Awesome image+difficult negative+bad records=aggravation+frustration

Discussion in 'Enlarging' started by michael_r, Jul 28, 2010.

  1. michael_r

    michael_r Subscriber

    Messages:
    6,542
    Joined:
    Feb 2, 2010
    Location:
    Montreal, Canada
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Anyone out there experience this:

    About three years ago I made a portfolio of 10 images, which I consider to be my best work. I busted my ass for months making the fine prints. I've never really had the appropriate darkroom equipment for what I would call "volume printing". As a result (plus the fact I never thought anyone else would be interested in my prints) I only made 2-3 prints of each image at the time. I mounted and matted 1 fine print of each image. When I signed up for a John Sexton workshop in 2008 I decided to bring this portfolio. He was quite impressed with the images and the print quality, and I felt great about the experience. Armed with positive reinforcement from one of the greatest printers around, I started to show the portfolio to people. The response was great, and a local gallery decided to frame 7 of them for sale. That means for 7 of the 10 images I now only had the matted portfolio prints remaining.

    Recently people have suggested I really need to scan my prints so that I can submit them to magazines, contests, galleries etc since they usually don't accept physical prints at first. So I decided I should do my favourite portfolio first, which entails making new prints for scanning purposes. I haden't made any prints of these images in 3 years.

    The images were all shot at night or in dark corridors, passageways etc. Most of them have light sources in-frame. Even though I used compensating development on the negatives, making the fine prints as I envision them is alot of work. I'm obsessive about detail, and these are killers to print to my satisfaction. I really slaved on those original porfolio prints.

    Here's the problem. I'm really struggling to duplicate the original prints I made. For one thing, unfortunately I made terrible notes at the time, which I can't really follow now. Also in a few cases I had two different negatives of the image, exposed differently, and in my stupid notes I didn't even write down which negative was finally used. So, in making these new prints, I have to start completely from scratch in most cases, with only the portfolio prints as a visual reference. I just can't get it exactly the same. something is always off. I'm using the same paper and chemistry, but no matter how hard I try, it's like the original prints are some kind of ideal thing that can't be replicated. I can't get the contrast exactly the same, I can't get the relative values exactly the same, etc. Maybe the original batch of paper was slightly different, who knows. I made the original prints, so logically (?) I should be able to do it again. But I can't seem to, and it's really pissing me off.

    From everything I've read by Adams, Sexton etc, it seems for most fine art photographers when they reprint negatives at various times throughout their careers they often approach them as new images instead of trying to perfectly duplicate what thy had done before. Sometimes the visualization and style changes over time, and mostly they think they make better prints as time goes on. I guess I'm sort of like that, except for these particular images, where when I look at the prints I originally made, there is nothing I would want to change.

    Michael
     
  2. BetterSense

    BetterSense Member

    Messages:
    3,127
    Joined:
    Aug 16, 2008
    Location:
    North Caroli
    Shooter:
    35mm
    I'm going through exactly the same thing. I have some prints I made from 35mm negatives a while back. Probably my favorite image, but very hard to print, due to harsh lighting. No matter what I can't seem to do it again. I even gave up and dried copying the print to 4x5 and duplicating it that way, but it just doesn't look the same. I'm starting to think there was something magical about the Mitsubishi paper I originally printed on, but I know that's nonsense.
     
  3. michael_r

    michael_r Subscriber

    Messages:
    6,542
    Joined:
    Feb 2, 2010
    Location:
    Montreal, Canada
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    It's nice to know I'm not the only one. I just can't get the damn things to look like the originals. I keep staring at the originals and this really sucks. In a few cases I have some test and work prints that I've tried to organize in an attempt to reconstruct the path I originally took. But although I can get close in some cases, I just can't get it exactly the same. I don't know what to do. Printing should be rewarding hard work, not continually frustrating.

    I've now learnt to keep detailed, accurate notes in addition to test/work prints. I guess that will help with new images going forward. But for this particular portfolio, it's strange - even though for some of the images I'm pretty sure I've managed to re-create the same process, based on recollection etc, it's like even doing exactly the same thing as I originally did, the print doesn't come out the same. I must say I'm at a loss as to how to proceed.
     
  4. Dan Henderson

    Dan Henderson Member

    Messages:
    1,890
    Joined:
    Feb 6, 2005
    Location:
    Blue Ridge,
    Shooter:
    4x5 Format
    It is true that some great printers reinterpret negatives anew each time they reprint them. I listened to a story on NPR just yesterday about the supposed Ansel Adams glass plates that were found at a garage sale. The interviewee formerly ran an organization started by Adams (I think), and he commented about how many times Adams reinterpreted "Moonrise, Hernandez" over the years.

