Gregory Colbert's process for printing?

Discussion in 'Alternative Processes' started by Marco B, Nov 24, 2009.

  1. Marco B

    Marco B Member

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    Hi all,

    Recently revisited Gregory Colbert's website (http://www.ashesandsnow.org/en/home.php) again, and his images started to make me wonder what process he is using. Admittedly, he seems to be "secretive" about his exact working processes, but I did find this quote on the site:

    "These mixed media photographic works marry umber and sepia tones in a distinctive encaustic process on handmade Japanese paper. The artworks, each approximately seven feet by twelve feet, are mounted without explanatory text so as to encourage an open-ended interaction with the images."

    Now we can always speculate :wink:, so do some of you have some good ideas about what processes he uses to achieve the "look" and colors (split tone brown-blueish?) of his prints? Some or a lot of the images seem to have a bit of lith appearance, but I am probably the last one to comment on such things, as I have never done lith printing, nor any of the real alternative processes. It also somewhat reminds me of some of the tea-toned cyanotypes I have seen passing by in the APUG galleries...

    So what are your suggestions and speculations about how he might achieve his world famous "look"...

    Marco
     
  2. Barry S

    Barry S Member

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    I'm not familiar with Colbert, but they sure look like digitally split toned inkjet prints. My guess is they're inkjet prints on some special paper, and finished off with a light coating of encaustic wax on the surface.
     
  3. Marco B

    Marco B Member

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    Well, they probably shouldn't be, see this comment on the Vision page (http://www.ashesandsnow.org/en/vision/):

    The Ashes and Snow exhibition includes more than 50 large-scale photographic artworks, a one-hour film, and two short film "haikus". None of the images have been digitally collaged or superimposed. They record what the artist himself saw through the lens of his camera. While Colbert uses both still and movie cameras, the images are not stills from the film.

    although admittedly, this phrase does not exclude your suggestion of digital printing... it merrily says the images were not heavily Photoshopped before printing... he can also be seen to using an analog movie film camera in one photo (choose the "The Film" link on the Vision page), so he definitely does burn film.

    Marco
     
  4. Richard Wasserman

    Richard Wasserman Member

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  5. Marco B

    Marco B Member

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    Thanks Richard, this settles some points, but it also raises some new interesting discussion points:

    A 40" x 80"(!) Polaroid camera film :confused: and a Polaroid transfer from that??? Anyone who can tell a bit more about this and how it would create "The Look" (disregarding the d......l reproductions of those, who we do not have to discuss here)

    And if he used Polaroids, did he enlarge his 35 mm negatives onto the Polaroid or so :confused: well, probably easier to create an enlargement and photograph that onto Polaroid, but I had never before heard of a 40" x 80" Polaroid camera...
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 24, 2009
  6. Richard Wasserman

    Richard Wasserman Member

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  7. Marco B

    Marco B Member

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    OK, thanks Richard. If I understand it right, the camera Joe McNally used for his Ground Zero images, must be the same as Gregory used than, as it is described as a one-of-a-kind 4x9 feet camera (image size), which seems to be about the same as the 40"x80" images of Gregory. I doubt if there are / were more cameras like that in the world.

    Still wonder what he did to the transfers to get that final look... and how do you transfer a 40x80 inch fragile emulsion layer without completely ruining it?
     
  8. Rolleiflexible

    Rolleiflexible Member

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    Oh please.

    They are inkjet prints. And if
    the images are as he saw them,
    then how do you account for the
    photographs in which he has inserted
    himself? And how is he pulling 40x80
    Polaroids underwater?

    http://www.voice-international.net/cgi-bin/voice/SISite/data/images/news/colbert03.jpg

    With enough corporate funding and ego,
    one can accomplish much. Just look at
    all the fantastic ad copy shot each month.
    But cloaking this mumbo-jumbo with the
    mantle of "art" is a bit much.
     
  9. Marco B

    Marco B Member

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    You are completely right the exhibition prints in his Nomadic Museum are inkjet, but he doesn't claim he is shooting 40x80 inch polaroids directly, he's shooting either movie film or 35 mm. The link about the inkjet printing suggests he originally used the Polaroid process as some kind of intermediate or final step to produce his images... but he, I am the last one to suggest that that is true, just wondering if there are others with suggestions or knowledge of what he really did.

    He, I am for hire as your assistant-with-camera if you have plans to swim inbetween the wales :wink:

    At least the start of his project (1992) was well out of the digital age, so he surely must have used some film?
     
  10. Barry S

    Barry S Member

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    +1

    The whole thing looks like "high kitsch" to me. Like Thomas Kincade for a richer demographic. All the glitzy production and special presentation boxes and Japanese kozo and encaustic wax and high concept--but the images don't connect at all for me.
     
  11. patrickjames

    patrickjames Member

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    Yeah they are Photoshopped (maybe not collaged, but definitely Photoshopped). Yeah he has a lot of the artsy-fartsy speak, no more so than the MFA's that are spewing out of Ivy league schools every year with their huge egos and no track record. I think the images are interesting, definitely more so than the people who copy him like Nick Brandt for example. Say what you want about it, they are impressive. He had the will to do it and he succeeded.

