Michael Kenna print quality

Discussion in 'B&W: Film, Paper, Chemistry' started by dpurdy, Dec 15, 2007.

  1. dpurdy

    dpurdy Subscriber

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    I just visited the Michael Kenna "Mont St Michel" exhibition. I was really impressed with his print quality. 10x10" squares with evident grain.

    It was hard to tell exactly the color because they were lit by the small warm gallery lights but his prints were neutral grey and deep blacks with the higher grey tones going very warm and the very bright whites back to near neutral.

    I don't really have any idea how to accomplish that. It wasn't like lith printing and it wasn't warm tone really but the zone 6 and 7 tones were definitely light warmish brownish color while darks felt much cooler. It is possible that the paperbase whites were warm tone but with that lighting I can't be sure.

    Anybody know what I am talking about and how to achieve it and does anyone know Michael Kenna's technical details.

    He had quite pronounced edge affect like he used a compensating accutance developer and that would explain the grain at that small size. Clearly 120 film with beautifully sharp details.

    Here is where I just was:
    http://www.hartmanfineart.net/exhibition/gallery/21/

    thanksDennis
     
  2. payral

    payral Member

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    Michael Kenna has his web site. The best way is to directly ask to him. Better to do it when he is still alive :smile:))
     
  3. O Fernandez

    O Fernandez Member

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    Micheal Kenna Interviews Hint at his Techniques

    Michael Kenna’ site has a section of past magazine interview in which he talks about his techniques ( http://www.michaelkenna.net/html/iviews/index.html ). Some of the older interviews have been deleted. Basically, he is a master printer with an apprenticeship from Ruth Bernhard to boot. Curiously, he seems rather cavalier about development/treatment of negatives, in contrast to zone system photographers, and he refuses to print larger than 10 inches. Fine by me. His work is grand!
     
  4. pentaxuser

    pentaxuser Subscriber

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    Wow. Do you know something that the rest of us including Michael doesn't know? As far as I can recall from an earlier exhibition that I went to in his home town of Banbury, Oxfordshire, he's still quite young. Well not yet 60 so plenty of life left in him, I hope.

    pentaxuser
     
  5. Trevor Crone

    Trevor Crone Member

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    I believe he favours light sepia toning followed by intensification with dilute selenium toner.
     
  6. rob champagne

    rob champagne Member

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    You are asking an unanswerable question. No one on this list will know how he actually printed the prints you were looking at. Do you know what paper he used? Do you know what paper developer he used? do you know whether the prints were toned and if so in what?

    A 10x10 print is small and is quite capable of showing no grain but also capable of showing lots of grain.

    I wonder why you immediately think the answer is in film developer.

    For what its worth, a few years ago I developed a web site for a client and we used some Kenna images in it. I received scans from negatives direct from Michael Kenna. Grain was highly evident even in the small low res scans supplied which were perfectly adequate for web usage.

    Grain is one of the pallette of useable options to create atmosphere in a print. It always amazes me that so many photographers get hung up about not having any visble grain in an image as though it is some kind of virtue of the print. Not saying you are one of them but using grain usually adds to the visual aesthetic of a print IMO.

    Prints could also have been lith prints but done in such a way or on a paper with little colour change in lith.

    i.e. no one can answer your question but I guess lots will speculate.
    And just because an old article says he uses one technique doesn't mean those prints were prinetd that way.

    On the other hand, if you are asking how do i get grain and sharp edges in a print then the answers should be less speculative.
     
  7. dpurdy

    dpurdy Subscriber

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    Rob. I am merely asking if anyone knows. I researched a bit and found no info. OK?
     
  8. John Simmons

    John Simmons Member

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    Michael Kenna's prints are 8x8 and not 10x10. I do collect some of his work and have had the chance to speak with him in person. For most work Michael uses ilford multigrade paper, ilford pq universal print developer and sepia split toning. Some older work was sepia and selenium toned. I believe he has also switched papers a few times for various projects. For film he uses tri-x and sends out to a lab for processing and that's really it.

