Tuesday, December 31, 2013

classic and neutral

for the good news, ilford is improving their neutral tone multigrade emulsion. same hahnemühl paper base, but great step up in iso and dmax. i have been testing it for a couple months now, trying to understand the reality of it. long story short: it ends up looking exactly like the multi IV. it even tones selenium the same way. the best part is the speed, my exposures were on average about 30% shorter, great advantage for printing lots of 16x20's or 20x24's, but also being able to close down half a stop more and keep the sharpness. so it's all good, no need to warn anyone about the change, it's just an internal darkroom adaptation. and for murals with exposure times in the minutes, 30% cut down on exposure is a huge advantage.
in addition, the image appears at about 30 seconds in the developer, like the warm tone emulsion (which remains the same), as opposed to a minute. it makes no difference really, you still need 2 to 3 minutes to get to full development, that's just the way it works. it is now called multigrade classic. we've come a long way since a respectable printer wouldn't touch multigrade papers with a 10 foot pole!

moreover, ilford has now added a cold tone emulsion to their arsenal. i had been waiting for it for years, and it felt really good to finally slip it in an easel. i had made so many prints on the kodak polymax, i really missed it when the production stopped.
the thing about a cold tone emulsion is that it doesn't really look cold until you see it next to a neutral tone print. it is a subtle difference, and ilford seems to have translated the concept. i have printed a few negatives on it for a better understanding of what it does, and it will work great for certain images, but as i'll recommend it to some photographers, i'll have to be very careful on the first tests: unless the overall image improves with the new emulsion, there will be no need to switch. new projects will be more appropriate for a new paper. that's my guess.
testing emulsions always brings up new problems, and solves old ones. when i first worked on ilford's warm tone there was a great need for it. oriental and agfa were staples in any commercial darkroom. personally i never liked printing on oriental, but agfa 111 and 118 were part of my everyday. forte was also part of the picture, great surface but much too inconsistent to rely on day after day. anyway, the first batch of the ilford warm tone emulsion had an olive cast to it, but i loved it right away, and suggested it to lorna simpson for her show 'call waiting' at sean kelly gallery, then in soho. the whole series was printed from unmarked boxes of 16x20 paper.  funny thing is, that same olive undertone showed up again a few years later when jocchi melero sent me prints to match that he had made in puerto rico - just a side note to point out that water chemical composition affects the hue of black and white papers. 
but let's go back to the new neutral emulsion from ilford, because this time it's only a big deal for printers: faster emulsions are just good to work with through long darkroom days. the important part about this change really, is to show that it matches the old emulsion. no change is good change, at least in the darkroom world, in order to continue and complete on-going editions.
photo paper emulsions change more than once a generation, manufacturing concerns oblige. we take silver gelatin for granted, when in fact we rely on a handful of people to make it work in the business world. when, and if, it becomes financially impossible to pursue, it will follow other processes of the past. fashion and portrait photographers used to love and shoot polaroid peel-off emulsion, but within 2 or 3 years they were wooed away by pixels, and polaroid stopped. just like that. when the majority of fine art photographers find another process, then you tell me: will there be anyone willing to have a business for a selected few? the beauty of silver gelatin, besides the depth it provides for the print as an object of desire, is its ability to be consistent -on a large scale- year after year, for an unmistakable look.
this is why i test papers seriously, i test papers to print for others and produce entire bodies of work within budgets and deadlines, simultaneously. so if you're a fan of film and silver gelatin photography, think twice before you start a new project, not everything can be fixed with photoshop... or if you've never shot film or made darkroom black and white prints, well, try it, i'm sure anyone like me will be more than happy to guide you through the process.
and that's all i have to say about that.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

lou reed in my darkroom

lou reed . self portrait

it was in the late nineties, at lexington labs. lou reed needed some help to print some of his negatives. he apparently had taken pictures for a while, and wanted to put a few images together for a show. he didn't know what to ask for, he had to see what could be done before he would decide which way to go. he wanted to understand the process, so we thought it might be best to work together in my darkroom. now, i'm gonna stop right here. i may sound all matter of fact, but inside i was completely shaken, meeting a teenage idol. i've listened to a lot of velvet underground and lou reed for a long time. one of the first tapes i had for my brand new walkman in 1980! i was back to the kid inside, but i'm a professional :) and i couldn't wait to start. i wanted to know what he would think about what i do. i knew his music, but he knew nothing about what i do.
those days spent with lou reed, looking at negatives, figuring out what to print and how, were very special to me. it was the first time i collaborated with an artist who happens to work with photography for a particular project. the approach is so different than from that of a photographer's (myself included). 'why not?' comes up a lot. i may find a solution. i may need to dig further, i get to discover things and tricks i wouldn't have otherwise. and he was asking about everything. at the end he liked neutral matte and warm tone glossy. we'd print too dark, too light, even print some icebergs as negatives, looking like rocks. crop here, and there. everything looked like something else. it was a great process. music to my ears. birds and landscapes. a picture of timothy greenfield-sanders in venice, and buildings at night, laurie anderson with a camera, and many other visual experiments. i was trying to match his speech with visual responses. a lot of images that i liked, and still do.
at that time i was also printing the transformer image by mick rock. one of the prints was pinned in my darkroom, so i didn't have to say how much his music meant to me. blind spot was being produced at lexington then, so kim caputo used the '3 maidens' statue picture i took, for lou reed to write a r.i.p. note to william burroughs 'thanks a bunch for giving us your naked lunch'. i was printing pictures of, or by musicians almost everyday, the lab was a comfortable place to be, the darkroom quiet, and we kept the conversation to the images. i wanted to ask him so many questions, all the time. but kept it to a very minimum. that time, in my darkroom with lou reed, was about printing, trying to find ways to put images on paper. playing with the scale, odd crops and other techniques.
the funny thing is, i was nervous about how his photographs would be received by the public. very soon after i would be done with the prints, a great number of people would see them, i knew there would be many opinions. in fact, i felt like a silent partner, proud when they were praised, and upset when put down. it must not be easy to be a part of different art communities, there is always the one label that sticks. i've enjoyed his music for a long time, and now his images.
that's my story of lou reed. thanks to my darkroom :)
sad that he's gone. i am.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

