How do you define a 'master printer'?

Discussion in 'Photographers' started by batwister, Dec 9, 2011.

  1. batwister

    batwister Member

    Messages:
    919
    Joined:
    Sep 4, 2010
    Location:
    Midlands, UK
    Shooter:
    Medium Format
    It's one of those terms that's thrown around a great deal in photography writing and discussions, nearly always in reference to a photographer known for using the zone system. Why is it that we consider John Sexton a master printer, but not Wynn Bullock or Harry Callahan or Minor White so much? Does the person in question always have to be a landscape photographer? Can Cartier-Bresson be described as a master printer or is he merely efficient? Can a (dare I say it here) colour photographer be called a 'master printer'? Eliot Porter and Charles Cramer produced (or did produce) some of the most beautiful fine art prints anyone has seen - I haven't personally, but it's not too controversial to say that this is a fact. When we call a photographer a 'master printer' is this actually a polite way of saying 'not so masterful photographer'? I think John Sexton is a master printer without question, but I've never considered his images... compelling photography, as such, certainly not compared to one of his British 'master printer' contemporaries, John Blakemore. Can we only call an artist a master printer when most of his creative energy is focused in the darkroom? Does the term in this way actually refer to a sub genre of fine art photography, meaning in essence, great 'darkroom art'? To stir the water a little (a lot), do you think we will ever have a master digital printer? Just to lay down some ground rules for that one, Andreas Gursky is not :wink:

    Please tell me who you consider a master printer and why.
     
  2. 2F/2F

    2F/2F Member

    Messages:
    8,004
    Joined:
    Apr 29, 2008
    Location:
    Los Angeles,
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    I always just thought of it as a "rank" of sorts at professional labs. The head printer is the "master printer." I take any other use of the term with a grain of salt.
     
  3. MaximusM3

    MaximusM3 Member

    Messages:
    756
    Joined:
    Jul 11, 2010
    Location:
    NY
    Shooter:
    35mm RF
    I am a master printer, since no one else prints my images. :smile:
     
  4. batwister

    batwister Member

    Messages:
    919
    Joined:
    Sep 4, 2010
    Location:
    Midlands, UK
    Shooter:
    Medium Format
    Some people's wives might say a similar thing about house cleaning.
     
  5. Thomas Bertilsson

    Thomas Bertilsson Subscriber

    Messages:
    15,206
    Joined:
    Jan 21, 2003
    Location:
    Minnesota
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Sid Kaplan - printed Henri Cartier-Bresson. Hearing how Cartier-Bresson would photograph, it's a wonder the prints look as wonderful as they do.
    Bob Carnie - one of our own members here on APUG. I have seen his prints, and all I can say is that attention to detail, as well as the content of the photograph, is amazing.

    I think a master printer is able to understand what is necessary to show the content of the photograph effectively. His or her own, or somebody else's work. It is someone that can take all types of negatives, good and bad, and work with them until there is a result worthwhile. I do know that Bob Carnie has preferences of how the negatives are shot and processed, but I bet he can take a poor negative and make something good with it. :smile:
    I agree, however, that it is a loose term, which probably is used differently by different people, based on their own understanding. It is more than a bit subjective what each of us would call masterful.
     
  6. batwister

    batwister Member

    Messages:
    919
    Joined:
    Sep 4, 2010
    Location:
    Midlands, UK
    Shooter:
    Medium Format
    I forgot to say, about it being a subjective area, that it's often put forward as fact, in the same way that we call Botticelli an 'old master'.
     
  7. Rick A

    Rick A Subscriber

    Messages:
    7,419
    Joined:
    Mar 31, 2009
    Location:
    northern Pa.
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    I find that people who proclaim themselves as "master" of anything are usually only masters of worm hooking. Then there are the likes of Ralph Lambrecht, Bob Carnie, and many others here that are true masters at printing photographs, tho you never see them blowing their own horn. Mebbe because they are to busy printing, or helping others learn how to print, to waste time boasting.
     
  8. cliveh

    cliveh Subscriber

    Messages:
    4,710
    Joined:
    Oct 9, 2010
    Shooter:
    35mm RF
    Taking is everything, as once the image is captured; printing or any other manipulation of the negative to print is of infinite variation within time. Only capture rules supreme. Hence HCB should not be considered in the context of printing.
     
  9. Miskuss

    Miskuss Member

    Messages:
    60
    Joined:
    Dec 27, 2007
    Location:
    Ralston, Alb
    Shooter:
    35mm
    I would think that your peers would bestow the title upon you.
    Having said that it is an ambiguous title.
     