    Regards,
    John
     
  9. Alex Hawley

    Alex Hawley Member

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    Stated another way, no magic bullets save for the man's experience and ability. Common materials available to everyone. :smile:
     
  10. David Henderson

    David Henderson Member

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    I've been to a few exhibitions of his work and viewed his prints "in hand". The thing that struck me, beyond the fact that his work is exquisitely presented, is that the colouration of his work varies from one image to the next. Some look distinctly sepia, some vaguely pinkish, and some a beautiful indeterminate warm tone that I find it impossible to describe as a particular colour/tone. At the Banbury exhibition mentioned above the prints covered a long period and the differences in tone were very apparent. I think he has changed papers and approach to toning prints very substantially and from what I've sen of more recent work, is still doing so.
     
  11. Dave Miller

    Dave Miller Member

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    He also change cameras and formats too. His early prints from that exhibition were made on 35mm, and the grain was very evident.
     
  12. el wacho

    el wacho Member

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    there is a half light doco you can youtube ( google video ) as well... very informative.
     
  13. bill schwab

    bill schwab Advertiser

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    Exactly.

    As far as contacting Michael about his process, I wouldn't hold my breath. If he even answers, he would tell you it is not the materials that make a photographer. In fact, I'd be VERY surprised if he talked at all of process. Not his thing.

    William Scott, Rolfe Horn and Jason Langer all used to print for him. You might try asking one of them. They all have email and websites. Bill Scott, is one of the kindest people you'll meet. Might be a good place to start. All will tell you there are no special tricks. The trick is not looking like Michael! There are already enough Kennabes out there and the look is wearing thin. :smile:

    Bill

    BTW - Michael not so long ago was printing for Ruth Bernhard.
     
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  15. doughowk

    doughowk Subscriber

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    The YouTube video is nice intro to his thinking & working methods. Thanks, "el wacho", for the suggestion.
     
  16. Alex Hawley

    Alex Hawley Member

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    That's an excellent video. Thanks for posting the link.
     
  17. Jon Shiu

    Jon Shiu Subscriber

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    Bill Scott's website is http://www.williamscottart.com/

    If you get a chance to take a workshop with him, I highly recommend it.

    Jon
     
  18. dpurdy

    dpurdy Subscriber

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    Well what do you know. I started this thread and clearly I have my head up my butt. Come to find out he is my neighbor and I could literally ride my bike over to his house. I never even heard of him till a few months ago and the video posted says he is the most influencial landscape photographer of our time. All I want to know is how he got the split color, warm lights and neutral darks, in his prints so I am going to write him and ask him. Whatever, it doesn't really matter except that I really liked the way it looked and have no idea how to do that.
    Dennis
     
  19. John Simmons

    John Simmons Member

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    Bill is right, Michael will give very little insight into his process...except to say I sepia tone my prints, etc... he speaks in very broad terms. He is a very nice person. William Scott answers e-mails fairly quickly and has been very helpful when I have had questions for him. I do collect some of his work as well so that might have influenced his decision to help me, however, I do believe he would try to help anybody that contacts him as he is a very down to earth kind of guy.

    Bill is also right about the kenna look. For instance, a lot of my work looks similar and I have tried intentionally printing my work to not look like his...but in the end some prints only look good with that dark kind dark quality. Would I print that way if I have never seen kenna's work. Some prints maybe...others perhaps not. I have had many debates with myself and others regarding printing and I think that no matter how one prints their work, someone could point out photographers whose work looks similar. The problem is that kenna is so prolific that people who may have never seen his work could print in a way that many others would say is similar to kenna. Micahel certainly has carved himself out a niche that others can't duplicate without being compared to him.

    Regards,
    John
     
  20. bill schwab

    bill schwab Advertiser

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    It is no wonder that many try to replicate his style considering how successful he has been. I doubt there is a photographer alive, or dead that has enjoyed such wild success in their own lifetime. It couldn't happen to a nicer guy either. If you do get to meet him, you will find he is one of the more kind and gracious people in this business. I remember once in New York sitting near him during a book signing. It was like a rock star was in town. The line went out the door of the Robert Mann Gallery... down the hall... down the elevator... out the door and down the block. One after another, people (obviously photographers) asked him the same things over and over... "what kind of film do you shoot?", "what kind of paper do you print on?", etc, etc. It was endless, yet each and every person was treated as if they were the first person ever to ask those questions of him.

