Merg Ross in LensWork #93

Discussion in 'Book, Magazine, Gallery Reviews, Shows & Contests' started by Merg Ross, Mar 11, 2011.

  1. Merg Ross

    Merg Ross Member

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    Yes, I am posting this myself. I do so simply to suggest that LensWork is a worthy publication for those with an interest in fine art photography. Too much time is spent on debates of process, digital versus gelatin. In the end, it is the vision that plays the major role, not the process.

    I can assure you that all of my images presented in this issue, as well as those made over the past six decades, originated on film and are gelatin silver prints. Brooks Jensen of LensWork, made the scans for this issue from my gelatin prints.

    Please take a look, and for those familair with my work, there are some recent additions in Portfolio #8 on my website.

    Best regards,

    Merg

    www.mergross.com
     
  2. Joe Lipka

    Joe Lipka Member

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    I enjoyed both the photographs and the interview. I am looking forward to hear you when the extended version of #93 arrives. I must also give a shout out to the Jimmy Williams photographs (one of our local photographers) for some really great black and white portrait work.

    #93 is a very good issue.
     
  3. bdial

    bdial Subscriber

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    Congratulations and thanks for the heads-up. I guess I need to resurrect my LensWork subscription.
     
  4. Merg Ross

    Merg Ross Member

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    Joe, thank you.

    I also thought the Jimmy Williams portraits were excellent; they went beyond being portraits, and really captured the spirit and passion of those before the lens. Excellent work!

    You may know that my audio interview with Brooks is now available on line from LensWork for less than a dollar; I hope you find it interesting. Be forewarned, it runs an hour!

    Regards,
    Merg
     
  5. Mark Minard

    Mark Minard Member

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    Hi Merg,
    Haven't read LensWork for years; I'll buy this issue just to see your feature. Always love looking at your work. Very much enjoyed the new stuff on your site!

    Best, Mark
     
  6. Merg Ross

    Merg Ross Member

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    Hi Mark,

    Nice to hear from you again; I recall your fine work from a few years ago.

    Glad that you enjoyed the new additions to my site. There will be more!

    Best,
    Merg

    www.mergross.com
     
  7. Laurent

    Laurent Subscriber

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    I discovered your work in Lenswork 93 !

    I'm really amazed, this is true great work, thanks for sharing with us !
     
  8. Merg Ross

    Merg Ross Member

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    Laurent, thank you very much for your comment.

    I hope that your upcoming show is a big success!

    Merg
     
  9. Eric Rose

    Eric Rose Subscriber

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    I loved your work Merg in both Lenswork and your website. Your work is not new to me as I have enjoyed it over many years.

    Ah to be able to spend an afternoon with you .......

    When people such as yourself are gone we as a photographic community will have lost all connection to the founders of the West Coast photographic movement.

    In the mean time we are blessed with your presence and admirable willingness to share.
     
  10. Mark Minard

    Mark Minard Member

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    Was thinking the same thing.. I'd love to go shooting with this guy! Merg, perhaps a workshop is in order? :wink: I've been looking for a reason to take a trip out west and that just might do it.
     
  11. Joe Lipka

    Joe Lipka Member

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    I'll get it when LensWork extended arrives. Look for my photos in the extended version!
     
  12. Merg Ross

    Merg Ross Member

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    Joe, that is good to hear! Pardon my memory lapse, but now I can put the name to the photographs; your "Labyrinth" portfolio in an earlier LensWork was terrific! For some reason I had you living on the wrong coast.

    Look forward to seeing more of your work.
     
  13. Merg Ross

    Merg Ross Member

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    Good morning, Eric

    Thank you for the kind comments, wish Calgary were closer!

    Unfortunately, you make a good point about the thread of history relating to the West Coast school of photography. I only know personally, two other living photographers who knew Edward Weston, and they are not kids. What is most unfortunate with the loss of eyewitnesses, is a tendency on the part of some to rewrite history. I don't suggest this as a deliberate attempt, however it does happen. A case in point would be the Ben Maddow biography of Edward Weston, which according to the Weston "boys" contained inaccuracies. Fortunately, they were still alive to set the record straight.

    In any event, it has been fun to be a witness to the lives of so many lumanaries of the West Coast school.

    Best,
    Merg
     
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  15. Toffle

    Toffle Member

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    Such wonderful images. Thank you.
     
  16. David A. Goldfarb

    David A. Goldfarb Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    Congrats, Merg. I haven't subscribed to LensWork in some time, but I'll keep an eye out for this one.

