let them settle on a speck of silver that will darken with just a few atoms. a little bit like glasses that gain density with the intensity of the sun. sodium thiosulfate is my friend, silver bromide my favorite salt. and i can explain why the sky is blue. photography has no secrets, printing gives me balance in life, i meditate in the dark.  and please, someone give me an app that keeps my phone screen red when i receive a call! i'm serious. i am.

Monday, November 12, 2012

listen and translate into shades of grays

well, i didn’t think the clean up from the flooding in new york would continue this week, but here we are.  nigel barker was able to finally get to his basement and brought over thousands of rolls in bins, negatives i processed at lexington labs about ten years ago.  strange to see the old logo on the glassines.  i was checking a roll drying, a color roll, i could see the twin towers burning.  how strange i thought.  nigel realized that not everything could be saved and had to decide what to save first.  we already had four people working on it all weekend, but time is against us.  we are now past the original scare, things are looking good for nigel.  he hasn’t shot film in about 10 years, but his first years as a photographer were shot on film, so there’s the added sentimental value.
i am also testing how to restore carter smith’s negatives.  same here, processed ten or more years ago, but they have dried already, so i have to soak them in clean water before i can assess the damage.  more on this later...
so with sandy and the election behind us, i went back in my darkroom.  first to catch up: finish lorna simpson small 5x5 prints and an image of iman by arthur elgort -match print- and move on to elizabeth heyert.  for elizabeth, i had made a test print of a new image before the storm, 2 figures wrapped in white gauze against a black background.  not easy to print white gauze, so bright yet so full of details.  but it’s a good 8x10 original negative so it makes things a lot easier.  her subject matter gravitates around trust and trance, bondage.  she isolates her subjects through her lightning, and i have to keep the intimacy of the moment on a large print.  despite all the craziness of drying all these strips of negatives around us, while talking to elizabeth about her print, i kept thinking of painting with light.  this particular image has to be printed in 3 sections: the background, the figures, and the floor.  painting with light is not a metaphor in this case.  shadows need to be emphasized, the floor is a bit distracting, and certain highlights should be brought out to direct the eye along the image.  a great challenge that reminds me of light painting more than usual.  elizabeth knows what kind of print she’s looking for and has the words to describe it, so i listen and translate into shades of grays.  to achieve the final look i print on a matte warm tone paper, very soft, that i develop to feel even warmer than usual.  i mix the developer in a way that helps me, based on my own experience, and i let the paper in the soup longer than usual.  again, there is no formula, as long as i stay consistent within that series.  and since i’m only as good as my last print, i also have to make this print feel like an object you want to stare at and touch –it is going to paris photo-.  elizabeth stays at the lab while I work out the right look, one step at a time.  and i make the final print after she returns to her heat-less studio –since sandy- on the west side in manhattan.
on a different note, i stayed home on veterans’ day to play with my kids, and i just read joel meyerowitz trying to compare color and black and white photography.  no comment.  well, many comments really, the first one being i can’t believe what i’m reading.  while  i understand his important contribution to color photography, he has no concept of black and white.  and that's perfectly fine, but then he should just say so, instead of saying how color represents what is in front of the camera better.  i know so many people -photographers and not- who can't see colors, i myself can go insane looking at color prints in galleries that have too much green, or yellow or whatever.  there's no point to mention books and magazines, and the online experience gives me a headache depending on what screen i'm looking at.  color is just as subjective as black and white, and i enjoy printing both.  i actually started as a color printer, making the parliament blue and marlboro red on duratrans.  anyway, i don't mean to single out joel meyerowitz , there is a lot of color vs b&w talk nowadays, with henri cartier-bresson and the colorization of vintage images, and i see it as irrelevant, pointless as comparing pencil drawings to oil paintings, or apples and oranges...  enough on that, i just got an email from mitch epstein -ryan- with images of a successful opening in cologne, the gallery looks beautiful and all i'm thinking about is 340-11-24M or 600-16-8Y.  i am never really done printing a series of images, unless another printer takes over at one time or another.  the advantage is that i know what to look for in these images of important trees around new york: the sky is too light, some shadows too deep, bark too soft.  the only problem i'll run into now will be overconfidence.  making a print is very humbling, i try to cut corners and it's a reject.  i try to rush too many in one day and they're rejects.  the trick now is too ignore the world around me for the day, to just think beautiful thoughts about the grayscale, anticipate what the selenium will do and keep track of my developer exhaustion.
tomorrow i will print images for vik muñiz, match a sepia tone from a toner that no longer exists -kodak was of no help with their phasing out products over the years- and then on to other projects i will talk about next week.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

