Sunday, March 30, 2014

film to print

i 'll get right to it: here's what doesn't work between digital and analog photography: shooting film, scanning it, and then trying to match a silver print later in the darkroom.  that's all backwards and wrong.  at least in my opinion.
but let's start from the beginning.  so you want to shoot film, great.  now, assuming you understand how that works, you then look at it on the light box, you make a contact sheet, you loupe it.  so far, easy.  except that most people who shoot film nowadays don't make a contact sheet, they scan the uncut roll first.  just because it's easier i guess.  once you've scanned your negs and done your corrections, how do you know if it's even possible to replicate it in the darkroom?  you don't.  so if you're thinking about printing one day in the future, you might find out your images look indeed different from your scans.  silver gelatin does have its own limits after all.  the thing is, once you're used to your images on the screen, it's very hard to make a print to match through a different process.  most people just end up doing a digital print.  which is perfectly fine, but here's my question:  why even shoot film?
i, for one, shoot film for both the look and the process.  i shoot film thinking of the print.  my work is print based if you may.  and that's because i like the way it looks, i like the print as an object.
now, like many photographers, i scan my images to showcase them online, where they can be seen by a larger audience.  the thing is, i always make a print first, then i scan to match the print.  but the print comes first, it is the work as it is meant to be.  i work in the same way other visual artists like painters do, i post online visual representations of my work, not the actual work.
i know there is no right or wrong way to make images, but it seems to be the very photographers who advocate the purity of the decisive moment, the un-cropped frame, the optical beauty of classic lenses, and the history of their camera(s), who lose focus and blend processes together to get a hybrid final image that is neither analog nor digital.  their scanner is becoming their darkroom -which they let go because of the inconvenience i hear- and their screen the print.  when shows  happen, i mostly see "archival pigment prints", ink jets really, of the original negative.
i believe the phenomena to be some sort of nostalgia for the acetate, but being given the digital camera they like, they let go of the film.  and they are, one at a time.  photography evolves, silver gelatin evolved from other processes before it, and usually i wouldn't even think twice about it.  but, and here's the but, it affects the approach of the print when someone does decide to make a silver print.  photographers show me their images on laptop, ipad, phone etc.  mostly with the contrast levels way up, telling me where they dodged and burnt on their scans.  my first question always is: 'can i see your negs?"
black and white silver gelatin has a certain feel to it.  its continuous tone made of darkened halides layered onto an emulsion is very organic, each print is unique.  an inkjet, pardon me, an archival pigment print, is a series of precisely projected (giclĂ©e) droplets of ink, pigment, onto a piece of paper made to seal the ink in.  why do we want these two very different processes lo look alike?
the fact is, they don't look alike, they serve different purposes.  in black and white, i prefer the silver gelatin print, i haven't seen a bw digital print i liked for the print yet.  i may like the content, but enjoying a bw pigment print on its own hasn't happened yet.  mostly because, i think, who has a passion for the bw inkjet print?  i mean, people like me have had a passion for the bw darkroom since childhood... the digital equipment changes every 2 years, you need tech support and software upgrades...  hard to get absorbed in the process. to someone like me, the cameras and the enlargers are objects just like the prints.  i have special lenses that affect the image directly.  my equipment is part of my process, and each print i make is in a sense, unique.  handmade vs machine made.  computers can give you solid results indeed, but the operator is a bit removed from it. with analog, the printer is a person, and in digital, a printer is a machine. semantics really, but still, here we are. even the vocabulary used is different.
analog photography isn't perfect by any means, an image might be rejected because a tree branch is on the "wrong" place, and it is very tempting to scan and retouch.  with film, what you see is what you get, and you need to expose properly.  a bit like the slow cooking movement, it's a long process.  there is no immediate gratification, when you decide to spend time on an image, a lot of time, you really mean it, you've picked your frame carefully and go for print.  test prints are time consuming, and a final print demands a proper darkroom set up.  expensive, i know, but think about how much you're saving by not buying the latest digital this and that...
I like many pictures on the screen, but that doesn't tell me anything about how they might look in print.  the print may not be the best solution for every image, the screen might step up and take over our walls to display our favorite (digitally shot) images.  sometimes i wish galleries and museums would just  do that, so i can see the full resolution instead of the low online quality.


nv said...

Thank you for this very insightful piece. All best from India------nv

laurent girard said...

thank you for reading it. hello from new york