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.