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...

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