vietnam war images

photo by charles zoeller

first things first: i am a life-long pacifist, against any and all military anything, and any kind of weapon for any purpose. i have a profound aversion toward all weapon manufacturers.
that said, when A.P. wanted to print a show of their images of the vietnam war, i wanted to print it because nothing in these images glorifies the act of war. these images tell stories from the point of view of many (some anonymous) photographers. i had been hoping to print them since august, i went on vacation, and the first project i worked on when i came back was actually an-my lê's images of the vietnam war re-enactment that seem so real, at least to me. i'm not sure if it's coincidence or irony. her images were shot in the outer-banks, in north carolina.
in french high school i didn't really study that time in indochina, it was a pretty small part of my textbooks. the war in algeria was covered a lot more. in any case, i'm printing now a number of classic A.P. images from the war in vietnam, with a full descriptive paragraph with each negative, you have no idea how careful i am with them! they are mostly 35 mm, but also 2 1/4 and 4x5. the equipment was so simple then: leica (or similar), rollei and graflex. each with their own purpose. the negatives i've had in my hands are all in really good shape, even if a few of them got the frame notched a bit too close to the sprockets, very close to tearing. and amazingly well exposed and processed. the strange thing is, i feel like i'm printing movie stills, movies about the war. i say that with a long delay between the actual events and today. so of course, i look for a soundtrack to fit what i happen to be printing, anywhere from jimi hendrix to bob dylan, the doors and the stones.
i just want to do the images justice, so i place myself back in time, perhaps even in the A.P. darkroom making 8x10 rc prints most likely (rc surface was brand new then). these images are so well-known, it's hard to look at them as if for the first time. but through printing, i see details i had never seen before. for example, as i was making a 40x60 in. print of soldiers carrying a wounded man -larry burrows is with them- fending themselves from the wind of the helicopter, i notice they are standing in a pineapple patch. i had never seen all these pineapples.
as i was printing the series of images that malcolm browne took of the buddhist monk burning himself in protest, my friend nicky vreeland came in to say hello. he is a tibetan monk, well, abbott now. another coincidence that opened the conversation between us. and that is what these images do: they make us express our opinions, learn history, and hopefully how not to repeat it. of course, i cannot look away from the subject, i have to study the negs, do some tests, and the face of that monk burning is forever etched in my brain. i try and go through the motions of moving the greyscale around, but it's useless, the images are too overpowering, i have to pay attention to the subject to make a decent print.
in my research i was looking for the book 'requiem' to get yet another version of certain images, and, coincidence, as i walk into the strand bookstore, there it is, right outside the door, on the $5 bins on wheels. i grabbed it. photographs can be reproduced in so many different ways it can get confusing. but in the end, for the purpose of this project, it has been charles zoeller from A.P. who gave me the feedback needed. he's also been the one who brought me the negs a few at a time, out of the A.P. safe. and the negs go into the safe at the lab -except when they just have to be placed between my light and lens. a short period of time really.
before i start the printing process, i read the caption, i look at the book -the new one from A.P.- and then i decide what it should look like. at first i was trying to make the images look too finished and perfect. after a few tries i was finally able to let go and let the mood of each neg dictate the final image. once i concentrated on the mood, i wasn't too worried about each and every detail, just the important ones. my prints started to feel right, and when steve kasher and chuck zoeller got to see my first batch, we all agreed which worked and which didn't. one quick look and my 'perfect' prints jumped out of the series like sore thumbs. it might seem easy to go with the flow, but as a printer it is quite unnatural to let go the control of the light. but these are raw documentary war pictures, there is nothing to change, just to convey the moments, one moment after another. one very difficult moment to look at after another. in the dark i keep telling myself 'well, that's what war is and does', then i understand better the need to show images such as these. nobody should want to see any more war pictures. and yet, decades later, more wars, more people suffering from them, with no end in sight, all over the world.
i'm still hopeful mostly, the days i take in between to work on prints with different subjects. i printed edition prints -toned- for vik muñiz thread series. a 30x40 show (9 to be exact) for allen frame. doing some toning tests for elliott landy's the band in woodstock. even landscapes on glass plates for lisa elmaleh, and some sex pistols pictures -the one on the plane- for bob gruen. also a print for the mirror series for carrie mae weems (congratulations on the genius award!). one more, a new series of images from gordon park's archive. selenium. oh, and a negative and a test print -or two- for kenro izu, just a first approach really. i almost forgot elvis for al wertheimer and nudes for ariane lopez-huici, as well as a great 1976 pool shot by arthur elgort on 30x40 paper.
and all the images mentioned above are worth much more than a thousand words.
i am finishing to print now the series of eddie adams' pictures of the execution in a street of saigon, and it looks like war, it feels like war. it is war. very difficult to understand. at least for me.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

vacation's over...

well, a printer's life does get pretty busy at times, a full schedule means no time for re-dos or too much testing, it means having to handle different types of negs, papers and sizes on the same day. i try to put together similar settings, but it's not always possible...
so what is the state of supplies for silver printing you ask?  well, it's never been better really.  silver printing has a full array of available products to be used in endless combinations.  don't forget that pigment printing has only the one set of cartridges from each manufacturers, c- prints come in glossy and pearl.  and that's it.  the best optics for b+w are being sold for nothing these days.  i say it's a great time for analog photography.  yes, the paper has changed, but that was about 15 years ago, so most of us are way past that by now, multigrade printing has been the norm for a long time.  it is easier to match vintage prints, understanding there is always a bit of compromise while doing so.  but still, almost everyday i am asked if it's still possible to print silver gelatin, or shoot film.  it is more expensive comparatively, but one shoots less on film than digitally.  not better or worse, just different. when you shoot film you know how many sheets and holders you have, you know what frame number you're on with a roll.  you think twice about pressing the shutter. and you pass on images that you know deep down will not be used.  editing is simpler in a sense, while i mostly hear about the struggle digital photographers have going through the thousands of frames they bring home, hoping to find the one.  when you shoot film, you pretty much know which is the one as you shoot it, and if not, you only shoot 2 or 3 frames anyway... film photographers look at digital capture the way the view camera generation looked at these crazy kids with their 35mm cameras. and printing is no exception, it just takes longer to make a print from negative than from a file, it is more expensive to produce, and less people have the skills. so why are so many people still doing it? it has a history, it makes a point, it means to pick a process used by a smaller crowd. film photography was all we knew for a long time, we took our photos for granted, knowing their flaws but still amazed by what film could record. now most images we see are on screen, we rarely stop and really look, for that we go to a show, a museum, somewhere to look at real prints. photographers sell prints for a living, so the cachet a silver gelatin print carries has some weight in that decision. printing is an art form that should complement the images, a bad black and white print can kill an image. black and white relies on the print, people talk about the prints at a b+w show, less so if they are color.
in the b+w analog world, the print is an object, something to hold, to examine from different angles, under different lights.  b+w aficionados will ask which paper it is, what film was used, etc.
from my point of view, within the small world i live in, my darkroom, the silver gelatin print seems alive and well. lately i've printed for a number of portfolios, shows, international fairs, and edition-ed prints, enough to keep me on my toes, enough to preserve my passion for the medium. and digital printing has helped b+w improve and respond for a need of high quality products. the declining percentage of photographers using film gives those who do even more pride in the process, and thus leaving perfecting digital printing to digital photographers. the two processes get compared constantly, so each improves, either together or independently. it is a great time for darkroom printing. i saw it slip away from commercial photography so fast, i was secretly expecting it was done for a few years ago. at least for the type of work i do.
all this to say, yes, there is still a wide range of materials to use in analog b+w photography.  you can't just run to the corner store anymore to buy your stuff, but if you plan ahead, you should have no problems producing negs and prints for your projects.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