  10. jp498

    jp498 Member

    Messages:
    1,467
    Joined:
    Oct 5, 2009
    Location:
    Owls Head ME
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Batwist; I've seen Eliot Porters prints and they are the nicest color images I've ever ever seen. I saw them in the Portland Museum of Art (ME) a few years ago, then last year I was at someone's private office and from across the room I mentioned that a photo looked like an Eliot Porter dye transfer print, and it was.

    Around here, we have [small] boat owner/operators that use the title of captain. For some it's an optional formal title of responsibility and professionalism. For many, it's a ego boosting prefix they insist on using whenever possible. It's more a matter of marketing than skill, as most users of their services do not have the skills and experience to properly evaluate the operator of a boat with regard to safety, navigation, etc...
     
  11. Rick A

    Rick A Subscriber

    Messages:
    7,419
    Joined:
    Mar 31, 2009
    Location:
    northern Pa.
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    I've never seen anywhere that HCB is listed as a fine art printer of any stature, only the man who printed for him is. As far as image capture being "all", thats a crock of ____, switch to digislop and display that. If you cannot get prints to display your visage, hang up the camera. As for me, I'll be printing as long as the supplies are available. Interpertation of the negative and using talent to bring out an image that impacts the senses is what it is all about.
     
  12. ParkerSmithPhoto

    ParkerSmithPhoto Subscriber

    Messages:
    1,368
    Joined:
    Jan 16, 2010
    Location:
    Atlanta, GA
    Shooter:
    Medium Format
    Fred Picker? A fine printer, but a real snoozer of a photographer. You could pretty much insert the name of so many "master printers" who are all technique but no content. You hear classical musicians who are supreme technicians, and their music sounds very arid, very brittle.

    On the other hand, I've seen a few Ansel Adams contact prints that choked me up. They were like looking into another reality.

    Technique isn't everything. It isn't nothing, either.

    Keith Carter is one of my favorite photographers. Extraordinary content, beautiful printing. I think he's the best in the biz right now.

    As far as contemporary, fine art color photography goes, it can be impressive, but it never strikes me as "organic" or hand made. It always feels synthetic, machine made.
     
  13. gandolfi

    gandolfi Member

    Messages:
    1,804
    Joined:
    Jan 28, 2005
    Location:
    Denmark
    Shooter:
    Large Format Pan
    Here in Denmark we have a photographer called Kirsten Klein, and she is regarded as one fantastic printer - as well as photographer..

    At the school we have to of her prints.

    My girlfriend told me, that she often takes her prints out to see and compare with the Klein pictures, and realizing she (the girlfriend) actually is much better than the prints, hanging here....

    Apart from two photographers who's work I have seen up front (I. Penn and S. Mann) she is the best I know.

    Master printer? Not in her book. But she is getting there....
     
  14. Sponsored Ad
  15. jnanian

    jnanian Advertiser Advertiser

    Messages:
    19,983
    Joined:
    Jun 21, 2003
    Location:
    local
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
  16. John Austin

    John Austin Member

    Messages:
    521
    Joined:
    Oct 2, 2010
    Location:
    Southern For
    Shooter:
    Large Format
    The only master printer I know is me

    Am I too modest?
     
  17. Ian Grant

    Ian Grant Subscriber

    Messages:
    18,034
    Joined:
    Aug 2, 2004
    Location:
    West Midland
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    A commercial master printer is someone who can print other peoples negatives to match their (the photographers) own styles. It's a case of not necessarily printing someone else's negatives the way you'd think best for your own work but as they feel would be best.

    But a master printer can also be someone who consistenly produces high wuality iomages from their own images over a long period of time, their feel may change but their style and flair is still there. John Blakemore is one of the true masters, but I'd guess Minor White would be similar, on the othef hand Paul Caponigro another renowned printer produced some sub stndard work shot in the UK in Megaliths

    Ansel Adams was not a master printer, or at least not until quite late in his life. Early prints are all ovrer the place as an exhibition of images belonging to his daughter showed quite clearly when it toured the UK 3 or 4 years ago.

    Ian
     
  18. Early Riser

    Early Riser Subscriber

    Messages:
    1,630
    Joined:
    Feb 10, 2005
    Location:
    USA
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    To me there are two types of master printers, those who print their own work and those who print the work of others.