    But as you say, sometimes you need or want to make a print that exactly matches one previously printed. You have learned the value of good, accurate notes that you can understand several years later. I usually write all of the details on a work print that includes a dodging and burning map.
     
  5. Anscojohn

    Anscojohn Subscriber

    Messages:
    2,727
    Joined:
    Dec 31, 2006
    Shooter:
    Medium Format
    [I'm starting to think there was something magical about the Mitsubishi paper I originally printed on, but I know that's nonsense.[/QUOTE]

    ************
    Not necessarilly nonsense, Better.
     
  6. wiggywag

    wiggywag Member

    Messages:
    116
    Joined:
    Aug 2, 2006
    Shooter:
    4x5 Format
  7. Rick A

    Rick A Subscriber

    Messages:
    7,417
    Joined:
    Mar 31, 2009
    Location:
    northern Pa.
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    IMO, it would be good to toss the old notes, and start fresh with each negative as if it were just shot. Do not try to compare them with the existing prints until you have them the way you want them to look. Hide the existing prints from sight, stash them at someones elses home until you are finished. Do not try to envision them as they were, see them with fresh eyes, and you will most likely have something far better as a result.
     
  8. MartinP

    MartinP Member

    Messages:
    1,458
    Joined:
    Jun 23, 2007
    Location:
    Netherlands
    Shooter:
    35mm
    As well as the paper, chemicals and manual burning-in or holding-back there is also the hardware. Are you using the same enlarger, lens and so on ? Even if you are, a bit of haze appearing in a lens over the three years might make a difference, as would an aged diffuser box or faded filters. Even a different sort of (or worn-out) safelight filter might make a tiny difference ! As others have said, it's probably too long ago in time and entropy to expect an identical print following "identical" method.
     
  9. 2F/2F

    2F/2F Member

    Messages:
    8,004
    Joined:
    Apr 29, 2008
    Location:
    Los Angeles,
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    You can put the remaining (meaning unsold) prints on a copy stand and shoot them with a digital camera to digitize them. This is what copy stands are for, and why everyone seriously into photography should have one, or at least use one. With what they cost in relation to the other expenditures we make in pursuit of our photography, they are a deal and a half. Whenever you make a good print, you can just put it there and make a digital (and/or film) copy of it, whether it is matted or not. If the copy stand is backlit, you can also digitize film this way. If the range of the film exceeds the range of the camera, you can use digital HDR meshing techniques to make one image that holds the range. It's the new burning and dodging. :D Kind of perverted, but hey. It's just for digital use anyhow. You have your fine analog print for "real" display purposes.

    P.S. Good photo labs should have a high-quality flatbed scanner for reflective originals, if you want to just scan them.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Jul 30, 2010
  10. Mainecoonmaniac

    Mainecoonmaniac Subscriber

    Messages:
    3,958
    Joined:
    Dec 10, 2009
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    This opens up an opportunity

    May be this is an opportunity to change your interpretation of the neg? You don't have to be stuck on how you printed the neg in the past. I remember seeing an Ansel Adams retrospective show in San Francisco and I noticed that he printed the same neg differently. May be you should perform the score differently? If you want, you may want to make detailed notes on printing.
     
  11. Bob Carnie

    Bob Carnie Subscriber

    Messages:
    5,413
    Joined:
    Apr 18, 2004
    Location:
    Toronto-Onta
    Shooter:
    Med. Format RF
    Micheal R

    don't get too upset about this, most printers that I have met prefer to start fresh.

    I never take notes and I hope each time I make a better print, sometimes not possible with different papers , chemicals, water .

    I have had clients walk in over the years asking me to match other printers work.
    I never accept the challenge as then it becomes copy work, and that is not in my makeup too do.

    Make the best prints you can right now and try to accept them . Just because they do not match does not mean they are no good.
     
  12. michael_r

    michael_r Subscriber

    Messages:
    6,542
    Joined:
    Feb 2, 2010
    Location:
    Montreal, Canada
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    It does seem like really the right way to approach it. It's just frustrating that I can't duplicate what I've done before. It's somewhat counterintuitive. Anyhow I spent the rest of last week working on one of the negatives and finally got it spot on. The weird thing about it is my methodology (which I have now made detailed notes on) is quite different from what it was before, to create the same print. For example I'm using localized flashing, which I know I did not use on this negative originally. So I guess I'm also learning there can potentially be more than one path to acheive the same visualization. Interesting. So I think I'll take the advice and just keep working to make the best prints I can.
     