    I think he has a right to maintain some veil of secrecy about how he does what he does. If he laid it all out, some schmuck would come along and do it for less, probably not as good, but few people understand that.

    Sanders, why are you basing on the guy because of his "mumbo-jumbo"? What exactly do you mean?
     
  12. Rolleiflexible

    Rolleiflexible Member

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    Calling an inkjet print an "encaustic process,"
    to insinuate a handmade print, for starters.

    I ranted about Colbert over on the Large Format
    forum years ago -- I won't repeat it here. But
    the New York Times review of Ashes & Snow
    sums up my feelings about his work pretty well
    -- I appreciate that it is a minority view and that
    Colbert evokes my Inner Curmudgeon:

    http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9C04E3DC143CF931A25750C0A9639C8B63&sec=&pagewanted=1

    And for what it's worth, Nick Brandt was well into
    his project long before anybody had ever heard
    of Gregory Colbert. And Nick's shooting MF film.
     
  13. patrickjames

    patrickjames Member

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    Whoa! Narcissistic and a crazy ego.. That'll do it. Sounds like he has a God complex as well. Someone feels inadequate..... I wasn't really diggin' on him, but now I am in the "couldn't care less" category. Neither am I a fan of Brandt, but mostly because his images are not real. I would rather just watch Animal Planet. I personally don't like anything that has been too messed with, or too much of a cliché.
     
  14. Rolleiflexible

    Rolleiflexible Member

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    Well, now, there's the kicker: I used to correspond with
    Nick awhile back, well before he published On This Earth.
    And you know what? Nick's images are real - real in the
    sense that he actually took them with his camera, and
    what is on the page is for the most part what you find
    in his negatives. A lot of the vignetting and crazy focal
    planes you see in his images have to do with the way
    Nick manipulated the lenses on his Hasselblad, but he
    did it all in the camera, on the negative.

    I find Nick Brandt's work to be worthy of respect. Nick's
    work is his own, and it is personal, and he pursued it
    without grants from Rolex. I wish I had bought some of
    his prints when I could still afford them.
     
  15. Marco B

    Marco B Member

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    Guys, I don't care if you personally dislike or even hate Gregory's work and personality, that's up to you...

    But... DID he or DIDN'T he use a giant Polaroid camera to produce at least part of the images we see??? Does anybody know if he ever had the original Polaroid transfers on display in an exhibition or has anybody even seen those?

    Because for example, this Washington Post article does clearly make reference to Gregory owning the camera and having it operated / used by a skilled technician:

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/photo/essays/vanRiper/011120.htm

    Now I know newspapers write bullshit too, and I am unfamiliar with the "status" of The Washington Post in the United States (maybe it's one huge gossip column newspaper), but it at least makes me wonder who is right here: Is it all photoshopped, or did he indeed use the Polaroid (transfer) process to achieve (part of) the look of the images?

    If for the sake of it we do assume he used that Polaroid camera, than the most likely process would have been to use his film footage to select some stills that would do well as a "photograph", project these on a wall like a slide, and than photograph these using the giant Polaroid camera... Which would bust Gregories claim that he actually "photographed" his scenes and not used film stills... (although with a weird twist of his own mind, he might still claim it, since he "photographed" the projected still...).

    Looking at some of the images, it seems highly unlikely to me that he first would film it using a movie camera, and than "grab" his 35 mm camera to replicate a similar shot on still film... And if you look at some of the footage in these YouTube films, you can clearly see he made the same movie film footage as in the photographs... But who knows, you'd have to make exact matches to find out...

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WR7yzPLXNAM
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Dde5b_q2Hk&feature=fvw

    By the way, nice Polaroid link here:

    http://blog.fotolog.com/category/daily-flog-polaroid-week/

    Also look at the Jennifer Traush site (especially click on the left black curving line, that gives access to a number of nice BW Polaroid images):

    http://www.jennifertrausch.com/

    who on that blog site says to have worked with Gregory.

    Marco
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 25, 2009
  16. Bokeh Guy

    Bokeh Guy Member

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    I believe I remember an article about Colbert's work where he was quoted as saying that he used a 35mm and a proprietary alchemy process to get his prints so large (I specifically remember him saying that his process was chemical, not digital). I can't remember the magazine, but I recall the article because I was interested in getting 35mm that size.
     
  17. Rolleiflexible

    Rolleiflexible Member

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    Alchemy. Yeah.
     
  18. R Shaffer

    R Shaffer Member

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    Well.... I think it is an amazing & stunning collection of images. Over the top for sure, but awesome. I did a bit of internet sleuthing and came across this blog

    http://nearbycafe.com/artandphoto/photocritic/?p=260

    Down in the comments John Reuter indicates that they are indeed Polaroid Transfers. Now he seems to be in a position to know as he worked for Polaroid and was director of their 20x24 camera studio.

