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.