  13. Ian Grant

    Ian Grant Subscriber

    Messages:
    18,032
    Joined:
    Aug 2, 2004
    Location:
    West Midland
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    I used to keep notes on printing, I never used them at al and so stopped, I find it very much easier to print images again even after 20 years, although I may print slightly differently.

    A comment about scanning or re-photographing Portfolio prints. Fibre based prints don't copy very well either way they are OK for websites etc but less good for publication, glossy resin coated prints scan superbly.

    If submitting prints to a magazine then Glossy RC is a ideal, it's the only time I use RC papers.

    Ian
     
  14. Mainecoonmaniac

    Mainecoonmaniac Subscriber

    Messages:
    3,958
    Joined:
    Dec 10, 2009
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    When I'm working in the darkroom and I'm in the "Zone" making great prints from difficult negs, I make a few more than I need and file them away. I think even with good notes I think those moments are fleeting.
     
  15. michael_r

    michael_r Subscriber

    Messages:
    6,542
    Joined:
    Feb 2, 2010
    Location:
    Montreal, Canada
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    That has been my experience as well. Sometimes things are humming and it's very satisfying. Lately it's sluggish and not working well.
     
  16. ic-racer

    ic-racer Member

    Messages:
    7,470
    Joined:
    Feb 25, 2007
    Location:
    Midwest USA
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Don't worry about making more. Just price them right, they are not reproducible. If you print them the same as 3 years ago, you have not advanced since then.
     
  17. michael_r

    michael_r Subscriber

    Messages:
    6,542
    Joined:
    Feb 2, 2010
    Location:
    Montreal, Canada
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    I've found though, that sometimes the advancement does not lead to improvement, although obviously that is a matter of individual preference. But often in my own work I find myself looking back at the first fine prints I made of a negative and liking them the best. That's probably just something about the way I see things, because I notice that same tendency when I look at prints by my favourite photographers too. Some of Ansel Adams earlier, softer interpretations of his negatives are the ones I prefer. Similarly I much prefer the prints George Tice made of Petit's Mobil Station in the 70s versus the ones he makes now. A few years back I purchased a new print of that image (which I still love) that closely matches the version in Urban Landscapes. Several months later I happened to be at the Weston Gallery in Carmel and they showed me a vintage print of that image. What a difference.
     
  18. Ian Grant

    Ian Grant Subscriber

    Messages:
    18,032
    Joined:
    Aug 2, 2004
    Location:
    West Midland
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Part of the problem there Michael is papers have changed over the years, so pre-WWII Kertesz prints have a very different look & feel to modern prints off the same negatives, which are also usually printed much larger.

    Ansel Adams early prints are much the same, but there's also a big improvement in his overall print quality in later years. I saw an exhibition of his images from his daughters collection while back in the UK two years ago and was very disappointed with some of the early versions of well known prints.

    Ian
     
  19. Wade D

    Wade D Member

    Messages:
    901
    Joined:
    Feb 15, 2006
    Location:
    Jamul, CA
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    I never keep records of how I print. Over time the mood of my prints change according to what I want to reveal.
    Granted I'm not making money from them but print to suit my own mood. OK I sell a few but not very often.
     
  20. michael_r

    michael_r Subscriber

    Messages:
    6,542
    Joined:
    Feb 2, 2010
    Location:
    Montreal, Canada
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Interestingly, I've been mostly disappointed any time I've seen original prints by Adams, Weston, etc regardless of vintage. With Adams, I grew up on books like Examples, the making of 40 photographs. I was always fascinated by the incredible silvery quality, the length of the tonal scale and the sharpness. They just sparkle, and I couldn't figure out how this could be done. For years I struggled with my own prints, trying to duplicate what I saw in those books. It was my father who first told me not to worry so much because if I ever saw the real prints they don't look as good as in the books. Years later when I finally saw real Adams prints, sure enough they didn't have those magical tones I saw in the books, even the contact prints. I know most people would say the opposite, but for me the images in the books looked really special and the actual prints were just prints. That was actually a good moment for me.
     
  21. Robert Budding

    Robert Budding Member

    Messages:
    467
    Joined:
    Dec 27, 2004
    Location:
    Arlington, M
    Shooter:
    Medium Format
    My opinion of Adam's prints was higher after I saw them in person.
     
  22. michael_r

    michael_r Subscriber

    Messages:
    6,542
    Joined:
    Feb 2, 2010
    Location:
    Montreal, Canada
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Not me. I was pleasantly disappointed. It made me realize if I worked hard I could make fine prints.