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.