master reference prints for the darkroom?
I would like to hear from photographers who have use b&w reference prints in the darkroom for comparisons as they work. I remember seeing expensive reference prints for printers in Zone VI catalogues but I've never known anyone who used one.
Do these make any real impact on the quality of your printing or, in the end, is it just a waste of money?
If it is useful, how have you benefited?
I've never used any type of "master print" in the darkroom, but I have gone to many fine art photography gallery shows, and have the likes of John Sexton, Alan Ross, etc, hanging on the walls of my home. Basically, what I'm saying is that I'm not sure of the benefit of a master print, but, as a B&W photographer, you should know what a fine print looks like so you're aware of where you have to go in the darkroom.
That said, I do use what I'd call reference prints. When printing any neg for the first time, I produce the best workprint that I can and tack it to a bulletin board in my workroom in order to "live" with it. After some length of time, which is not pre-determined, I have a pretty good idea if any particular image should "graduate" to the fine printing stage, or be tossed into the recycle bin (read: trash can!) I'd be embarrased to tell ya how many of my images never see the fine print stage. Many times I decide that the image simply isn't strong enough and I don't want to waste anymore time on it. YMMV, of course.
BTW, many years ago--before I really knew what I was doing--I did purchase a couple of Fred Picker's prints as offered in the catalog. They were good prints, but that's about it. And, Fred was a friend of mine, too! Believe me, he had more than one thing to say about my images...the good ones, though, he never spoke of!
Hope this helps.
I bought 4 of the zone VI prints. They were not very good. It is a good idea to see first rate prints in person, if possible.
You print the best print you can and that is your reference. From that print you get feedback and the next time you photograph you use what you have learned and apply it in the field and then it's back to the darkroom again. Do that for 5 years and meanwhile go to see as many photographs in galleries and museums as you can. You will be producing some fine prints by then I am sure.
I don't think that taking someone's fine print into the darkroom is a good idea. You'll be trying to match that one print and by doing so will be overriding your own intuition and sweat and struggle that you need to get where you want to get.
The idea wasn't to match a print, but to be reminded of what is possible.
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I got you. It just happens to me that I saw a few photographs by Weston and Stieglitz and a few others that I couldn't possibly forget unless I went into coma.
Originally Posted by Peter De Smidt
Thanks for the answers, they are helpful; I have always been curious about reference prints and the people who use the 'fine art' type bought from vendors and workshops. I remember that, in the '80s, "The Friends of Photography" offered fine art prints to it's members.
It is not that I do not know how to print; when I freelanced I did quite a bit of product and model printmaking for other photographers and myself. Sometimes I would make several hundred tray processed prints in one order of many dozens of product shots for cataloges, POP, flyers and press release packages.
I can not even begin to guess how many times I worked on models' shots, for compcards, etc. Mostly the work was straight forward and required very little imagination or tweaking.
Sometimes, with my own and others' work of models and non-product subjects, I would be free to experiment with effects, bleaching, toning, composing multiple images on the same sheet, etc. This was the darkroom work I that really enjoyed, and though I will say the body of this work was solid, being in a Kodak/Ilford sort of cage really did not do much to facilitate the sort of work I wish to do today.
The only occasions that I was asked or needed to use a reference print was when a reorder was needed or a last minute product was shot and needed to fitting with an earlier body of work.
Now, after having been away from printmaking so long, I am trying to pick up on methods of working that I might not have considered 17 years ago, when I left darkroom work behind. Looking at many of the works here in the gallery and elsewhere, I wish that I had collected 'artistic' photographic prints from other photographers so that I could make side-by-side comparisons as I work.
The fact is that in recent years I've learned to value such hands on approaches, as I have become involved in traditional printmaking, woodcuts etc and have found that when I handle the finished work of others, the inks, papers, methods used and other elements become clear and often times leads to insights not possible by simply viewing reproductions, scans/photos on the internet or behind glass.
Hopefully, I will be able as time goes on, to assemble b&w photographs from those members here and elsewhere, that embody the aesthetics of subject and b&w printmaking that I wish to embrace.
Previously on APUG:...
Donald Miller has, in the past, offered for sale at a very reduced price, a Reference Black & White print that just sings. I was lucky enough to get one from him, and the only problem with it is it has a tendency to migrate out to the front hall viewing area, because it is too invigorating to look at to leave in the room that serves as a temporary darkroom, when it isn't serving other, more mundane purposes.
I believe Les McLean has done something similar, as well.
Actually, it occurs to me that this would be a great idea for an APUG project - a portfolio of great prints yo choose from, for those who need a contract reference to compare to.
I like the idea Matt. I have bought some prints I really like and it would also be nice to have reference prints of good quality. After looking at quality of the work here, the prints would probably wind up framed and hanging!
Originally Posted by MattKing
Don't forget to signup for the next print exchange. You'll get a good view of what people consider their best prints. And realize just how subjective printing can be. I've gotten some great reference prints from exchanges over the years (including some of Peter's) and looking through them periodically helps keep me on track.