chameleon brain

back to talking about the everyday. i just read somewhere online about people doing a negative exchange program, i think that's great. this is how i got to step it up a notch with my darkroom skills. i used to print my friends' negs when i was in college, mostly because most people didn't like to print. it really showed me how much of a final image photographers have in mind when they hand you over their negs. it was a great learning period. at first i was just playing for my own purpose, truly interpreting what i was given, and not always to my friends' satisfaction. of course, i still do a lot of interpretive printing today, but at least now i know the questions to ask before i start, questions such as "what is the image about?", or "is this a series?", "are you done with the project, or is this ongoing?, even "can i see some of your other work?". once i know all that -and more- i can start thinking about the negative. don't forget, i don't start printing as soon as i receive a neg, i have a few days -weeks- usually until my schedule allows me. so, in the meantime, i think, i solve problems in my head, i visualize many final prints until one feels right. and the day i face the challenge i'm more relaxed about it. is it a portrait about hope or depression? got to make the print in context. i have to convey that message without being obvious. i put myself behind the camera, in the moment, you might even say role-play. i morph, become someone else. i try to get the satisfaction of capturing the moment a photographer gets when the shutter opens and shuts. i must have a chameleon in my brain. i fulfill -almost- all my darkroom fantasies. but that comes with a price: i can lose my own identity from time to time. if i hadn't become a printer i may have been a psychologist, able to enter someone else's brain and interpret their thoughts.
sometimes i draw from my experience as a live interpreter, or from my work as a literary translator -french|english, last one being a text for anne senstad venice biennal catalog- or in my everyday life with portuguese, or when i lived in spain, and went as far as dreaming in spanish, or when i first learnt english for that matter. all this helps to put words into images, and hopefully nothing gets lost in translation. i like to understand different cultures, understand where people come from, what their words and images really mean. printing as a career often goes way beyond printing. it's about the history of printing, and for certain photographer's estates, i have to understand past styles and points of view. sometimes i can be like a chameleon traveling through time, or different aesthetics. so when i talk about making an educated guess on my first exposure, i mean just that. all that.
looking back on my last 3 weeks in the darkroom, chasing after my short term memory, digging into the long term, i do feel lost. in the past 3 weeks i have been successively mitch epstein, elizabeth heyert, bruce gilden, tseng kwon chi, carrie mae weems, bob gruen, lisa oppenheim, n. vreeland, len prince and gordon parks. it could be worse as far as multiple personalities go, but derrida couldn't deconstruct me any more at this point. this is also why my darkroom needs to be a fortress of silence, where i can hear myself think and concentrate on the whole picture so the details don't get in my way. except for the moments of music during the actual exposing and processing. so for those who were wondering, this is why i'm a bit anti-social when i print... to be fair though, i don't think darkroom printers in general are social butterflies. once the door is closed the whole world seems to fade away. things move at a different pace in the dark, and printers spend, well, about 8 hours a day in there, moving between wet and dry, light on and off... but ask anyone of them: there's nothing quite like it.

analog writing?

Saturday, June 29, 2013

toning anyone?

well, there's a vast subject...  yet very much on the decline.  in theory, toning a black and white fiber base silver gelatin print adds a new layer of tones, for different reasons, either for look or permanence.  so let's start with the archival purpose of toning, as a silver print is only as archival, meaning stable,  as the silver halides within its emulsion.  stable meaning the ability of the metal to be exposed to light, darkened with developer, fixed, and again exposed to light and humidity later as we look at it.  so to achieve better stability, we trade up metals.  the most common ,in order of permanence, being silver, selenium and gold.  selenium and gold are direct toners, metals actually coating the silver. they contain a deeper black tone, they add richness to the silver image, even color it, depending on its dilution and length of time used. i love those, even if selenium has a strong smell that can give you a headache and stain everything, even if gold is rather expensive and exhausts itself after each print. i love them because, for one, selenium can be used to help a print, to give an image that extra richness if it cannot be achieved in the exposure. think thin neg printed on low grade to pull the most details, but when you hit with a high grade filter it just kills it. anyway, diluted for permanence, selenium should do very little to the emulsion, except protecting it from light, heat and humidity. selenium can split tone warmtone papers, separating the light and dark grays into reds and greens. it can look beautiful, some images just seem to be made for it. selenium can also give a beautiful purple, evenly throughout the image, discreet or deep. it can go to a brownish hue. it can be mixed with so many different other toners the possibilities are endless. gold is similar, it fits the silver like a glove and keeps it from deteriorating. on a silver print it can also just increase the d-max, it can give a print a bluish hue. certain dilutions go warmer. gold can be combined with other toners. once, by accident, i discovered that on the right mid-tones of an emulsion, with gold crystals diluted in water, those mid-tones turn neutral and all darker shades stay warm. lucky for me, i was at the time trying to figure out how to print a fashion story walter chin had shot about silver clothing and accessories. it looked as if the shiny silver had been painted on. this is back when an image for magazines or advertising was done in the darkroom, not in photoshop. years ago. selenium and gold are single bath toners, simple in practice, fairly easy to be consistent on many prints. yet when they are mixed with other toners though, the results can vary slightly from the smallest detail. that can be very frustrating when making an edition... because as a printer, as always, i need to reproduce what i do. i can't get a tone by luck, it's useless. i only do that with my own images and looking for a unique print. for the people i print for i need to find a repeatable formula, and whether the recipe includes a bleach, an activator or a toner, whether the print needs to be light or dark, testing can take many tries. when i come up with a print i like, and a tone that fits, i have to write down every little detail about it. and then try it again, and again, changing variables, i simplify as much as possible the process. and still, the next day atmospheric conditions have changed and i can't match. don't laugh, even the water has to be the exact same temperature for the wash, it has to be filtered the same way because of metal impurities. a print has to be washed before, in between and after for the exact same amount of time. tray contamination plays its part, as well as inconsistency from the companies that package the chemicals. just like seeing a print appear in the developer, it's not magic, but instead carefully orchestrated and tested over time. a darkroom is called a laboratory, it's a place where process research notes can take more space than most libraries. the notes can be general or client specific, out in the open or sworn to secrecy, written on a clean sheet of paper or in the back of a print... whatever. and since printing is an art form, most tricks of the different processes are stored in the brain of printers. for example, i met ruven afanador after he published sombra, when he needed prints to show, and the printer who had made the prints for the book had disappeared. i was given a box of 11x14's, with all sorts of intricate tones -if you know the book you'll understand- but not one single note. not even what type of paper had been used. so i started to do my own testing -yadda yadda yadda- and i was able to match the book on prints 16x20 or larger. toning is greatly affected by the type of developer -and fixer- used, so to re-do about 20 or 30 different tones someone may have gotten by chance -or not- was a challenge. but in the custom photo lab world it almost becomes just another project to figure out, another puzzle to solve. this is why it is so important to know what does what and how. i have to be able to recognize if the color is off because my print was too light, my first bath chemistry too strong, or the second bath too diluted. if i used the wrong surface -glossy and matte do tone differently, as do warmtone or not-, i have to recognize which step to adjust, and only change one thing at a time or the experiment is useless... most tones will change slightly over time -i am not including selenium, gold or bleach through silver bromide/iodide- most metal toners shift in color and density. an iron blue or a copper red are not stable, so if i use an old tone sample to match i have to be aware of that. i ask for color swatches to help me start a new tone, as it is very difficult to communicate color on a black and white print. sepia alone can be yellowish, deep brown, light beige, almost orange... and that's an easy one! blue may be brilliant or dull, copper can age as it does on the awning above my front door at home. the question is: why is the print getting toned? when timothy greenfield-sanders shot the ad campaign for ups, i had to come up with the new “brown”, and figure out what it could do for me... do i stain a light print or bleach a dark one? brown toner with selenium? i didn't know, but i was able to give options, and we went from there. remember the old calvin klein obsession ads that bruce weber shot? that was all done with toners in the darkroom. interview, paper magazine and vogue would often ask to add color to monochrome images. i've made platinum-looking prints on silver gelatin by mcdermott and mcgough, made prints look old, selectively toned part of images. red and blue prints for ralph lauren store windows, and the architecture images of anderson and low in a specific sepia. vik muniz still asks for toned prints. but nowadays it's rare that i'm asked to do any of it. i think because most artists and photographers are just not aware of the possibilities. it's a lost art. my technical index cards are getting dusty and i get nostalgic for the practice. well, not really. my point is it's a lost art. although, there is one artist who understands toning as an important part of photo history. hiroshi sugimoto pushes the envelope reproducing some of talbot's early paper negatives. i have worked on some of the small tests, and always offer my 2 cents on details, the 30x40 editions are just beautiful to look at, worth the trip whenever they are being shown somewhere.  anyway, those are some of the most complicated and beautiful tones i've ever seen. and at that size, to match a dozen or so of the same image can bring one close to the edge of insanity. if you have the chance to see some of these originals, make the effort and go.
in the future, i think tones will be used for unique prints, as editions will be a thing of the past and a single print will be more valuable from a prolific artist. perhaps even book reproduction quality will be taken seriously -not just selectively- and those tones will find a place to be seen by a wider audience.

