Saturday, June 23, 2012

We Are Spoiled!

Very funny ... what have we turned into!

Here is a snapshot of my friend, Jim Steele cursing at his printer because the paper did not feed correctly; necessitating approximately 20 more seconds to re-feed the paper! Has technology turned us into a bunch of impatient dolts or what! We both had a good chuckle after discussing how we used to work not so long ago ... are we spoiled!

Old school ... after shooting we would have to go into the darkroom and process (soup) the film, wait for it to dry and then make contact sheets ... expose the paper, submerge in developer for about 2 minutes, 30 seconds in the stop-bath and on to the fixer for another 1-3 minutes. From there, on to the wash for 30 minutes to 1 hour and off to the drying rack for several hours, or in some cases a heated print dryer that quickly fried your prints for 5 minutes until dry ... love those little yellow stains on the print and fixer stains on the apron of the print dryer! Better yet, use RC paper ... it develops quickly and drys fast. Thank goodness for instant gratification in the darkroom! 

After making a selection of what negatives to print, you had to make sure you had fresh chemicals. If not, you had to mix some new chemistry. If you were out of developer, you had to mix developer in hot water and wait for it to cool down or use bags of ice to help cool the chemistry to 68 - 70 degrees.

The next step was to clean the negative and insert it in the enlarger, crop, focus and expose a piece of photographic paper to make a test print. After arriving at the correct exposure and proper filtration for contrast, it was time to make the final print. This might take several hours or in my case an entire day working with a difficult negative.

After developing, stopping and fixing the final print it was off to a rinse in Perma Wash to help remove residual fixer before being washed in a print-washer for an hour. With the conclusion of washing the prints, it was time to selenium or sepia tone ... and then back to a final rinse for another 30 minutes to an hour.  Oh, forgot to mention that you hopefully made a few extra prints, because somewhere during the washing process a wet print would get dinged, scratched or destroyed in some way or another. What fun!

Once the prints were dry, which took several hours, it was time to spot out the dust marks and dry- mount the print for final presentation ... a labor or love or a pain-in-the-ass! It took a lot time and a lot of patients. What used to take many hours or even days, can now take a fraction of that time ... thanks to technology.

While technology has allowed us to speed up the entire picture-making process, there are many of us who still spend hours editing a single image in PhotoShop. There is still a group of individuals that profess that the hand-made gelatin silver print is "better" than a digital print. I would not say "better," I would say "different" ... two totally different mediums ... it's like the difference between chocolate and vanilla!

Friday, June 8, 2012

A New Direction?

A long time ago I used to photograph people. I have always had a affinity for faces and personalities. Without bragging, I was actually a pretty good portrait photographer. Anyway, life took over and my body of European work and my images of Washington, D.C. landmarks began to take off. Consequently, I spent the past 20+ years continuing to build those bodies of images and basically put portraiture on the back burner ... until recently.

I made this image of my wife, Lesley while in Venice in November 2011. It reminded me of Irving Penn's "corner portraits" made in the late 1940's of writers and various celebrities. Technically, the only difference was the background ... well, actually the big difference was the photographer! Penn used 2 white studio-flats (as illustrated below by the portrait of Truman Capote) and my image used 2 walls at a 45 degree angle covered with flocking wall paper.

Penn's images are so distinctive ... so Penn. According to Mr. Penn, "the confinement seemed to comfort people, soothing them,” he once explained. “The walls were a surface to lean on or push against. For me the picture possibilities were interesting; limiting the subjects movements seemed to relieve me of part of the problem of holding onto them.”

Truman Capote by Irving Penn, 1948

To be perfectly honest, in some small way, I felt my image was a copy or rip-off of the "master." Everything in art it seems has been done before. I think most of us that are serious about our work will reinvent things we have either seen or have been influenced by at one time or another. I need to get over it!!!!!   

Anyway, I made a nice print, but never got around to framing it and bringing it home. It sat on top of my flat-files in my studio. A lot of visitors to my studio would ask about the image.  In January, a couple from California asked if it was for sale because they wanted to purchase it for their collection ... really, OK. Since January, two other collectors have purchased this image ... go figure!

I have to say, taking the photograph of my wife was not an accident. I must have made 8-10 exposures. Using the corner, she did all the work ... and she loved the portrait ... me too. I must say, aside from selling several prints, the feedback I have received from strangers and  friends has been great. It has really renewed my long time interest in making portraits. Ummmm, might this be
a new direction?