    As a contributor, how accurate do you think the reproductions are in LensWork? They always look good, but they also look kind of uniform in terms of tonality and contrast range (leaving aside the question of print color, which he's acknowledged can't be reproduced without significantly increasing the complexity of process, using different inks for each portfolio). It could be that Brooks Jensen favors images that have a certain look, or it could be that he's adjusting all the images to his taste or maybe to a range that he knows will reproduce well in the magazine, but may not be what the prints look like--which wouldn't be an unreasonable thing to do, but it would be interesting to know what his priorities are in this regard.
     
  17. Merg Ross

    Merg Ross Member

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    Hi David, and thanks.

    As perhaps mentioned, I sent the 60 gelatin silver prints to Brooks for scanning. I do not have them back yet to make side by side comparisons, however the reproductions are warmer color than I usually print. I have no problem with this, as my print color has varied from paper to paper over the years. Overall, the prints look pretty true contrast wise, with the exception of one which looks dead. Not presently having that print to compare, I will take the blame in this instance.

    All said, were I ever to do a book, the prints would uniformly have a different look; however, I am pleased with what Brooks has done.

    Hope this somewhat answers your question.

    Best,
    Merg

    You might enjoy the audio interview; I listened to it last evening, and it is not bad (thanks to Brooks' editing).
     
  18. David A. Goldfarb

    David A. Goldfarb Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    Thanks for your observations, Merg.
     
  19. lenswork

    lenswork Member

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    David,
    Thanks for asking. As you can probably understand intuitively, reproducing work is a bit of a tricky business. Our goal is always to match density for density. (In fact, we measure this with reflection densitometers both when scanning -- in the case of Merg's prints -- and on press.) It is important, however, to understand precisely what this means.

    The problem is in the quantitative measurement of black. Absolute density numbers are pretty meaningless when measuring across various media -- say ink-on-press to toned gelatin silver prints. The key is to maintain the correct relative tonalities. That is to say, those tones that are 50% in the gelatin silver print need to be 50% in the ink print off the press, but these absolute densities might measure differently. In Merg's original prints, the deepest blacks were generally in the 1.98 to 2.02 range. In LensWork, we typically get 2.02 to 2.05. (All measured with the same densitometer. So, some of the tones in his prints are slightly darker (visually and sensitometrically) when compared side by side, but only slightly so. Comparatively to their respective blacks, they measure up well as a percentage of black.

    Be sure, however, that there are some variances that simply are beyond control. Tolerances are not pin point precise in the offset printing world. First, the densitometers only measure to an accuracy of +/- 1%, so even in the best of worlds a 50% patch could measure somewhere between 49 and 51%. In the best of worlds. In the real world +/- 3% is more likely to be observed on a really good press like the ones we use at Hemlock.

    The hardest tones to reproduce and control are at the ends -- the subtlety between 95% and 98% or between 5% and 2% are really tough. We sweat bullets over these and that's precisely why I personally do every press check. Merg didn't mention which print he was disapppointed in, but if I had to guess I would speculate the image on page 63 -- Cracked Linoleum. (I hope I'm right about this!) Those subtle whites have to be exactly right or they run the risk of becoming gray rather than a vibrant but slightly dark white. In this case, I think they are a little darker than I would have liked and then the dark images on the next spread depress those highlights a bit more. The whites in this image measure about 11% in LensWork and I would have been much happier to see them about 5-8%. The bleed-through is the kind of on-press effect that is impossible to predict and which I'd have stopped the presses and corrected if we were printing a $100 art book. Sometimes, however, the real world does force compromises. When we did Huntington Witherill's book, for example, we had a few very high key images and we designed the book so that only high key images where on the back side. Even so, we still had to run several tests before we nailed the 1% and 2% highlights perfectly.

    So, bottom line, accuracy is of tonal reproduction is our goal, not some uniform "look" that we like.

    There is one subset of images that does need to be mentioned in this discussion and that is platinum/palladium prints or matte paper inkjet prints. These media will typically achieve a maximum density of only 1.55 or so. This is quite light for a solid black tone. Off the press, this density would be about an 85% tone. If we were to print these types of prints with accurate densities, the psychological impression would be that they are weakly printed -- they'd look like a mistake. In these cases, we have no choice but to push the darkest blacks in the print to full black (2.05 density in our case) so they look right in relative tonalities and to all the other images in the magazine. In these cases, they are clearly not accurate reproductions, but they "read" right in print. Make sense?