photo by len prince  1999 - sepia toned
it's been a long ride !

Thursday, June 20, 2013

more about the negative

making negatives on acetate stirs so many opinions, i feel i should explore the subject a bit further. since my last entry, i heard from so many people, some with questions, some with solutions, i was surprised that no one said "i want to make this or that type of print, what should i do with my negative?"  and unless you're showing your negs as a final piece, a neg is made only for printing purposes.  it dictates the final print, especially if your darkroom abilities are limited.  many times i've had to come up with a final print that had nothing to do with the neg, but then the image becomes a collaboration between the photographer and me.  notice that i say the photographer, not the artist, because those who use photography as just a part of their artwork look for that collaboration.  they have a final image in mind and ask me to get there, so i offer options and we go from there.  and sometimes i have to say "not from this negative..."  the choice of film we use comes from, or should in many ways, our idea of what the final print looks like.  if i tell a film photographer that i'm shooting a project indoors, with a half-frame camera loaded with tmz exposed at 6400 iso and processed in d-76 at 70 degrees f, being printed 8x12 in. on neutral tone glossy paper, they'll know exactly what i'm talking about.  but still, i usually have to show a sample print of that type of process.  i have to show someone else's print in order to show the look, while explaining that every image does look different even when using the same process.  it's all about educating photographers with the processes available.  so most people stick to one look, it's easier  to visualize the final print that way.  besides, analog photography is not a cheap medium to experiment and just try different things.  a lot of my clients do the preliminary work at home in order to show me their ideas, and then i have a starting point, a direction to follow.  that's what a printer does, because there's a good chance i have tried something similar before, and that i have notes, even a work print.  and i happen to print black and white now, but it is true for color as well.  certain feelings come through from different techniques. and it all starts when you load the film in your camera. you make a choice from the beginning.  the film speed dictates your shutter speed and f-stop.  the development controls the grain size and the information details.  iso settings for emulsions are arbitrary, they only make sense when compared to other emulsions.  the theory of film speed is far from reality, the same way a light meter only knows how to place any reflectance into a middle gray.  the emulsion doesn't know if your subject is black or white, you have to help it along with your exposure and development.  do you want your print to be realistic or not?  do you always shoot in the same light?  do you care to be consistent?  do you adapt your print to the content, or do you make your print invisible and emphasize your subject?  well, all these questions are answered within the limits of your technical understanding of the technology.  and things change over time, manufacturers discontinue products and unveil new ones, we adapt and keep shooting.  i never felt nostalgic about a product that is no longer made, and from my experience, film emulsion changes affects us less than paper types, only because we show our prints, not our film.  if i show you 2 prints, would you know which one was printed from tri-x and which one from hp-5?  and yet everyone has an opinion about these particular film stocks.  the reality is that they are almost interchangeable.  let me repeat this: they are almost interchangeable.  and i say almost only because i include any special effect you might want to do with them.  the lens you use in front of your camera makes as much of a difference than the film inside.  the camera itself is just a black box, and to me is almost irrelevant.  as long as i can put the lens i like on it, it's a good camera...  film grain changes whether you've over or underexposed the emulsion, it changes if you like low or high contrast, dark or light.  it changes according to the print size, the paper surface etc.  my point is, always think two steps ahead, it's not that easy to transform our 3 dimensional vision onto a piece of paper, but some do it with style, we know who they are because we recognize their prints in about 2 seconds...  whether they make the prints themselves or not, whether they process their film themselves or not, whether they always shoot the same film stock or not...