hurricane sandy neg clean-up


quite a week here in new york! no printing, we lost power at griffin editions in tribeca, but the lab itself is on the 5th floor, so no flooding. i stayed home through the hurricane, my house is fine, and all the important projects suddenly took second -or third- place in things to do. new york is a disaster and printing photographs seems frivolous.
but, there's always a but, on wednesday i got a call from max snow, his entire negative archive in his studio in red hook got flooded. what to do? well, unfortunately, i knew exactly what to do because i've had to do it before. people store things in basements and basements flood, even without hurricanes. it was i think in the late 90's, when my good friend sy rubin -no longer with us- found his thousands of negatives soaked in water. dozens of boxes were brought to the lab -lexington labs was on 23rd street back then- and we started cleaning up the mess. acetate mixed with wet cardboard, slimy glassine and what not. i had to figure out what to do. first separate the acetate -the actual negative- from the rest. it had to be done in water so nothing would stick. but how long can you leave negatives wet before the emulsion just slides off? turns out negatives are very resilient, and even after a few days we were able to dry strips of 35 mm film without too much damage. sy was devastated but we saved about three quarters of his collection.
so when max brought in bins and bins of negatives to griffin in willamsburg -the digital part of the lab with electricity working- i already had a plan. manpower was needed because we only had so much time to dry everything. eli, mike, natalie, dennis -thank you- came to help and we set out to work. first we transferred the negs still in glassine or polypropylene into trays of cold clean water -film emulsion soften too fast in warm water- then we put up string lines with clothespins, and started to rip the glassine off carefully, and hang the film to dry. max has mostly 8x10's, some 2 1/4 as well, so it's a bit easier to handle than small strips of 35. the first round was getting dry, time to clean more, and repeat the process until the bins were empty. it took two and a half days. we even saved many contact sheets.
we cleaned up the most important negs first, max had to make a decision, and he wanted the images of his father and uncle first. that's what artists have to deal with in an emergency such as this one: what is really important and cannot be redone one way or another... perhaps we even have a new perspective about our work in the future. could one shoot only important images? probably not, but at least we can think a little harder about every project. anyway, on the third day max was starting to show some hint of a smile again, sandy didn't wipe out his work after all! prints don't survive that sort of treatment though, especially mounted fiber prints. there's not much i can do there. on a regular day, we look at mounted prints and reject them for a tiny -tiny- scratch... water damage doesn't go away on a print. the good news is: a print can be redone, and we have the negatives to do it.
so today i am home, thinking about sy rubin and his incredible collection of images about new york. he was still shooting the year he died in 2002, and i can only imagine what else he would have done. i know we were talking about his project about the water's edge over the five boroughs. he would have been done by now. i remember him sitting at the round table when he used to stop by on saturdays and tell me stories about street photography in new york over the years. i miss him.
when sept 11 happened, it was a different kind of tragedy. i was at work, but then it was about processing film, non-stop for 2 weeks after the event. everyone shot film back then, and my lab was above 14th street so i was operational. negatives that got damaged couldn't be saved. i'm thinking of a few i had printed before for jacques lowe -no longer with us- and had recently been moved to the world trade center. kennedy negs, jazz greats negs and so many more beautiful images. i'm thinking about jacques lowe today as well.
the 2 weeks after sept 11, the magnum -and other agencies- photographers were in town and many shot black and white, the film was coming in constantly, from early morning to late evening. i didn't watch TV that week, but i saw the unedited version through the lens of many. today i think about all the people in the towers that day. i think of the weekend before when i went to meet marc riboud at the leica gallery, about the importance for a photographer to be at the right place at the right time... even some places and times you wish didn't exist.
but things will get back to normal. when people are lost, houses broken and lives changed, artwork seems unimportant. but things will get back to normal, and artwork will get its place back, it will dress up our walls again, it will make us think again, it will get us through some good and bad days, it will be important again. well, everything is relative.
next week i will be back in my darkroom -electricity is back in tribeca- for projects to finish. prints to make for lorna simpson and others. i'm not sure at this point what i'll have to do, priorities have changed this week, but life still goes on.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

