Awesome image+difficult negative+bad records=aggravation+frustration
Anyone out there experience this:
About three years ago I made a portfolio of 10 images, which I consider to be my best work. I busted my ass for months making the fine prints. I've never really had the appropriate darkroom equipment for what I would call "volume printing". As a result (plus the fact I never thought anyone else would be interested in my prints) I only made 2-3 prints of each image at the time. I mounted and matted 1 fine print of each image. When I signed up for a John Sexton workshop in 2008 I decided to bring this portfolio. He was quite impressed with the images and the print quality, and I felt great about the experience. Armed with positive reinforcement from one of the greatest printers around, I started to show the portfolio to people. The response was great, and a local gallery decided to frame 7 of them for sale. That means for 7 of the 10 images I now only had the matted portfolio prints remaining.
Recently people have suggested I really need to scan my prints so that I can submit them to magazines, contests, galleries etc since they usually don't accept physical prints at first. So I decided I should do my favourite portfolio first, which entails making new prints for scanning purposes. I haden't made any prints of these images in 3 years.
The images were all shot at night or in dark corridors, passageways etc. Most of them have light sources in-frame. Even though I used compensating development on the negatives, making the fine prints as I envision them is alot of work. I'm obsessive about detail, and these are killers to print to my satisfaction. I really slaved on those original porfolio prints.
Here's the problem. I'm really struggling to duplicate the original prints I made. For one thing, unfortunately I made terrible notes at the time, which I can't really follow now. Also in a few cases I had two different negatives of the image, exposed differently, and in my stupid notes I didn't even write down which negative was finally used. So, in making these new prints, I have to start completely from scratch in most cases, with only the portfolio prints as a visual reference. I just can't get it exactly the same. something is always off. I'm using the same paper and chemistry, but no matter how hard I try, it's like the original prints are some kind of ideal thing that can't be replicated. I can't get the contrast exactly the same, I can't get the relative values exactly the same, etc. Maybe the original batch of paper was slightly different, who knows. I made the original prints, so logically (?) I should be able to do it again. But I can't seem to, and it's really pissing me off.
From everything I've read by Adams, Sexton etc, it seems for most fine art photographers when they reprint negatives at various times throughout their careers they often approach them as new images instead of trying to perfectly duplicate what thy had done before. Sometimes the visualization and style changes over time, and mostly they think they make better prints as time goes on. I guess I'm sort of like that, except for these particular images, where when I look at the prints I originally made, there is nothing I would want to change.
I'm going through exactly the same thing. I have some prints I made from 35mm negatives a while back. Probably my favorite image, but very hard to print, due to harsh lighting. No matter what I can't seem to do it again. I even gave up and dried copying the print to 4x5 and duplicating it that way, but it just doesn't look the same. I'm starting to think there was something magical about the Mitsubishi paper I originally printed on, but I know that's nonsense.
It's nice to know I'm not the only one. I just can't get the damn things to look like the originals. I keep staring at the originals and this really sucks. In a few cases I have some test and work prints that I've tried to organize in an attempt to reconstruct the path I originally took. But although I can get close in some cases, I just can't get it exactly the same. I don't know what to do. Printing should be rewarding hard work, not continually frustrating.
I've now learnt to keep detailed, accurate notes in addition to test/work prints. I guess that will help with new images going forward. But for this particular portfolio, it's strange - even though for some of the images I'm pretty sure I've managed to re-create the same process, based on recollection etc, it's like even doing exactly the same thing as I originally did, the print doesn't come out the same. I must say I'm at a loss as to how to proceed.
It is true that some great printers reinterpret negatives anew each time they reprint them. I listened to a story on NPR just yesterday about the supposed Ansel Adams glass plates that were found at a garage sale. The interviewee formerly ran an organization started by Adams (I think), and he commented about how many times Adams reinterpreted "Moonrise, Hernandez" over the years.
But as you say, sometimes you need or want to make a print that exactly matches one previously printed. You have learned the value of good, accurate notes that you can understand several years later. I usually write all of the details on a work print that includes a dodging and burning map.
[I'm starting to think there was something magical about the Mitsubishi paper I originally printed on, but I know that's nonsense.[/QUOTE]
Not necessarilly nonsense, Better.
John, Mount Vernon, Virginia USA
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I'm not sure, but maybe if you scan parts of the image and measure density differences and then use an darkroom exposure meter like zonemaster
it can be of some help, but not sure if it complicates the matter
IMO, it would be good to toss the old notes, and start fresh with each negative as if it were just shot. Do not try to compare them with the existing prints until you have them the way you want them to look. Hide the existing prints from sight, stash them at someones elses home until you are finished. Do not try to envision them as they were, see them with fresh eyes, and you will most likely have something far better as a result.
What is a master but a master student? And if that's true, then there's a responsibility on you to keep getting better and to explore avenues of your profession.
As well as the paper, chemicals and manual burning-in or holding-back there is also the hardware. Are you using the same enlarger, lens and so on ? Even if you are, a bit of haze appearing in a lens over the three years might make a difference, as would an aged diffuser box or faded filters. Even a different sort of (or worn-out) safelight filter might make a tiny difference ! As others have said, it's probably too long ago in time and entropy to expect an identical print following "identical" method.
You can put the remaining (meaning unsold) prints on a copy stand and shoot them with a digital camera to digitize them. This is what copy stands are for, and why everyone seriously into photography should have one, or at least use one. With what they cost in relation to the other expenditures we make in pursuit of our photography, they are a deal and a half. Whenever you make a good print, you can just put it there and make a digital (and/or film) copy of it, whether it is matted or not. If the copy stand is backlit, you can also digitize film this way. If the range of the film exceeds the range of the camera, you can use digital HDR meshing techniques to make one image that holds the range. It's the new burning and dodging. Kind of perverted, but hey. It's just for digital use anyhow. You have your fine analog print for "real" display purposes.
P.S. Good photo labs should have a high-quality flatbed scanner for reflective originals, if you want to just scan them.
Last edited by 2F/2F; 07-30-2010 at 03:00 PM. Click to view previous post history.
"Truth and love are my law and worship. Form and conscience are my manifestation and guide. Nature and peace are my shelter and companions. Order is my attitude. Beauty and perfection are my attack."
- Rob Tyner (1944 - 1991)
This opens up an opportunity
May be this is an opportunity to change your interpretation of the neg? You don't have to be stuck on how you printed the neg in the past. I remember seeing an Ansel Adams retrospective show in San Francisco and I noticed that he printed the same neg differently. May be you should perform the score differently? If you want, you may want to make detailed notes on printing.