Saturday, May 25, 2013

about the negative

from new york arbor by mitch epstein

shooting film for my own work is the fruit of a long period of time thinking about and visualizing how the print will look, and adjusting my exposure and developement. simple enough, right? and it's a good thing i had done a lot of exposing and developing every which way possible before i started doing it for others. i started developing film at 12, with a step-by-step book on the sink of the bathroom. and not just black and white, chromes too. there were no labs near where i grew up. so i had made all the mistakes to be be made before i handled dozens at first, then hundreds of rolls or sheets a day. all this from the early nineties when everyone experimented with new possibilities to use film. and the possibilities are endless and very subjective. it really depends on how you like your prints to look. i mean, for example, people were shooting polaroid pos/neg just in the hope to get the perfect mistake at the right place. we would receive buckets full of wet negs in black goo (for lack of a better word) every day. or pushing tri-x to its limits. or testing rodinal 1:25 vs 1:50 to really understand the physical reality of the film curve (ralph gibson got my last box of rodinal, anyone else i would have said no). or plus-x in acufine. a surprise for me was t-max 100 processed in rodinal 1:50. it made a beautiful negative. tri-x in hc-110 for bert stern's reebok ads. walter chin's polaroid negs for club monaco. tri-x under-exposed and under-developed for roger moenk's class of click. len prince's glamour 8x10 negs were always so rich in tones. and bruce weber seemed to gain contrast in his vision over the years. the late sy rubin used to bring me his exposed rolls of 35mm (all types of different films with notes written everywhere) in a big bag, once a year, about 500 rolls worth. he wanted to see it all at once, he would never look at it half-way through. there were the 4x5 ready-loads, others shooting with pinholes in every format, with plastic cameras, hasselblad, panoramics. and of course the 11x14 hp-5 of john dugdale and timothy greenfield-sanders. there is a solution for everything, it's a matter of finding the right combination of ingredients. trial and error, testing, more testing... some standards are established for the bulk of film processing, as some photographers are just interested in getting the shot, the details beyond that doesn't really interest them. many times i would ask the photographer, or the assistant to adjust the exposure so i could later make their prints better and faster with more ease.
film can be processed by hand (small or large tanks), in rotary tubes (like jobo), or in a dip and dunk machine. every technique has its pros and cons, every method has its application. i don't find one “better” over another, only more appropriate to the vision of the photographer, as long as the negative doesn't limit the printing. and when it does, i have to compromise the quality of the print. what matters to me is to place the reflectance of the subject within the printable range later. what i mean is, knowing the incident light is one thing, but it is important to understand the ratio of reflectance given by the subject compared to the luminance ratio of the negative on one hand, and then of the printing material. the short print scale of the photo paper needs to represent the full spectrum we experience in real life in order to look real. in black and white photography, a real-life black maybe dark gray, or a real-life white maybe light gray. so when shooting on a negative support, you have to think a couple of steps ahead. how much detail can i hold in the shadows of my neg before i lose my first black on a paper at grade 3? for example. the answer is in the testing. the requiered negative value for a particular print should be recorded according to the intended developement, to adjust the developement from an error in exposure limits the range available to the negative, and ultimately to the print.
personally, i look at my negatives with a loupe on a lightbox until i understand how i can make the print, but i am not surprised as to what i see on the negative: i know exactly what i will gain or lose from the actual scene. and that comes from looking very closely, and testing, and knowing what i like when i reproduce what we see as reality onto a monochromatic two-dimensional support, and still make the viewer see it as realistic. so if you like a dark sky on your print, adjust your exposure, use a filter... but get it on the piece of film, and then, like i always say: “if it's on the neg, i can put it on paper.”
there are many technical books on the subject, and everyone can get something different out of each one. the best thing to do i think, is to first pick a type of film, let's say ilford hp-5, 120 format, processed in x-tol. just that simple combination of ingredients can give you so many results. what gets in the way sometimes, is the prejudice we have toward certain film types and developers. it's not about what you've heard is the best film/developer combination, it's about knowing what you want on your print. there is no universally perfect neg, there is only the perfect neg that can make the perfect print for a particular project. anything else is just talk.
people have come to me often asking for similar prints as a well-known photographer, and my first question is always “can i see your neg?”. because if so-and-so over-exposes their negs 2 stops for their look, i won't be able to match yours if you didn't. i'm not a magician -even if sometimes i'd like to be- i just adjust and reproduce shades of gray, whether on acetate or paper...

Saturday, May 11, 2013

the printer as photographer

with sid kaplan @ 25cpw

last week i went to sid kaplan's exhibition here in new york.  sid showed me how to get to the next level for printing black and white in the late 80's.  the show is called "the last of a vanishing breed", which is true in a way.  sid, and most people at the opening, is about 75 years old now.  it feels good to see a master printer show his own work.  chuck kelton is also showing his work now.  they give me the inspiration to keep going, to keep shooting, to keep printing.  and trust me, it's not easy to show your own work when everyone knows you as a printer. a photographer who prints their own work well is admirable, but a photographer who prints for others belittles their own images. i don't know why, but that's the way it is. sometimes i show my work, sometimes i bring it up with people i print for, but there is a great disconnect between the two. the good part is that i have many prints of my own work, and i always try to do something special when i print for myself, if only to break from my darkroom routine.
in any case, this week al wertheimer is coming out with a taschen book about elvis. al is now 83 by the way. i enjoy looking at a book that brings me back to my darkroom experience with the images, with the negatives, with the photographer. al is a great storyteller, and the book is oversized, with 300 of them with an original silver gelatin print inside! the first time i made prints to be inserted in a limited edition was for susan lipper and her book “grapevine”, but i think it was 50 prints then. then, i made 700 sepia toned prints for paige deponte “gaïa”, a book to raise funds to save the rainforests. and others. mitch epstein also has a new book “new york arbor”. same here, each page has a madeleine moment in it for me. for mitch's book, i made 20x24 “ prints that were later scanned by steidl for reproduction, and i made a lot of them 30x40 and 54x68, still fresh in my memory -as i said before, i'm really proud of those prints- i even went to look for some of these tree in real life in new york.
otherwise i'm doing more prints for elizabeth heyert. the last time i talked about it (dec.2012) i thought i'd be printing from a retouched LVT neg, but i ended up printing from the original and making a part of the image disappear for one of the shots. i had done a 16x20, then a 30x40. my next challenge is to print it 50x60. a very different problem because at that size i don't have an easel to move, or a 30x40 magnetic table. once secured to the wall, the paper doesn't move, it can't. and i have a mask over it anyway in order to get a white border. so i have to move the neg to manipulate the portion of the image that needs work. very tricky when working on a small area of a large print. it takes preparation, patience, and a great deal of concentration. so if i really apply myself i'll get it. i hope i'll also get a little bit of luck to make things easier.
to go back to the mask for large prints: it's like printing through a window mat, a passe-partout if you will, and it gives really sharp edges to the print, as opposed to masking the negative. the mechanics of putting a mat exactly -and i do mean exactly- where it needs to be once you've placed the paper is not as easy as it sounds. first of all, it's obviously done in the dark and on a ladder, with magnet guides, rulers, tape, more magnets -the paper has to be really, really flat for focus reasons- and other things. my heart always skips a beat when i finally push the expose button. what if i missed my mark by 1/8 of an inch and i can see the edge of the negative? well, got to turn it off, take it down and shred the paper. that happened to me a couple of times. now i do it slowly and carefully, and when i turn on the enlarger light for the exposure, my eyes travel quickly around the frame to make sure. and 2 or 3 seconds later i can start on my dodging. it's a good season in new york to dry large pieces of fiber paper, it's just the right amount of humidity in the air, no emulsion will crack at least until october...