    The next day I mentioned to him how hard it must be to deal with the same questions time and again and remain so gracious. What he told me was perhaps the best lesson I have learned in this business. Basically that these people are interested enough in his books and prints to part with their hard earned money to acquire them and that he was grateful for each and every one. Truly a great guy.

    Anyway... as for all the lookalikes, it is only natural I suppose. look how many people there are still trying to be Ansel Adams. He's really the only other that has been so widely known.
     
  21. Bob Carnie

    Bob Carnie Subscriber

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    Interesting discussion,

    I greatly admire the work of Man Ray and Ed Buffalo.

    I have sought to do solarizations for years, years and years, finally a good friend introduced me to the manuscripts of Mr Jolly who basically laid out the formulas in terms I could understand.

    I waited for a couple of years and delibertley did not look at any Man Ray or Ed Buffalo work so as not to be influenced by them when I tried my own work. Even though I greatly admire them I did not want to photograph similar subject matter.
    It sounds like Kenna is a good dude and great influence to many photographers and it is tough when you admire someones work so much not to mimick them in a way, hopefully it is a tribute to their work more than a dead rip off.
    I cannot tell you how many people have been influenced by Anton Corjbin and his lith printing techniques.I know that I tried for years to be able to match the printing style and along the way I discovered a whole world of printing lith styles that I now head to , before the film, paper toner that AC printer used.
    I see nothing wrong in looking for influence and along the way bringing some of your own vision to the table.

    I will bet a couple of beers every great photographer was influenced by someone else and used them as a starting reference point.
    Look at Salgado's image of the two men fighting one with rifle, and then compare that to HCB image of the group judging the women after world war two. If Salgado wasn't greatly influenced by HCB I will eat my shorts.
     
  22. bill schwab

    bill schwab Advertiser

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    Not a doubt in my mind. I would see nothing wrong in using another's work as a springboard for your own work. The key is getting beyond that, something many don't achieve. Certainly not a task that is very easy to be sure, but what kind of self expression can come from looking through someone else's eyes?
     
  23. dpurdy

    dpurdy Subscriber

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    Certainly you get your eyes opened to technical possibilities looking at other work. I didn't really understand image quality until I looked at real Edward Weston prints in the 70s. I didn't know what was possible with platinum printing until I looked at an Irving Penn print in the 80s. I wouldn't know I don't like the look of humongous digital prints if I didn't look at them. Everything you know and think in art you picked up somewhere even if you don't know where. I am guessing Bob Dylan would never have played guitar if he hadn't heard someone else do it and he wouldn't have switched to electric if he hadn't been impressed with someone else doing it.

    I was impressed with the Kenna show for several reasons. One that I had no knowledge of him, also that he was showing 8x8" silver prints when I keep getting told that isn't special enough, also that he has incredible image quality and infinity sharpness with a 6x6 neg, and also that he had color in his prints I don't know how to achieve. His vision is great no doubt but I have my own I am working on. I didn't invent photography and I don't think anyone else here did either.
    Dennis
     
  24. Dinesh

    Dinesh Subscriber

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    I had a chance to see some of his Rouge Plant work. I am not sure how much of his own printing he does, but the stuff I saw was outstanding.
     
  25. bill schwab

    bill schwab Advertiser

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    How exciting! Pretty amazing too as I thought he was a household name among photographers. He's an extremely prolific photographer and you've got a lot to discover. Like Dinesh says, the Rouge stuff is fantastic. There is so much more as well.
     
  26. dpurdy

    dpurdy Subscriber

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    I couldn't or wouldn't afford a 1500 print but I did pick up a signed Mont Michel book.. printed in china, it is a very nice book with weird varnish. I went to a very large book store later (Powells) with a very large photography section and didn't have anything at all by Kenna.
    DP