    Here is a link to his website http://www.johnreuter.com/New Pages/Biography_Pages/Biography.html

    In reading through various places on his site it seems he is intimately familiar large Polaroid transfers. It is also true that Colbert did indeed own the giant Polaroid camera. But it seems all that giant film was cut down to 22" strips back a few years ago. Sounds like Colbert was using Hasselblad for at least some of the images.

    http://www.hasselbladusa.com/user-showcase/gregory-colbert-.aspx

    So my vote is that the original art was indeed Polaroid Transfers.
     
  19. lns

    lns Member

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    Thank you.

    It's product. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

    Oh, and his printing process is certainly digital. Not that there's anything wrong with that either. But this use of fuzzy jargon and a cloak of mysteriousness to disguise what is a pedestrian process, well, that seems to me a fancy version of a shell game. Others more kindly disposed might call it mere marketing. It's matched by the overblown puffery and hype that he promulgates about his work, which in my mind puts it over the top. Whatever. I'm sure he and his backers are doing well and his customers can afford it.

    And of course, if one likes the work, then one likes the work, and that's certainly everyone's right. He's certainly very canny about presentation and design. I respect that about him.

    As for the Polaroid question, I can't see why it really matters. The original would be very far from the final product. And explication would undercut the mysteriousness that he has adapted about his process.

    -Laura
     
  20. df cardwell

    df cardwell Subscriber

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    The big Polaroid was cool: you'd stand there and tell the 'operator' what you wanted, and he/she would make the magic happen. And that's fine by me, it's like making a movie. It's like going to Elevator, or another great lab, and working with the master printer to manifest your vision. 'Big art' is teamwork, and it is right to praise the 'artist' for the vision, but it is a stretch to call them photographers. Not a value judgement, just trying to be accurate.

    Colbert makes cool multimedia visual images. I'm sitting here and looking at an PH Emerson platinum. I'm happy to pull this out and look at it once in a while. I don't think I'd want to hang a Colbert in my little house. Impressive though. the Emerson is different.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 25, 2009
  21. patrickjames

    patrickjames Member

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    I respect what both Colbert and Brandt do even though the images aren't necessarily for me. I hope I haven't come across as overly negative. I admire their collective success and hopefully it will continue. I hope that ends that tiresome thing. :smile:

    To answer the original question-

    I haven't looked at all of the links provided above, but it appears to me based on my experience with these things that the images are captured with the elements as they are on 35mm film, perhaps some with a movie camera, and extraneous elements are Photoshopped out later. Some may be also done in camera if a camera that handles a Polaroid of that size actually exists, which it appears it does. Obviously the underwater shots were not done in the Polaroid camera (duh). The images are probably enlarged onto the Polaroid film and processed, perhaps in a special way which gives him the tones he wants. More than likely, now that he knows what he wants them to look like, he goes straight to the large print since he has the look dialed in. The Polaroids are then scanned (yes there are scanners that large) and printed using specially mixed inks in several colors on a printer you will likely never see to produce the final humongous print. It is quite an undertaking to match colors at this level. Every aspect of it is custom. It appears that he then applies an "encaustic" wax, which is a hot wax process if my memory serves me well from my painting days, to finish the print. The wax would give a translucent quality to the paper and would produce a beautiful depth. Many Platinum and alternative printers use a similar process. (DavidJohn Lotto for one- Rice paper+Platinum+wax= beautiful prints). I haven't seen Colbert's prints in person so that last bit (translucency) is just speculation, but probably true based on my experience doing these types of things. I can only imagine that standing in front of a print of its size and quality is a stunning experience. As you might imagine, doing this requires an enormous amount of resources, so judging him as a sellout because he is sponsored by Rolex is a little shortsighted. I doubt Rolex does much else except give him money in order to be associated with the spectacle he creates. I would say that regardless of what you would think about the man (and from what I have read I don't think much other than I respect him for his action) you have to respect and admire the process regardless of its origin. He has unarguably achieved more than any one on this forum. Perhaps he has done some good in the world as well, though most art of this type is well intentioned but only serves to get viewers to feel better about themselves. Very few people act on the experience, but those that do make it worthwhile I would say.

    I hope my speculation about his process is clear. I would be happy to elucidate any points if asked. I have a tendency to over simplify. The aesthetics of the process can be achieved at home with an inkjet printer, some high quality rice paper and a little knowledge of such things.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 25, 2009
  22. Marco B

    Marco B Member

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    Thanks Patrick, I think you summed up my own feelings well about his work. And also thanks for some further deliberation about the process, also explaining the "encaustic" term, that I didn't know.

    Also thanks to R Shaffer for pointing out some nice links, especially the link to John Reuters site. For those like myself not much familiar with Polaroid transfers and what it was about and could achieve, see some of the nice examples in his biography by following the links on his Biography page: http://www.johnreuter.com/New Pages/Biography_Pages/Biography.html

    Interestingly, on page 5, John also describes a process for transferring d......l (scanned) images to Polaroid 20x24 via 4x5 transparency and film recorders..., and that already in the beginning of the 90's, so contrary to what I thought, it might well be the kind of process Colbert used. But let's end the discussion here, because that part is not for APUG. :wink:

    And yes, I have seen a set of real 20x24 Polaroids in a museum once, they are awesome...

    Marco