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

tempo of the exposure

photo by n.vreeland

exposure time.  can i be in a romantic mood and make a harsh-looking print? well, like everyone else, i put my feelings aside and go to work…  this is why i need to know in advance what i'm going to print.  and of course, i'm talking about printing someone else's images,  so i prepare myself mentally before.  the biggest hurdle is that i don't get to see the original scene first hand.  so, theoretically, i make it up, from some random visual memory i may have of a similar scene.  and after setting everything up in the darkroom, it's time for a first guess.  that first guess dictates how you see the image as a whole, you cannot un-see it.  it's like when i'm asked to match the contact sheet, the artist has already seen it, and if i want to propose another look, it will take a lot of convincing.  anyway, test strips are useless, the best option is to guess very close the first time, or you can spend your day trying to figure it out.  and i did spend days and months and years to figure it out so i don't have to anymore.  now i look at a neg and i know -close enough anyway- how to expose.  and during that first exposure i look closely at the image projected on the paper, so i can get a feel of the amount of light reaching the paper in a given length of time. if it feels off during that first exposure, i simply cut the time short, or add more at the end. this is just to save time, i skip steps, this is part of my job. time and materials used making a print play a big part in the process. it is more efficient to have time to make an extra final print at the end of the day, than to waste it on too much testing. confidence in the craft. and part of testing also includes image size, any cropping, and -on a difficult print- practice for dodging and burning. the most common mistake is to overprint, to be tempted to change the contrast when the exposure time alone could solve the problem. all this brings us to the last -sometimes also first, but typically second or third- test print.
now the fun begins.
there are two ways of printing: vertical and horizontal. horizontal printing works for prints up to 30x40 in., larger than that is all vertical. on the horizontal position the light falls as if affected by gravity, like water, so i print pretending i am directing water in different containers. first i have to explain that the best burning tools in my darkroom are my hands. i can make any shape with my hands, i can change the shape to let the light through at will. to do this i guess one could practice at a sink with the faucet turned on. in any case, exposure time is when every movement i make has to be reproduced exactly several times, as many times as it takes to make a final print, or several identical ones. before turning on my enlarger light i take a deep breath, close my eyes, the printing map flashes in my mind, the rest is all dictated by the amount of time i gave myself. a length of time i can manage, anywhere between 6 and 600 seconds... it's all about practice, it's about printing everyday, it's about not having to think about tech stuff, to go beyond the mechanics and understanding the overall meaning of the image. i take mental notes, i write down what i might forget... for example, if i use 3 filters with a different time for each, i write down those 3 basic exposures, i may write down my burning. as long as i keep track of every move i make. if i miss anything i just throw away the paper and start again. no need to dip it in developer if i know i forgot a dodge or a burn. i let the action flow, move forward. there is no stopping in the middle. i ground my feet, or stand on my toes, or one leg. it doesn't matter, whatever i feel like doing goes, until i find the right position for the right print. i position the neg not the right way, but whichever way will fit my movements, maybe it be sideways or up-side down, i just have to be comfortable with the position. syncopated music works best to accompany my efforts, but a simple metronome would do really. as long as i don't lose the tempo. on prints up to 20x24 in. i keep going, meaning if i have to make 15 copies i make them in a row: box of paper open, one sheet on the easel, one in the developer, another in the fix. timing is everything. i plan my exposure so i have time to put a print in the stop while an exposure is finishing, just enough time to rock the hypo tray... timing is everything...
vertical printing is a bit different, exposure times are longer, the set-up takes longer -it takes a long time to position a large piece of paper on the wall with magnets- and only one print at a time gets made. vertical printing feels like a movie theatre, and i make shadows in front of the lens, sometimes with my hands, other times with cards and things. but there is one thing i always have in mind, it's the elegance of the exposure time. if i don't make that process a step beyond light reaching paper i would have lost interest a long time ago. yes, i know, it's about the final print. but the process matters to me, an exposure can be as elegant as a mathematical proof, reduced to its basic elements. a simple solution shows the full control of the medium. as i do my test print i weed out all unnecessary technical excess and let the light do its thing. i see myself as just redirecting the path. the final print happens when i take myself out of the equation at the right time. i trust the machines -enlargers- and the materials -paper, chemicals- because they provide me with the consistence i need to play. but i never take them for granted, even though if something goes wrong it's usually my fault. and the best part is when the person i print for looks at the print and says “yes. that's it, you got it”. until then, all i have is just an effort at best, with obscure code words like 46 for light, or 52 for white, 13 for camera, etc...

