Saturday, December 12, 2015

translating the grayscale

well, no, i do not only print from acetate negatives with an actual image of a moment from life on them. sometimes photography doesn't let the light do the drawing all by itself, sometimes photography doesn't need the light to be reflected. photographers sometimes forget that a light sensitive surface can be non-representational. artists working with photographic tools mostly have little use of a camera, they tend to focus on the print, the object made with light sensitive paper or other support.
i've printed typeface, shapes, static, fabric, drawings on vellum, and now wood. i know i start with a lot of 'sometimes', that's because artists working with light sensitive materials mostly do it themselves. the few artists who need these services start with an idea, they need to translate it into a photographic language. most likely on a larger scale than they can do themselves.  that, i know. in an earlier post i had mentioned the interpreter in me, the importance of putting words into images, and vice-versa. so i write about this now because my interpretive skills were put to the test by lisa oppenheim. i had to brush up on tree types, names and patterns as well. and although i had printed lace for lisa before, slices of wood don't really follow the rules of silver printing. my blue-green black and white paper along with the yellow-red of the different types of wood were a challenge to filter. i used the yellow-cyan trick to make them look like negatives of themselves.
the exposure times were really unpredictable at first, but with a little practice i could almost read the wood like a negative. it didn't take much for the exposure times to jump, a bit of red dye added to the pulp and zoom, i was in the minutes... now i can't look at a tree without seeing its negative in black and white. there are worse things.
those prints made me think a little harder, or rather in a different way, and the result is well worth the effort. any visual translation is good for the brain.
earlier this year, i had worked with helen dennis, and saw up-close how someone can draw. i mean draw over a few square feet on several layers of transparency. her work was too big to print horizontally and use gravity to contact print. these drawings were at least 6 or 7 feet long each. plus all the sheets of vellum had to be registered and placed on top of the paper, against a wall. i ended up spending more time on a ladder than anything else. and same here, the result is unbelievable, lines of white and all shades of grey against a black background. really to be seen.
also there was the printing of the greyscale on two different occasions, in different ways, for different people. just weeks apart. weird right? one was to print every single step an inch wide for a total length of about 80 inches. and the other the same size but as a gradation done by hand. the second being for alexei hay, and a puzzle to figure out, as well as a very difficult printing exercise. as for the scale with distinct steps, we made an lvt negative, and still, quite a brain teaser to figure out the proper contrast. another interesting printing exercise.
and printing the original acetate with type for bill beckley brought back some memories, to a time when any type near an image was printed through acetate. and it was used quite often, headshots were made that way, with an enlarger head shinning up on a piece of glass, and an automatic timer to open and close.
anyway, the darkroom offers many ways to work, ways that have nothing to do with photography, and many artists and photographers have used the multitude of techniques, and - as i experience in my little corner of the world - continue to do so. and frankly, when i really think about it, being honest and all, i don't know if i like photography for the darkroom alone... hmmm...