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.