no machine to make these

it feels as if i'm on a break from making prints for mitch epstein. it's been well over a year since the first 8x10 negatives have been processed, and now i can relax. if i may write a few words about printing for mitch epstein: it started with processing his 8x10 film, which i love because i can control what kind of negative to print from. great so far, but to make them as 54x68 inches! a huge challenge at first, but a real pleasure once i found a way to do it. i can safely say that they are among the best prints i've made in a long time, in the classic sense of silver gelatin black and white printing. for those who don't know, there is no machine to make these, each print is done by hand, one at a time. anyway, not this week. although, i spent my summer -well, 2 days a week- printing a 20x24 portfolio -well, 6 portfolios really- version of the body of work, and this week i had to replace a print that's missing somehow. i printed a mitch epstein tree this week after all. 20x24 almost feels too small for these images full of details. after my darkroom workout of exposing prints 54x68, a 20x24 seems really small, a postage stamp. to make a mural print -fiber base paper comes in rolls 56 inches wide- you really have to do a dance in front of the lens to dodge and burn. the exposure is minutes long, sometimes minutes more to burn certain areas, arms up, holding cards and hands and other devices, moving along the shapes to the rhythm of -in mitch's case, leonard cohen- with the clock ticking backward. i can't miss a step or the print is bad. i miss a step and i have to start from the beginning. so i don't because i don't like to do things twice. for zoe leonard's prints i tend to listen to radiohead or cat power. but that's another story. anyway, all this to say i'm proud of these prints.
also, this week i'm printing 2 50x60 inch prints for max snow, high key prints from thiner than i'd like negatives -but there's a trick for everything- and match two different images. again, i had done workprints to understand what to do, and the first image turned out better than i expected. max was happy, and just a couple of black spots from pinholes and dust -unfortunatly common on 8x10 film- to bleach. then selenium tone and it's ready for mounting. to mount large fiber prints is a dangerous affair for the printer, things can go wrong, so i always make an extra print, just in case.
and yesterday, latoya frazier came in to see a series of 20x24 prints, the same that were just shown at the whitney, which i just made a few months ago. nothing new here, i had kept a set of extras -a bit light- to make sure the prints stay consistant. i always keep some kind of work print, or extra, to help me in the future. on mural prints i keep notes, but it's just a starting point, the emulsion changes, as does the chemistry, the humidity etc. too humid in the summer, too dry in the winter. it's a mess. and photographers and collectors look at a 50 by something toned fiber print with a loupe, or at least from 3 inches away. any mark on the print and it's a reject. then it gets mounted, any mark and it's a redo. then it gets framed, any mark and it's a redo. as a printer i trust the finishers to have the same standards i have, and the shows can go on.
i have a few images to print for zoe leonard, and if you've seen her pictures of the sun, i know you already look at light in a different way. i know i do.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

this is my life...

funny. as i decide to write about my days in the darkroom, i worry that not much will happen. ha! this week is interesting, just as any other week really. monday: chien-chi chang. tuesday: al wertheimer and ruven afanador. but before i go on with my week, you have to understand: a printer's experience is but a list of photographers and artists coming in to get their work done. without this list i am nothing. without the images and negatives made by someone else, i have nothing. in this sense, printing is very much like performing. my performance happens in the dark behing closed doors. no one really knows what i do once my door is closed and i go to work. what matters is the end product, the print. as a matter of fact, very few people care to know the details, most use the word “magic” to describe a black and white print appearing slowly in the developer. let me assure you, there is nothing magic about the process. a silver gelatin print is the product of ingeneous chemists over many years, and the technology used to make the emulsion is brilliant. but i am getting off the subject, let's get back to the negative, that fragile piece of acetate that holds all the information. there are so many ways to interpret a negative, i usually need to make a work print, a first approach if you will, so the conversation can start on how to proceed. it is a long process, and the more i know the photographer the more i'll get out of the negative. i need to see the image through their eyes. i do feel a bit schizophrenic some days, going from one type of print to the next, but a good print is only good if the photographer likes it. i have to adapt to their style and vision. most of the time it is a joint effort, but now and then, i just match prints that have been done many times by several printers before me. this week i am doing a little bit of both. an image of elvis presley by al wertheimer shot in 1956 -that's 10 years before i was born-, a print of the cover of torero by ruven afanador, which i've made many times in different sizes, new images by mauro restife of the philip johnson glass house, and the dalai lama by chien-chi chang. sizes ranging from 16x20 to 54x81 inches, some warmtone, or glossy, or matte, etc. every image has a story behind it, and i need to hear about it before i print.
this is not a blog about printing techniques, it's about how a print ends up looking the way it does. my best prints happen when i'm able to break the rules of printing. another important part of my work is the vocabulary used to describe a printed image: too flat, too dark... is just the begining, and it ends up being: i don't get the feeling that the sunlight is coming through the leaves strong enough... there's no special setting for that. but if i'm outside on a sunny day with that particular photographer, and they seem to squint more than i do, i know their understanding of brightness is not as bright as mine -or vice-versa-.
the week is getting to an end, and already bob gruen has brought in a couple of iconic negatives, which i could almost print with my eyes closed by now. next week is his birthday, and i have a soccer game to play tonight. the numbers associated with bob's tina turner picture pop into my head, something like 52-11-2. but chien-chi will be here soon, and i have to show him the two 40x60 in. prints i made for him, so we can make sure they compliment each other, they will be displayed at art-paris together. almost time to dump the 7 gallons of developer i used today and rinse the sinks. next week promises to be filled with new images, and i haven't even talked about processing film yet...