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...