    Those who print their own work may produce stunning prints not because they have extraordinary printing skills but because their entire photographic chain is well evolved and optimized. If you have your film, exposure and film processing down to a consistent and predictable process, know your materials, have an understanding of the way a natural scene is translated by B&W film, and have a strong sense of lighting, which most often contributes to the wow factor of a print, then you will often produce prints of impressive qualities that require little in the way of printing magic. This also assumes some degree of basic printing competence. If you produce poor negatives of a poorly lit scene, it will indeed require a master printer to make something of nothing.

    The true master printers print the work of others. I believe this because they are required to work with a range of negatives that can vary from awful to great and yet still have to consistently produce a stunning print. And as the range of the imagery varies so much, they can not develop some formula per se to compensates for consistent problem the way a photographer may do to mitigate their own weaknesses. A true master printer is also an artist, and if required by the photographer can completely reinterpret the image. A master printer understands perception and has the experience and knowledge of many techniques to achieve the desired goal.
     
  19. gandolfi

    gandolfi Member

    Messages:
    1,804
    Joined:
    Jan 28, 2005
    Location:
    Denmark
    Shooter:
    Large Format Pan
    so now we have printers - Master printers and now True Master printers...
    I wonder what's next...
     
  20. Joe Lipka

    Joe Lipka Member

    Messages:
    809
    Joined:
    Sep 24, 2002
    Location:
    Cary, North
    Shooter:
    4x5 Format
    Ultimate extreme true master printers.

    But maybe that's one step too far.
     
  21. MDR

    MDR Member

    Messages:
    1,411
    Joined:
    Sep 1, 2006
    Location:
    Austria
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    A simple definition of a master printer is as the name implies a printer who mastered the art of printing nothing more and nothing less. In my opinion Robin Bell, Tom Baril, Nathalie Lopparelli and other master printer are like a virtuoso they ad something to the image that goes beyond simple printing of an image, one could say they enhance the print by adding somthing of their vision and emotions. Mapplethorpe without Tom Baril would be unthinkable.

    Dominik
     
  22. batwister

    batwister Member

    Messages:
    919
    Joined:
    Sep 4, 2010
    Location:
    Midlands, UK
    Shooter:
    Medium Format
    It seems, like many terminologies, to have been warped in meaning through the years. Now it perhaps just means "I like that print". It's like how anybody vaguely creative is a "genius" now; cake makers, hairdressers, pyrotechnicians...
     
  23. benjiboy

    benjiboy Subscriber

    Messages:
    8,533
    Joined:
    Apr 18, 2005
    Location:
    U.K.
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    In the middle ages in Europe under the trade guild system a "master" was one who taught indentured apprentices their trade, because only masters were allowed by the guilds to practice the trades.
     
  24. keithwms

    keithwms Member

    Messages:
    6,074
    Joined:
    Oct 14, 2006
    Location:
    Charlottesvi
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    [Yoda voice] You want to be a master? Then teach you I will. But patient you must be. For only a true master knows the power of the dark slide. [End Yoda voice]

    Actually, printing isn't something I care for; my idea is to do the photographing as long as my eyes are good and I'm strong enough to schlepp my gear and travel. I wouldn't mind sending my stuff to a master and seeing what results, because I have zero interest in printing it now. Referrals welcome :smile:
     
  25. ROL

    ROL Member

    Messages:
    792
    Joined:
    Oct 27, 2005
    Location:
    California
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Like pornography, I know it (and enjoy it :laugh:) when I see it. The rest is hyperbolic b.s.
     
  26. Bill Burk

    Bill Burk Subscriber

    Messages:
    4,984
    Joined:
    Feb 9, 2010
    Shooter:
    4x5 Format
    Think of the divide between printer/photographer as you would singer/songwriter. Nobody's feelings would be hurt if you said Bernie Taupin wasn't a great singer. A photographer who turns their work over to someone else for finishing can be a master photographer, and might take no insult if not remembered as a master printer.

    Any photographer/printer fills the role of master printer to their own work. It is a challenge that can limit, so Fred Picker worked very hard to make Fine Prints yet he's remembered here less as a photographer. I have always been sensitive to this because I consider myself a printer. I need something worthwhile to print. My photography is driven by the print. But I strive not to print for the print's sake alone. I demand an interesting subject or idea from my photographer-self. My ingrained printer demands a negative that is beautiful.

    It's a journey with ups and downs, I wouldn't knock either for a few gaffes along the way. Call me a journeyman printer.