    As to the warm tone, this is a different matter. It is theoretically possible for us to print in any tone -- warm, cool, neutral -- as long as we choose inks that can do this. In a magazine that prints in CMYK, they can do this at will, but there is often considerable drift in color shifting and in density. By using only duotones, we can achieve better maximum density and more consistent results -- but at the cost of loss of flexibility. Some photographer's work that comes to us in cool or neutral tones does get shifted to warm tones -- possibly not to their preference. Unfortunately, the added cost of printing in a third ink would so increase the cost of production that it would probably add at least $10-20 a year to the subscription price. Even if we did so, there would also be the problem of trying to calibrate the second duotone without messing up the first one. It's a circle that goes round and round and would be a never-ending process that would inevitably lead to some compromises in quality and risk color shifts within a portfolio.

    One example of why we've elected to use a single duotone. LensWork is printed "perfecta" -- that is, both sides of the sheet are printed on a single pass through the press. Imagine the problems that would be introduced if one side of the sheet needed an ink adjustment to get the cool duotones right but there were warm-tone images on that side too. Then on the other side of the sheet, a warm-tome adjustment might be necessary that might alter the cool-tone images on that side. Consistency could be a real problem that would be bothersome -- imagine a single portfolio with tonal shifts half way through. Yikes.

    So, warm-tone it is and thankfully photographers like Merg have been understanding that their cool/neutral tone work will be in the magazine as a warm-tone they may never print in their own darkroom.

    BTW, here is an email I received from Jimmy Williams that I am delighted to share here. Printing is more art than science and getting it right is not always as straightforward as we'd like, but receiving these kinds of emails from the photographers we publish does have its own rewards.

    Brooks & Maureen,

    Yesterday we received our copies of LensWork.

    The cover immediately captured me. It’s perfect. I don’t know how you do it. Then I flipped through. The “feelings” I had when seeing the work were exactly the “feelings” I try to capture when I’m shooting. It’s exactly the feelings I want for the viewers of my work.

    Never have I been so please with the reproduction of my work or the editorial & commentary as I am with this one. You’ve made my work look the best that I could hope for and you’ve even managed to make my comments sound intelligent and well thought out. No easy task.

    You are both masters at what you do and I thank you.

    Jimmy Williams

    Sorry for the long-winded response, but I thought your questions, David, was a good one worthy of a full discussion.

    Brooks Jensen
    Editor, LensWork Publishing
     
  20. David A. Goldfarb

    David A. Goldfarb Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    Thanks, Brooks, for that generous and detailed response. I think this is exactly the kind of information that is needed to understand what we're looking at in the magazine.
     
  21. vpwphoto

    vpwphoto Member

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    Thanks Mr. Ross.

    Nice to "meet" you and become familiar with your photographs.

    -vincent
     
  22. Merg Ross

    Merg Ross Member

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    Indeed, thank you Brooks for the detailed response. I can safely say that Brooks is the one person who knows more about the densities of my gelatin prints than anyone! His immense knowledge of offset printing is also visible, not only in my portfolio, but through the hundreds that have appeared in LensWork over the years. I am sure that the praise from Jimmy Williams has been echoed many times; certainly by me. In the short time I spent working with Brooks and Maureen, what became evident was their passion, and attention to detail that accompanies each portfolio.

    Somewhat related, since Brooks gave mention, is the book that LensWork published showcasing the work of Huntington Witherill, Orchestrating Icons. Only recently have I obtained a copy, and the reproductions are stunning. Hunter prints much of his work in high key, or perhaps more correctly, he is drawn to subjects that lend themselves to such treatment. In any event, what is immediately apparent are the subtleties of his prints, so accurately rendered in ink. The obvious result of skilled presswork and supervision; with few exceptions, detail is displayed in the blacks, faithful to Hunter's prints and vision.

    So, what does the future hold for well printed books of photography? I have a small library of them, some good and some exceptional. Will there continue to be those skilled enough in presswork to keep the tradition alive? Will LensWork, that wonderful tactile magazine emitting the smells of ink and paper, exist only as a CD? Time will tell.
     
  23. Black Dog

    Black Dog Member

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    congratulaions and+1!:cool:
     
  24. lenswork

    lenswork Member

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    Not if I have anything to do with it. :smile:
    Brooks
     
  25. fotogal

    fotogal Member

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    Merg, can you post a link to the article?
     
  26. Merg Ross

    Merg Ross Member

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    LensWork is available from the publisher:

    http://www.lenswork.com/