Wednesday, May 7, 2014

remarks on gray areas

silver recovery

at the beginning i was merely printing.  i was transferring a negative image on acetate onto a piece of paper as a positive.
i had always understood printing in the darkroom as an art form.
perhaps i should define art form.
but first, i need to explain that most people in the photo world see printing as a craft. needless to say, a lower form of expression.
lower in essence of course.  although a great many darkrooms are in basements.
not that it bothers me.  a basement without windows seems very appropriate for a darkroom.
and when i say darkroom, i mean a room with the necessary equipment to produce photographic prints.
one may have a room that is dark, but isn't necessarily a darkroom.
in any case, printing starts with the craft, the understanding of the mechanics of the medium.  optics, physics, chemistry, therefore mathematics, are all part of the craft.
when i was a teenager i used to read anselm adams' thoughts on the print, how it's made, what it means.
and then i would try and copy jean-loup sieff's printing look.
the things i used to do!
the craft means the technique.  i learnt that in books.
printing as an art form happens once you've mastered the craft.
i guess that's why one may be called a master printer. it's not a title, just something some people say.  people say a lot of things.
and then man ray walked into my life.  well, not literally, just a faint memory.  i will say though, he changed my way of looking.
i see a negative and i want to try it different ways, just to see.  i bump my enlarger, sometimes i spin my easel.  i change the perspective, high key, solarize, triple-bath tone, so i can see what happens.  sometimes i take notes.
a negative can be reduced to a means to an end.  when rolls of film were found in the mexican suitcase, we weren't really interested in the film itself.  we wanted to see the prints, or a digital version of what the print would be.  we have choices.
i don't feel bad for the negative.
we take better care of our negatives than our prints, for they are replaceable.  not so for the negative.  the negatives live in a water-fire-proof, humidity controlled, archived, under lock, environment.  we cherish them.
i've read that in books too.  and i've seen it with my own eyes.  i participate.
i should go back to the technique though, this is where my interest lies because as a printer, it has to be understood and deconstructed.  i like puzzles, questions with the clock ticking.
i've been told the pressure of a clock counting down adds to the necessity to be precise without hesitation, that it helps the inner rhythm.
i wonder how long after the invention of the clock someone said: "i'm going to build a clock that goes backwards."
perhaps da vinci thought up a prototype.  or fox talbot, while waiting for his paper to darken.  one would have the need to let their mind wander while inventing.
the darkroom is a good place to let one's mind wander.  to while away the hours.
i can spend hours counting down seconds.  

for example, i know it takes me seven seconds to reach for my cup of coffee and have a sip.  the things i know...
technically, it's an important fact to be aware of, the cup of coffee.  i mean to say it's important to know so it doesn't get in the way of the technique.
always back to the craft.
when i have 10 negatives to print, would i be able to dodge the blacks the same percentage given different exposures and contrast?  just by doing the math in my head?  the clock keeps counting down and it can be difficult to check with my eyes all the time.
i should have said fox talbot waiting for the hypo to finally fix the image.
the eyes don't always tell the truth so i rely on the math, even  perhaps only the days of multiple projects.  the craft grounds me in consistency.  and then i play.
by play i mean work of course.  and work because i also print to make a living.
my work consists in bending light-waves.  i'm a light-wave bender, if i want to be romantic about it.
a long time ago, in paris, i saw irving penn's 20x24 platinum prints of cigarette butts.  they're etched in my brain, they never let me lower my own standards.
the compromise card must be kept to solve an entire puzzle, not just a piece or two.
i remember printing susan lipper's grapevine.  some images i cannot get out of my head.  i've seen their grain through a loupe, i've seen them flat, light, in strips, wet, as a contact sheet and under glass in a big frame.
once i had a darkroom with a window.  a red filtered window, yes, but a window nonetheless.  yet another proof that darkrooms are not always in basements.
or is it the first proof?
actually, i'm not trying to prove anything.
it reminds me of something leonard cohen wrote about there being a crack in everything, that's how the light gets in.  how could one not think of that while printing?
may be it's just me.  i don't know how long it's been going on.
i'm not good at counting time forward.
hours pass and i'm counting down seconds.
as a matter of fact, i always use the same sets of numbers to expose.  i have a great demand of consistency in what i do.  i won't tell what these numbers are, but the sequences go up to 600.
every negative falls under certain given numbers, on the light box they seem to simply come out of the image and become values.
perhaps i should explain further.
but before i get to that, i was trying to make a point about printing as an art form.
we know it can't be measured easily, or there would be an award for it.
the print that makes me want to touch it, that's the winner for me.
although a print that disappears under the image would certainly deserve a prize as well.
take the starn twins for example, they need a darkroom assistant, not a printer to do their art.  their prints are part of their art.  at least for a few series if i remember correctly.
i don't think that qualifies as a proof either.
it's a good thing i'm not trying to prove anything.
or is it art only when i print my own negatives?
maybe the darkroom is a state of mind.  somewhere we go to meditate, a place to let go and let the light do what it does best, or at least well: darkening silver halides.
to be clear, when i say 'at least well', i don't mean to belittle the photographic process in any way.  i'm spending my life showing it my best.
the darkroom must be my mistress.


Elvira Piedra said...

Printing requires a very special energy, no less special than the act of making the negative. It is the ultimate step of image making, making the vision tangible. The art requires this. Photographers who do not engage in that part of the process depend on another to realize the potential of an image, and perhaps even to define the aesthetic of the photographer. That is an art. The process of printing is so intimate, I think perhaps that the engagement with each photographer's work would be like a new romantic encounter, a new discovery of the wonderful variations and possibilities of the gray scale.
What is clear is your sense of vocation and continued development of your art. Thank you for your postings.

laurent girard said...

very well said, and thank you. i see you understand the printing process quite well, it is intimate indeed, and can last a lifetime. we become old -odd- couples over time...