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.