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

tech: it's all about the rhythm

alright, more technical information? i can do that. but bear in mind that analog printing is all about feel. i can feel if the the light is too strong while i expose. i can feel the state of my aging developer as i get through the day. with that in mind, the art of silver gelatin printing starts with the study of actual prints. i can't tell you how many hours i've spent looking at prints. actual prints that i could hold, without glass in front. prints from galleries, museums, private dealers or private collections. a print is rarely on its own, it's usually part of a series, a project with other prints where a common denominator was found. my advice is to keep things simple. i work with only one developer, i used to work with another one before, and others before that. developers never improved my printing, and neither did different papers. that said, i need to know how to make an image feel right, whether it is dark, light, flat, contrasty, warm, cold, soft or whatever. i've used selectol, dektol, sprint, LPD, etc... all kinds of chemistry. sometimes to go faster you don't need a bigger engine, you need to learn how to drive better. i also print for many different artists who have many different styles. right now i mostly use LPD. it's a powder -easy to ship- and i mix only what i need for the day, it's always fresh and easy to get to temperature -which is somewhere between 65 and 70ºF or ± 20ºC - no need to be exact, just consistent.
so i look at the negative, on a light box, with a loupe. i study it really, i memorize its values, make mental notes of the deepest shadows and strongest highlights, try to visualize it as a positive. then i size it, focus it. i focus wide open, i focus closed down, i focus at the f-stop i'll use, i look at the grain. different enlarger heads give me different results. my 4x5 heads are ilford multicontrast, from 0 to 5 in ½ grade increments. and the durst mural 8x10 heads are yellow/magenta controlled. all are diffusion light sources, which just means that the light is bounced around in a box before it hits the neg. not a new technology by any means, from the 70's through the 90's almost everything was printed from a cold head onto graded paper, also from 0 to 5, but reduced to 1 to 4 over the years... but i'm going on a tangent now. M/Y printing can be very accurate, especially on prints 30x40 in. and larger. even one point of M or Y makes a difference. not much room for error, i have to pay really close attention. when a client is waiting at the lab for my next version of the print, i better come out with exactly with what i said i was going to do. or it's just a waste of time for everyone... anyway, you can try and figure out if 18M is more like a grade 3 or 2½, but it's not how it works. first of all, i use the one filter approach, only Y or M, no mixing, the less filtration in front of the neg the better -exposure times can be pretty long on a large print- of course 0Y and 0M being the tipping point between low and high contrast. the starting contrast is based on experience, and this is when i save time and effort by making an educated guess as to filters, f-stop and exposure time based on the paper i'm using, the difference between papers is their actual ISO. i always -almost always- make a straight print to get my base exposure, the one that dictate which part of the image won't get any manipulation, the one constant during the process of making the print. it's the only point of reference i have from beginning to end. no matter what i do to the image, that portion doesn't change, it's like the horizon line for a jet pilot... you know what i mean... remember, when i make a complicated print and i'm asked to improve only the highlight on the tip of a nose -for example- i need to redo everything else the same, on the next print. no second chance.
so i expose. filter # this, # that, dodge, burn etc. song and dance, flash, whatever*. then the developer, i don't change the timing there either for the same image, got to keep consistent. always agitate the same way. and i look at the first black coming up, at different time for different papers. drain really well, always the same amount, dip in the stop bath -99% glacial acetic acid- for 30 sec to a minute, agitate, then drain well -you don't want to mix acid and hypo too much all day long, it gives off bad fumes- and the fix is just a formality at this point (even if it was the toughest chemical to figure out in the invention of photography). i say a formality because after you agitate a couple times you can turn the light on (print face down). the light you turn on to look at the print should always be the same. if i change that -or until i'm used to it in a new darkroom- i can't print properly. once i know my in-darkroom viewing light, i can tell the dry-down exactly. i close my eyes to get used to the change dark-light-dark for a few seconds each time.
one print at a time is the easiest way to go.
although my favorite days are when i print 3 different jobs on 3 different enlargers on 3 different papers. never tried 4. i like the challenge to juggle the numbers in my head, that is until somebody calls me out of my darkroom for a question and brakes my rhythm. because it's all about the rhythm, things flows when you keep going. it's very hard for me to stop and go, even if it is the reality of a printer...
i don't know what other tech stuff i could talk about. i'm really not a tech person, i don't like to talk too much about the specifics, but i know what i can do with every single piece of equipment and chemistry there is in my darkroom. i'm sure some people could tell me that this or that paper-dev combination would be better. that's OK, the only thing that matters to me is that the client i print for is getting the best print possible on time. and i always add a little something to each print so i know it was mine. and when i show another printer how to match my prints i tell them my tricks for that image, but in the end if they do it their way they'll get a better print. it's all by feel. and an understanding of the client's vision so the prints never come back. i don't like when my prints come back. no printer likes that. to me it means that the line of communication got broken, details were omitted, or i didn't get all the information i needed. i have to ask the right questions before i print. if you bring me a negative and just ask for a print, you'll get my print, not yours. and you won't get your print until i get under your skin, or at least study your images very -very- closely.  and then some days, out of the blue, somehow, i can't get passed some technical challenge, and i can't feel the image. those days, as far and few in between as they may be :) those days i have to accept i won't get a stunning print. and i certainly don't want to make an average print. so i print it the next day, when i feel better. that's the true secret of making a good print.

*i will talk about the actual exposure experience at another time. it's my favorite part.

Monday, February 25, 2013

the craft of printing

everyday i print, and everyday i wonder: am i improving the state of the print as an object, or am i just making a nice little package in a frame ready to hang? or, most likely, am i making a print that will sit in an archival box put in an archival drawer for investment purposes? hard to tell really. but i do wonder. i print a lot every week and there is no way all these prints are being displayed. well, maybe for the length of a show, or until the house is re-decorated, or part of a traveling / ready-to-hang show?
does it matter? not to me, i get to see the prints. i get to see the prints even more than the photographers. i see the negatives, i see the prints appear in my developer, i see them too flat, too dark, too light, wet, dry, wrinkled, flattened, mounted, etc. so to me it doesn't matter really. what bothers me are the photographers i don't print for, the work i like and only saw in books, or occasionally in a gallery or museum. i'm thinking of josef koudelka, michael kenna, gabrielle basilico in particular. but others in general, photographers like eugène atget, jean-loup sieff or henry cartier-bresson. i have seen prints of these people, unfortunately not always top quality -especially in books- so today i'm thinking there isn't enough quality control filtering the prints that come out of the estates of famous artists. perhaps it is best that editions are getting smaller. in this age of printing technology, just the fact that we could print away but limit ourselves to just a few copies is showing respect to images that are special. but is the print itself part of that evolution? i mean, if the artist gets better prints from a different printer, does the value go up? what if a new printer produces inferior prints at a lesser price, does the value go down? no. no. and no. yet, a small mark on a print devalues it. of course, from my point of view, it should be a part of the equation. i have seen prints from estates of famous photographers that were not up to any standard. this is where the art of printing shows its craft, and craftmanship is key to any technical work. in any case, a bad print will gain value again with time, when it becomes vintage...this is what i think about when i print. being a printer means long hours in the dark having a visual conversation with a negative, so the verbal part of my brain is free to while away the hours with a conversation of its own. printing can get pretty physical so the mind wanders. you got to carry a 40 lbs roll of 56” wide paper, then go up 10-12 ft and hang the paper with magnets, to the 1/8 of an inch -1/4 sometimes- and then roll it up through the gallons of chemicals you mixed earlier. then hang it again to dry. luckily the enlarger moves at the touch of a button. and then you just have to brake it all down clean until the next day. it's good exercise i have to say. after a few prints of the same image, it becomes shapes that need to go lighter or darker. they come back as images when i'm ready to roll them up for finishing, and look up one last time at my finished print. this is when i see what really worked, the details that became what i expected, others i wish had followed my lead better. anyway, that's when i go home. sometimes i look at different book reproductions of prints i'm working on and compare in my head, adjust for the different medium, and i know if i had a good day or not.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

