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.