the straight print

the art of the straight print.
it's always in the back of my mind, it's my white whale, i pursue it with every negative i put through my enlarger. except sometimes i do get one... i get it through meticulous scrutiny of the said negative, the perfect contrast-exposure combination, and a bit of luck. first i have to start with a test a bit light and a bit under-contrast, and then i build up the density -like any print really- then i adjust the contrast. i look closely at the print -developing and developed- to find what i call the first black. that takes about 2 to 3 tries, full image only to really understand how the whole image works, and quick too as long as your first guess is within 1/2 grade and 1/2 stop. of course, not every negative is a good candidate, but i always keep my eyes open for the one, it can be thin or contrasty, there is no perfect neg. and when i say straight print, i mean no dodging or burning, i can use different filters but that's it. i usually know if i have a chance on the second test.
oh, by the way, the art of the straight print has no meaning whatsoever outside of my darkroom, i don't discuss it with anybody (well, a fellow printer maybe), it's a personal achievement that fulfills a need to simplify the printing process. i like to reduce my skills to the most basic details. in order to reach the straight print i have to think like a minimalist and compose the technique for the whole image at once. even more so than usual. i also think about it more between exposures, and when i feel i'm almost there i make very small moves. the trick is to be very aware of the first black and first white -that's why i always under-estimate the density and filtration- that tells me if i need a bit more exposure on a higher or lower grade -or both- to compensate. and this is where the white whale problem comes in: time goes by as i reach just one more piece of paper, one more of many, and i should have moved on and abandon ship, but i keep reaching a little further, just because you never know. eventually reality sets back in, and i reluctantly grab my dodging tool or let more light on the top right corner... then the rest of the printing day just seems dull. and when i receive a negative that had been a straight print once, i know i'll have a good day. a straight print is a very rare thing, but it does happen, and i don't know why i even care about it. exceptions are always more beautiful it seems. in the moment, i find myself just looking at the negative print itself, probably a little smurk on my face, thinking yep, i got you just where i wanted...
anyway, no straight print this week, i don't get a straight print when i print for arthur elgort, michael halsband, jerry schatzberg, bob gruen and mitch epstein in the same week. printing for these photographers is even better than a straight print! it's like watching a bit of the history of photography being made, even some of it is already a part of history. still though, a straight print is something special, at least for me.

so bob gruen and jerry schatzberg meet for the first time, in front of their prints, and all i have to capture that moment is my phone...  i apologize for that.

Friday, January 18, 2013

my favorite lenses

my favorite lenses i use every week:

schneider-kreuznach componon-S f-5.6-45/300 mm
rodenstock rodagon f-5.6-45/210 mm
schneider-kreuznach componon-S f-5.6-32/100 mm
rodenstock apo-rodagon f-4-22/ 80mm
rodenstock rodagon-G 2.8-16/50 mm
schneider-kreuznach apo-componon HM f-2.8-16/40 mm

i just really like good optics. in my everyday i enjoy all sorts of light from different sources. but when i'm working in my darkroom i like clean light, and by that i mean photons going through pieces of glass that have been expertly grounded. as a photographer i am always asked what cameras and lenses i use, but as a printer, well, no one -few exceptions- ever asks me what lens i use to print. yet, if i may, in analog printing the lens is pretty much the only thing between a negative and the paper. actually, it is the only thing. so yes, it's pretty important to me. and by now i know which f/stop works well what print size, or what type of grain is on the film. it's not an exact science, but it's based on my experience by looking at -and making- thousands and thousands of prints over the years. i have preferences of course, and i apply them to different situations. it's a matter of paying attention to what happens to the grain through a certain lens at a particular contrast and different densities. this is an exercise i practice on a weekly basis when i try to figure out the best way to print whatever neg at whatever size on whatever paper in whatever developer. i know, it's a lot of whatevers, but there are so many variations it takes years -for me at least- to understand. on my own images it's quite easy: i know what i like and how to get there. many a times i've used my findings on other people's negatives. i learn by doing, and there is a always a new puzzle to solve. so when i'm asked how i think this image should be printed, i have an opinion. when i loupe a neg i can tell you at what size the grain will start to change based on the contrast i would probably use. but all this is just talk, and visual artists need to see, this is why there is a service called and i quote 'test strip at size'. artists lean toward one look or another, i put their words into values, sometimes i can almost hear their inner-monologues. no, not really, but when i get a negative with a note saying 'you'll see, it's pretty straightforward', or 'you know what to do', also 'you remember what it looks like, you printed it once 3 years ago', then i know i've earned the trust of the person i print for. if i'm off in my guess, it's back to zero... this is one of the reasons i like analog printing. that is also one of the reasons i need to know my lenses so well. coating on the front lens varies, the result being more or less contrast. no lens is necessarily bad, it might just be more appropriate to a different puzzle.
and for large prints something else is between the light and the paper besides the lens, the 2 pieces of glass that sandwich the negative. anti-newton, regular, one of each, different groves etched into the glass, not every combination is right for everything, and sometimes no glass is best -but very difficult on a large print with long exposures- 20x24 in. and under i print without glass, instead i let the acetate expand and retract with the heat from the enlarger, so i re-focus every time i make an exposure. i look at grain through loupes at every size and contrast, so i learn still, every day.

aldo sessa next to a 56x70 print
(matte toned sepia btw)
we had a good day.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

no darkroom, no problem.

no darkroom, no problem. thousands of miles away from new york, sun and heat all around, and what did i pack along with my cameras? paper. photo paper to make lumen prints. i can't help it. i need to make prints as much as i need to take pictures. a lumen print is done under glass with the sun, as much sun as possible, and not just for the light but for the heat as well. i look at the lumen print as the sophisticated cousin of the photogram. casting shadows under the light of an enlarger is fun, don't get me wrong, my son used to make them while waiting for me to be done at the lab. man ray used to make great ones, pushing shadows to all kinds of shades of grays. rayograms to him were poems, stories told with the imprints of objects. simple and brillant at the same time. much later, adam fuss took the practice to a new level. he used to order rolls of silver gelatin paper from me back when i had lexington labs. and the ones he made of different fabrics and textures on color paper i think are mesmorizing. and my friend nigel scott, who is very demanding and precise on the silver prints i make for him, then on kentmere papers, now on ilford emulsion with a hahnemuhle base. i love his images, he makes contact prints, cyanotypes of plants and flowers mostly, on silk. you'd have to see an original to understand the beauty. but we are still talking about shadows and light, sort of like printing from negative. shadow and hightlights. a lumen print introduces dyes from the flowers and plants, and i can get color out of my black and white paper. in the alternative printing world where a silver print is considered almost too easy to make -and i'm talking about the basic process now- in a world of experimentation that keeps certain traditions alive, i feel the lumen print has its rightful place. the pigments from the plants mix with the silver and start making all sorts of colors. and to someone like me who enjoys looking at a negative, that's exactly what it looks like: a color negative made on black and white paper from different leaves and petals. a lot of C, M and Y but not much K, appear so clearly that when i squint i can see the full RGB spectrum. it is a thing of beauty so delicate i can stare at it for long stretches of time. and that's what i've been doing this week. high noon is my prefered time of the day: ninety degree angle from the sun rays and so hot it can burn a mango leaf in under a half-hour. droplets of water move from the plant to the glass, and the rest transfers deep into the layers of the emulsion. the colors i get depend on the type of plant, emulsion, exposure and time of day. it is a simple concept but not as predictable as you'd think. anyway, that's what i do when i'm in brazil and need to satisfy my need to print. i'll be back in my (very)darkroom printing negatives soon enough, so i'm really enjoying doing this right now.
happy new year!